The Challenge of the Modern Systems Analyst

By Robert Half March 17, 2016 at 3:00pm

The systems analyst is responsible for working with the business and IT teams to deliver technical solutions to business problems.

This professional does not actually implement technology projects, but plays a central role in their planning and execution. The systems analyst also serves as a liaison between IT and end users.


Here’s a look at how this position has evolved over the past 20 years:

Waterfall model: lots of planning ahead

To accurately scope assignments, the systems analyst of the 1990s needed an in-depth understanding of the limited technologies and IT systems available at the time. He or she also depended heavily on Waterfall techniques for planning and implementing projects.

Since the Waterfall methodology calls for completing each stage of a project before moving onto the next, changes to the process after the fact are at best expensive — and at worst, impossible. Waterfall methods therefore required the systems analyst to focus heavily on the initial planning stages of a project.

This meant he or she needed to take an extremely long-term outlook to designing and planning a venture that could take many months if not years to implement. While the heavy planning phases helped eliminate many surprises, there was little to no room for experimentation, mistakes or adaptation.

Agile methodology changes the game

The Agile methodologies that have become popular in the last decade have significantly improved the way technology projects are planned and executed. Agile methods use a series of short iterations to move work along, and each phase of the project has its own planning and implementation stages.

Instead of an extremely busy planning period up front, a systems analyst on an Agile project has a steady stream of work throughout the entire project. These professionals need to be quick to recognize when changing needs require a departure from the original plan. They also must be able to design systems that can be easily adapted to fit shifting business needs.

New technologies mean there’s more to learn

Today, the Web is a significant player in the development world. It has enabled explosive growth of technologies such as NoSQL databases, cloud-delivered applications and big data techniques.

Systems analysts need to be familiar with all of the above. And they must stay current with technology and learn new systems in a short period. In addition, the systems analyst should:

  • Be an analytic thinker and problem solver
  • Have strong communication skills
  • Possess a broad understanding of, and experience with, hardware and software systems, including installation, maintenance and life cycles
  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in information systems, computer science or a similar field
  • Have five or more years of experience working with specific applications and/or operating systems

The systems analyst is a key component in the growing enterprise IT ecosystem. Skilled systems analysts are in demand, and employers are offering these professionals higher salaries this year, according to our Salary Guide:

Check Out the Salary Guide


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