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Business Analyst vs. Systems Analyst: Similarities & Differences

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The line between business and technology is an increasingly blurry one. Consider a company like Amazon. Are they a goods-and-services firm,or are they a tech-focused one? The answer, as is becoming the norm for many companies, is that they’re a little of both, and they require dedicated analysts on both the business side and the tech side to meet their goals.

Business analysts focus on identifying opportunities to improve a business’s processes and productivity, often (but not always) by implementing technical solutions. They’re going through the routines of a business and looking for dead weight, inefficiency, and cost overrun. Business analysts will need a foundational understanding of how technological solutions can be implemented to fix these problems.

Systems analysts focus on the operation of those technological solutions and how they can be upgraded to match a business’s goals. This is a highly technical role and one that often requires specialized knowledge of a particular sphere of IT. But it’s not purely technical, either: systems analysts will need to coordinate with upper management and business analysts to interpret what changes need to be made and relay that back to the IT team in understandable terms and measurable objectives.

There’s a lot of overlap between the roles of business analyst and systems analyst, and in some cases, they need to work in tandem to achieve their goals. But there are also nuanced differences in educational requirements, typical responsibilities, and certification options.

To get a comprehensive breakdown of the places where these professions converge and diverge, check out our side-by-side comparison chart below.

Business Analyst Systems Analyst
What Are They? Business analysts study a business’s processes and divine solutions (technical or non-technical) that can improve workflow and performance. Systems analysts oversee a specific information system, maintaining and upgrading it as necessary to meet overall business requirements.
Where Do They Work? A business analyst can work for any company that seeks to optimize its business processes. Business analysts can work in either a full-time capacity at a large-scale firm, or as a consultant-for-hire on an as-needed basis. Practically every business utilizes information systems and employs some form of systems analyst. Systems analysts can work for large firms that require a full-time IT staff or they can work as consultants-for-hire on an as-needed basis.
Specializations or Subtypes

Business analysts may develop their own specializations through the course of their career. They may focus on a particular industry, business process, or organizational size. Some specializations may include:

  • Business process management
  • Business intelligence
  • Enterprise analysis

Systems analysts will develop niche specializations throughout their career. They may focus on a particular type of software, programming language, or IT process. Some specializations may include:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Database management
  • Cloud systems
Typical Responsibilities

The typical responsibilities of a business analyst will vary from position to position, but may include:

  • Analyzing business processes for inefficiencies
  • Assessing the business model and its integration with technology
  • Liaising between management, users, and the IT department
  • Producing clear and understandable documentation of business processes and requirements
  • Identifying technical solutions to boost efficiency

The typical responsibilities of a systems analyst will vary from position to position, but may include:

  • Consulting with upper management and users to determine the needs of a system
  • Translating business requirements into technical requirements
  • Overseeing implementation of system adjustments
  • Troubleshooting system malfunctions
  • Modifying existing systems to improve business workflow and performance
Education & Experience Requirements Business analysts will usually have an undergraduate degree in an area like business administration, finance, or management. Some crossover IT skills are desirable.

While graduate-level education is not a requirement to practice, many business analysts do look to MBA programs or graduate-level degrees that are tailored specifically to business analysis.

Systems analysts will usually have an undergraduate degree in an area directly related to computer science.

While graduate-level education is not a requirement to practice, many systems analysts do pursue targeted graduate-level programs that emphasize both systems analysis and systems management.

Sample Educational Programs
Certification & Licensure Certification is not a requirement to practice as a business analyst, but it can improve one’s job outlook and salary potential.

The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) offers several certifications for business analysts, including one as a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP).

As the highest level certification available, eligibility requirements for the CBAP are stiff: 7,500 hours of business analysis work experience in the last ten years (with half those hours applying to specific areas of knowledge); 35 hours of professional development in the last four years; two professional references; and successfully passing the 3.5-hour, 120-question CBAP exam.

Do note that lower-tier certifications are also available through the IIBA.

While certification is not a requirement to practice as a systems analyst, it can improve one’s job outlook and salary potential.

The Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) offers a generalist certification as an Information Systems Analyst (ISA).

For the practitioner-level certification as an ISA, eligibility requirements include: a bachelor’s degree; two years of relevant work experience; and passing three 90-minute exams with a score of 50 percent or better.

Do note that the ICCP offers all of its certifications in a tiered system, with five levels of mastery: foundational;associate/practitioner; master/expert; principal; and executive. The higher tiers require more work experience, higher levels of education, and more advanced job titles. A detailed breakdown of eligibility requirements can be found on the ICCP website.

Credential Renewal Requirements CBAP-holders will need to recertify every three years by completing a minimum of 60 continuing development units (CDUs). CDUs can be earned in the following categories: formal academic education; professional development; professional activities; self-directed learning; volunteer service; and professional experience.

A thorough breakdown of what qualifies is available in the IIBA’s recertification handbook.

ISA-holders will need to recertify every three years. If they hold a certification in the top three tiers, they will need to submit 120 hours of acceptable professional development (PD) credits in that timeframe. If they hold a certification in the lower three tiers, they will need to submit 60 hours of PD credits in that timeframe.

A thorough breakdown of what qualifies for PD credit can be found on the ICCP’s recertification website.

The Bottom Line While they should have a foundational understanding of certain aspects of IT, business analysts primarily focus on business needs which may have a technical solution. While they should have a foundational understanding of a business’s processes and goals, system analysts primarily focus on optimizing a business’s technical solutions.

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