You’re A What?

You’re A What?

This post is the first in a series I will be uploading on – So You Want to be a Business Analyst?

If you ask any young child what they want to be when they grow up, odds are boys will answer with a resounding Pro Athlete or Firefighter; and these days, little girls want to be Doctors and Teachers.

I challenge you to find a child that declares to their parents “when I grow up I want to be a Business Analyst”.

Not even my own children, the traitors, want to follow me into this profession.

Why is this so?

Well, unlike the more common career paths such as nurses, salesmen, bank tellers, programmers, rodent exterminators and musicians, no one actually knows what Business Analysts do. Over the years, I’ve discovered it’s a conversation killer. Many a time I’ve been at one party or another and started chatting to a stranger I’d just met. You can guarantee within ten minutes the inevitable — ‘and what do you do for a living?’ is asked.

In my younger days, before I became the jaded and cynical person I am now, I would answer truthfully.

The response to this was always the same, no matter the country I happened to be in at the time. It was then I discovered the one thing that is common across all nationalities, religions, sexual preferences and race – the blank stare. Yes, that’s right. I would get the stunned mullet blank stare as they struggled to work out what I did. After all, the way I said it sounded like it was a real job. This was quickly followed by a recovery and they would nod and say ‘Oh, you look at business and work out their finances?”

Cue the face palm.

These days when asked, I just respond with, “Firefighter.” Which, when you think about it, is exactly what I do.

I have been a business analyst for a large portion of my career. In fact, I started before it was an actual career path. In the good old days of legacy systems, before they were considered legacy, we all worked on mainframe terminal computers. For those of you too young to remember, this was after the abacus, before Microsoft ruled the world and waaaayyyy before the mobile phone.

This was the days of green screens (or black just for variety), where you needed to memorise thousands of codes just to be able to add a single record to the database.

Mice were those little rodents that ate cheese, and you had to have a very large lap to rest 14 kg’s (28 lbs) worth of laptop computer.

And don’t get me started on the office buildings with floors that you had to swim through a sea of smoke just to get to your cubical each morning. This was when everyone filled their lungs with nicotine at work; parachute pants were all the rage; the cool kids walked around with cell phones with batteries bigger than a suitcase; and we had to turn sideways to get through doors because our padded shoulders wouldn’t fit.

Coming from a non-smoking household, it was a culture shock to come to work each day where the majority of people smoked like chimneys at their desks. Needless to say, I would go home each night with my clothes reeking of tobacco. One of my earliest memories of my induction into a working environment, that has stuck with me all these years later, is the combination of smoking and hair fashion at the time. Now, I can already see some of you cringing at the memory. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Women (and a fair few men) used around two cans of hairspray each morning to get the right teased and most unnatural look they could possibly achieve while still remaining upright. It still escapes me how many of my colleagues could light a cigarette and not have their hair spontaneously combust.

Now, when I started my career, I had no idea what the world had in store for me. Coming from a family that worked the land, and worked it hard, I was determined that my working life would be in an office. My days of driving tractors, planting, picking & packing fruit and vegetables was over. I wasn’t afraid of hard work; it just was going to be in an air-conditioned office rather than physical labour.

I started out in the insurance industry and worked for one the largest in the country. Okay, let’s face it, I worked for the biggest.

Things were going well, I was going to be the youngest female General Manager the company had ever seen, this would be promptly followed by Prime Minister, and then I’d take over the world just for laughs. Oh, and along the way I would win the lottery and broker world peace while solving world hunger and become BFFs with Madonna.

This all changed one fateful day when I was called into my manager’s office and informed I was being transferred to a ‘Special Projects’ team.

Turns out this ‘Special Projects’ team was me and a bunch of KPMG consultants. They’d thrown me to the lions. My reward – a brand new title that none of us had ever heard before – Business Analyst Professional; which always amuses me. This implies that there is an amateur version of the role.

The Birth of the Business Analyst role as a Career

So why did a new profession suddenly materialize in the midst of all this chaos and hair product?

Up until the 1980’s, computer systems were used primarily by the government, universities and big business. Why? Because it cost a fortune and they were understandably the only ones that could afford it. To put it into perspective, let’s have a look at some comparisons between 1980 and 2015 with regards to hard disk sizes and cost of storage.

Whoops! The 1980’s figure doesn’t even rate. Let’s change to a logarithmic scale.

So, in 1980, the average hard drive could store one three-minute audio track; and, if you wanted to store all the songs that you would typically have on your iPhone today, it would have cost you $300,000. This is not a typo; you are reading the value correctly – $300,000. I can just see Dr. Evil holding up his pinkie finger as he announces the amount.

In addition to price, data was problematic to get to; and it was difficult to write the programs to access the data in these one-directional flat files. To make matters worse, around that time there was very little functionality built into mainframe systems which was presented to the user in a choice of green, green or green.

By the late 80s and early 90s this all started to change. Some bright spark came up with the relational database, and object orientated programs such as Java and C++ were being introduced. The cost of storage began to plummet. And most importantly to those who had had enough of green screens, graphical user interfaces became the rage. As a direct result, the information technology age came into its own. Big businesses wanted to improve their processes and increase profits; and computers were going to help them do it. However, much to their horror, it actually started costing them more. Why? Well, that’s the exact question they asked too.

The amount they were spending on software development; scope changes to meet the ever changing business needs; not to mention the increased maintenance costs and cost of software defects was ringing some major warning bells. The IT budgets were haemorrhaging and things needed to change before they went out of businesses with the spiralling costs. So where was the primary source of cost overruns and why? It turned out-surprise, surprise-that the software development teams were talking directly to the business users. That’s like having a gansta elicit requirements from an elderly person who thinks the web is something a spider clings to. I can just imagine the conversation:

Gansta: Yoh, whadup dude. How they hanging?

Senior Citizen: Sorry son, can you speak up I can’t hear you.

Gansta: What the fuck businizz problem r’ yo’ tryin’ ta solve?

Senior Citizen: *taps hearing aid* Is this thing working?

Gansta: What the goddamn ideas do yo’ n’ yo’ goddamn teammates rap ’bout as ways ta improve tha process?

Senior Citizen: Is it teatime yet?

Gansta: Where the fuck would da usa access dis feature?

Senior Citizen: *Raises voice & speaks slowly* DO YOU SPEAKA DA ENGLISH?

As you can imagine neither party understood a word the other was saying. The bottom line was the business users could not articulate their requirements in a language that could be understood by the development teams. And conversely, the programmers had no frame of reference to understand the underlying business needs. They had no experience in actually using the systems in a day to day environment. Now don’t get me wrong, there were System Analysts who managed to do a great job; but they were in the minority.

Q: So how did they solve this divide?

A: Find someone who can bridge the gap between the two; and so, the role of the business analyst was born.

The key word in this new role was ‘business’. While, up until that time, the traditional role of Systems Analyst performed some of the business requirements elicitation as part of their role, their primary focus was design and development.

As with my case, and many Business Analysts I know, key individuals were brought in from the business and worked directly with these external teams to become the business champion and liaise with the development teams which, at the time, were primarily external organisations. We very quickly needed to learn to speak geek.

next up… So What Do BA’s Actually Do??

Triskele

Triskele

The doors opened, and two bedraggled wet tourists rushed into the pub. Despite their resemblance to a pair of drowned rats, they were in high spirits as they called out for, “Two pints of your best larger and a pack ‘o crisps.”

How the publican heard their order above the blare from the footy on the TV, or the chaos from the crowded county inn, was anyone’s guess.

“Eh up! Another lot that I reckon needs a visit to the nut house.”

Robert threw his partner a cold stare. The kid they shackled him with was not only loud, he was xenophobic, homophobic, dysmorphophobic—and any other number of phobic’s that solidified him as a first-class twat. It was beyond him how Damien had been recruited into MI5. However, the agency had changed over the years, perhaps Britain had run out of people with brain cells to recruit.

“This is the Lake District,” said Robert, “tourists come here to walk through the hills and valleys. They expect the occasional downpour.”

Damien chugged back the last of his ale and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Igits! Why would they pay that much dosh to walk? You can do that at home… for free.”

Instead of killing his partner in any of the two dozen ways he knew to leave no trace, Robert fingered his watch and made contact with the silver triskele medallion fused to the back. Whenever his mind was in turmoil he used the triskele as an anchor. Not only did this mission not sit well with him, but he’d been saddled with a cocky agent who wanted to make his mark—anyway he could.

Maybe it’s time to think of a new career?

Damien threw himself back into his chair and glanced at the clock above the bar. “Are you sure she’ll turn up?”

Robert’s jaw tightened. “Have patience.”

“I have patience old man; I just don’t think your intel’s right. We should’ve done the job at her place.”

Robert leaned forward and placed his arms on his knees so that his hands were draped in the middle. “You know as well as I do, the house has surveillance everywhere. Whenever she comes up, she always calls in for a pub meal before heading back to London. She’s about to head through the most dangerous road in the UK, this is the perfect opportunity.”

“I just hope you’re right.” Damien reached for his empty glass and made a motion to stand. “The guvna will be pissed if she turns up at that hearing tomorrow. She’s a traitor to the crown and deserves what’s coming to her.”

Robert was thankful for the temporary reprieve when his partner headed to the bar for a refill. This was Damien’s second sanctioned assassination, and his… he’d lost count. Robert had carried out his fair share of targeted ops over the years. However, this one felt different. While the evidence against her was compelling, it was in direct contrast to the background information he’d unearthed.

“That rain hasn’t let up. I think that could work for us.” Damien set an ale down in front of him.

Robert’s brow furrowed. “I didn’t ask for another.”

“I know, but it’s your birthday. My shout.” Damien raised his glass. “Cheers, old man.”

“You do realise I’m only in my early forties?”

Damien shrugged. “Yep, but in spook years that’s like one hundred.”

You’re not half wrong.

Robert took a sip. It wouldn’t do to be half inebriated when their target turned up.

Twenty. Robert sighed. How did two decades go by that fast?

While the sixth of September wasn’t listed on his birth certificate, it was the day used for each undercover false identity. Over the years, it had stuck, and he’d never bothered to set them straight.

For Robert, the date was sacred. It was the day a stranger had given him the strength to live.

“Crikey… get a load of the jugs on that one,” said Damien.

“Keep your voice down,” Robert hissed as he glanced around. “We are supposed to keep a low profile; not having you attacked for inappropriate behaviour.”

After he was sure no one had paid attention to them, he reached for his beer and took a long drink. A stranger may have given him life, but this imbecile was going to put him in his grave.

 

A short while later Damien stiffened. “Heads up. Showtime.”

Robert flicked his eyes towards the door. Sure enough, there she was. Jennifer Martin—Jenni to her friends–barrister to alleged terrorists.

As she crossed the room, he was fascinated by her chestnut brown hair which fell in soft waves and lightly touched her shoulders. A far cry from her usual dark suit and severe bun. In this light, she looked more like a football mum than a high-priced member of the legal profession.

Damien reached for his beer, finished the glass and thumped it down with a bump and a loud burp. He rubbed his hands together. “Right you are. I’ll text you when I’m done.”

After Robert watched his partner make his way out the door with an eager bounce to his stride, he saw an opportunity and rose from his seat. Quickly manoeuvring himself to the bar he ordered a coke and asked for a menu.

“Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad.”

Robert swung his head around to discover a set of dark brown eyes peering over the menu she had hidden behind. “Pardon?”

“You looked like you were wrestling with the woes of the world.”

He smiled wryly. That’s one way of putting it.

Robert pointed to the menu. “I couldn’t work out what to order. Can you recommend anything?”

Jenni’s face softened and her lips curled into a warm smile. “Most of it’s tasty. Just keep away from the fish. Cook buggers it up—without exception.”

Robert glanced down to his copy and frowned. That only left a Beef and Stilton pie or a Tofu Salad.

Tofu Salad? The country’s going to hell in a hand basket!

The bartender took Jenni’s order. As she handed the menu back, her bracelet caught his eye—or rather, one of the charms had him riveted, unable to turn away. After an initial heart palpitation, he dismissed the familiar trinket as a figment of his imagination, pulled out a twenty pound note and ordered the pie.

“Good choice,” remarked Jenni once he had been given change.

Robert grinned. “Well, if it’s not, I’ll know who to blame.”

It took all his self-control not to take another look at her bracelet. It’s not the same one. It can’t be.

“Are you a local or just passing through?” he asked.

“I grew up around here. I’ve a place nearby and come up from London every now and then to get away from it all. What about you?”

He shrugged. “Just passing through.”

Jenni tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and his eye was once again polarised to the bracelet. In full view was a small silver triskele medallion. The exact replica of his.

Impossible. There were only three ever made.

Robert cleared his throat and hoped his voice didn’t falter. “That’s an interesting charm. It’s Celtic, isn’t it?”

She smiled and glanced at it. “That’s right, it’s a triskele.”

“It looks like an original.”

The smile she’d worn lost some of its shine. “It is. I made it a lifetime ago.” She fingered the triskele and looked like she was a thousand miles away. “Actually, I made three of them.”

Robert felt as if the world had just tilted on its axis and he was slipping over the edge.

A moment later, two plates were shoved towards them. “Serviettes and cutlery over on the sideboard,” said the publican pointing to their left.

Jenni reached for her order. “Thanks, Bruce.”

“No problems, Luv. A little birdie tells me it’s your birthday.”

Birthday! Robert broke out in a cold sweat.

Jennie sighed and rolled her eyes. “Ruby blabbered, did she?”

Bruce grinned crookedly and winked. Just then, a customer shouted from the other side of the bar and he smiled apologetically. “Gotta go, Luv. Mind yourself and be careful on the drive.”

“Will do.” She picked up her plate and scanned the area. From the way in which Jenni reached for her lemonade, she’d found a free table. She took a step before half turning to face him. “If you’re alone, you’re welcome to join me. The place is full, and the bar’s not exactly the nicest place to eat a meal.”

Robert tensed. This was against regulations. There was no way he should have any contact with a mark, let alone share a meal with her. His brain may have been fully behind the decision, but his feet were another matter entirely.

Once they sat, Jenni eyed up her plate. “I’m famished.”

Curious, Robert moved the conversation back to the triskele. There had to be a reasonable explanation. “You were telling me about the medallion.”

She looked up in surprise. “I was?”

“You made three of them?”

Jenni nodded and reached for her lemonade. “You know, the triskele harks back to ancient times and has been used in Celtic art for three thousand years.

“Why a triskele?”

Her face turned serious and the light in her eyes dimmed. “I lost my mum to cancer my last year at school. She died twenty years ago last January.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It was a long time ago.” Jenni rubbed the triskele between her fingers. “For the first few months after she passed I was a mess.

Her gazed dropped to the medallion. “My metal works teacher was a lovely old soul.” She laughed as if she’d just told a joke. “Actually, back then I thought he was a right plonker. But he kept on about the magic of the triskele. Somehow I became obsessed. I wanted to make something that would remind me of my mother. In the end, I had enough material to make three.”

A watery sheen clouded her eyes. “They took all the good people that year. My mum, Princess Di, Mother Theresa. You know, today’s the anniversary of Princess Diana’s funeral?”

Even though he’d never admit it, he did—in vivid detail.

“When she died in that car accident I was devastated. It triggered the loss of my mum all over again and I spent the entire day at the cemetry. Before I left, I buried one of the triskele’s I’d made by her gravestone. That way, we would always be connected through the one I’d kept for myself.” Jenni paused and took a breath. She blinked rapidly and focused on her plate. “When they announced that Princess Di’s funeral was on the same day as my birthday, I knew it was a sign. The third was for her.”

“What happened then?”

“We heard the news Mother Theresa had died.” Jenni sighed and leaned back in her chair. “The three strongest women I knew were gone. Each one of them wanted to make the world a better place—they did in their own way. After that year, the world was a little sadder, and I don’t think we ever got over it.”

“So did you leave the third triskele at the palace gates?”

“No. I made a promise that night to try and live up to their legacy and help those not as fortunate. That’s why I got into the profession I’m in. Instead, I wrote a letter and gifted the triskele to a stranger. I knew that mum, Di, and Theresa would guide it to the person that needed it the most.”

Robert’s chest began to thump. “And did you keep that promise?”

Her expression grew grim and her lips compacted into a thin line. “That depends on who you listen to. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years is that the truth differs depending on who’s in power.” Jenni pushed her empty plate forward. “But to answer your question, I’d like to think I’ve made my mother proud.”

Robert’s phone beeped and he glanced at the screen.

Triskele-Image1

Jenni’s doomsday clock had moved closer to midnight. For the remainder of the meal Robert was so distracted he’d only taken in every fifth word of the conversation.

Once they were done, Jenni pushed back her chair. “It was lovely chatting to you, but I’ve got a bit of a drive ahead of me.”

“Of course. I didn’t mean to interrogate you like that.”

She smiled and waved it off as she stood. “No bother. It was nice to talk to someone about something other than work.” Jenni slipped her bag over her shoulder and extended a hand towards him. “I’m Jennifer by the way, and thank you for sharing a birthday dinner with me.”

He took the offered hand. It felt tiny within his as they shook. Instead of letting go, he held it a moment longer. “Robert, and you are welcome.”

She raised her chin, and the corners of her chocolate brown eyes crinkled as a warm smile beamed up at him. With reluctance, he let her hand go.

There was an awkward silence before Jenni readjusted her bag and her eyes darted away as if nervous. “Um… yes… well… better get a move on. Cheerio.”

Robert watched as she walked away. Each step she took was one step closer to her fate. Not for the first time today, he questioned his superior’s motives. There were too many unanswered questions: Why did they not want her to appear in court tomorrow? Why did they balk when they’d discovered she’d scheduled a press conference?

The big screen caught his eye. Images of Prince William and Harry as children walking behind their mother’s coffin, flashed across the screen.

Robert’s throat tightened, and a bead of sweat broke out across his forehead. He was twenty-two again. The familiar feeling of helplessness washed over him. After a lifetime of absence, it rose in all its glory nearly crippling him in the process.

It was a coward’s way out—he knew it then, and was all too aware of it now. Too young and too stupid to think there was any alternative, drugs and alcohol were his weapons of choice. He intended to drink himself into oblivion and down a bottle of sleeping tablets to finish the job.

He’d rifled through his flatmates’ rooms and stole enough money to spend his last night at a decent hotel. Unfortunately, having the money for a room was one thing, being able to find an available one was a different story altogether. Robert hadn’t believed his luck when he found a room at a small hotel near Piccadilly Circus.

By the time he discovered the letter, he’d already finished half a bottle of the cheapest whiskey he could find.

6th September 1997

Today is my birthday. This year we lost my mother. Last week we lost charity. Last night we lost faith. But today I cling to hope.

I have spent the better part of this year angry. Angry at my mother for dying; angry at the world for not finding a cure for her cancer; angry at myself for being angry.

Today this ends.

Anger is not going to bring my mother back, nor will it return Princess Di or Mother Therese. I have no doubt that they have a special place in heaven alongside my mum. They stand side by side with all those who have given far more than they took.

We get so caught up in our own grief we fail to understand that others are suffering as much, if not more, than us. As I look out on the faces of the people passing by, I can hear their hearts breaking. For too long have I wallowed in my own grief and self-pity. I’ve been standing on the outside looking in. A spectator. Too quick to criticise, too quick to judge, too quick to anger.

The world is spiralling downward into oblivion because of spectators like me. My plea to you, dear stranger, do not be a spectator. Make what you do count.

You will find a silver medallion in the envelope along with this letter. When I made them, I had no idea what the triskele truly signified. One rests in the earth with my mum, another will be my constant reminder of her and my link to all that she was, and all she represented. It is people like her whose shoulders we now stand upon.

The third was to be Princess Di’s. I planned to leave it with the rest of the offerings at Buckingham Palace, in hope it would make its way to her final resting place. Instead, it is my gift to you.

Know that you are not alone. Even in your darkest days goodness can be found. We just need to look a little harder. All is not lost. We have faltered but will recover and see the sun rise on another day.

It is only now I understand the true meaning of the triskele.

Past, Present, Future.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Earth, Wind, Sky.

They all are strands of the threads that bind us. We need faith to guide us in our choices, charity to protect the weak, and hope to give us the will to carry on and leave this world a better place than we found it. None can exist without the other, and they bring balance to the universe.

My hope for you is that your life is filled with joy and love. May the triskele always remind you to not be a spectator. Make a difference.

J.

The letter had resonated something in Robert’s half intoxicated, suicidal self. That day he chose life. He walked away from the depths of hell he had been born into, and enlisted in the armed forces. They educated him and gave him a purpose. While her majesty’s service had his gratitude, he owed Jenni his life.

But she’s a traitor! His rational self cried out in horror.

Are you sure about that?

Robert raked a hand through his hair. Right now, he wasn’t sure about anything. If he let her get in the car, her life was forfeit. Could he live with knowing that the very person who changed his life, and brought him back from the edge, was dead by his hands?

He glanced across the room. By now, Jenni had reached the exit after having stopped to chat. The moment her hand reached out for the door, Robert knew what he had to do—no matter the outcome.

Before she managed to fully open the door, Robert was across the room. He reached out, placed his hand over hers and pushed it closed. Her sudden yelp at his unexpected appearance turned a few customer’s heads.

“Do you know if there’s a back entrance to this place?” he asked with urgency. “We need to get out of here.”

Jenni’s surprise was mixed with confusion. “I think so. Why?”

Robert searched her face for any sign of deception. As he pulled his hand away from the door handle, the familiar grooves of his triskele brushed the back of his wrist. Words from the letter swam into his vision, and he briefly shut his eyes. When he opened them again, he met Jenni’s gaze.

“Because nothing is coincidence. Everything happens for a reason.”