The systems analyst systematically assesses how users interact with technology and businesses function by examining the inputting and processing of data and the outputting of information with the intent of improving organizational processes. Many improvements involve better support of users’ work tasks and business functions through the use of computerized information systems. This definition emphasizes a systematic, methodical approach to analyzing—and potentially improving—what is occurring in the specific context experienced by users and created by a business.
Our definition of a systems analyst is necessarily broad. The analyst must be able to work with people of all descriptions and be experienced in working with computers. The analyst plays many roles, sometimes balancing several at the same time. The three primary roles of the systems analyst are consultant, supporting expert, and agent of change.
SYSTEMS ANALYST AS CONSULTANT
The systems analyst frequently acts as a systems consultant to humans and their businesses and, thus, may be hired specifically to address information systems issues within a business. Such hiring can be an advantage because outside consultants can bring with them a fresh perspective that other people in an organization do not possess. It also means that outside analysts are at a disadvantage because the true organizational culture can never be known to an outsider. As an outside consultant, you will rely heavily on the systematic methods discussed throughout this text to analyze and design appropriate information systems for users working in a particular business. In addition, you will rely on information systems users to help you understand the organizational culture from others’ viewpoints.
SYSTEMS ANALYST AS SUPPORTING EXPERT
Another role that you may be required to play is that of supporting expert within a business for which you are regularly employed in some systems capacity. In this role the analyst draws on professional expertise concerning computer hardware and software and their uses in the business. This work is often not a full-blown systems project, but rather it entails a small modification or decision affecting a single department. As the support expert, you are not managing the project;you are merely serving as a resource for those who are. If you are a systems analyst employed by a manufacturing or service organization, many of your daily activities may be encompassed by this role.
SYSTEMS ANALYST AS AGENT OF CHANGE
The most comprehensive and responsible role that the systems analyst takes on is that of an agent of change, whether internal or external to the business. As an analyst, you are an agent of change whenever you perform any of the activities in the systems development life cycle (discussed in the next section) and are present and interacting with users and the business for an extended period (from two weeks to more than a year). An agent of change can be defined as a person who serves as a catalyst for change, develops a plan for change, and works with others in facilitating that change. Your presence in the business changes it. As a systems analyst, you must recognize this fact and use it as a starting point for your analysis. Hence, you must interact with users and management (if they are not one and the same) from the very beginning of your project. Without their help you cannot understand what they need to support their work in the organization, and real change cannot take place. If change (that is, improvements to the business that can be realized through information systems) seems warranted after analysis, the next step is to develop a plan for change along with the people who must enact the change. Once a consensus is reached on the change that is to be made, you must constantly interact with those who are changing. As a systems analyst acting as an agent of change, you advocate a particular avenue of change involving the use of information systems. You also teach users the process of change, because changes in the information system do not occur independently but cause changes in the rest of the organization as well.