When it comes to deciding where analysts should fit organizationally, Martino believes it's advisable for companies to put business analysts in the IT department, even if they spend a good deal of time with their business unit. One reason for doing so is that they may not have much of a career path on the business side; another is job security.
"If you've got an IT person sitting on the business side and your company starts to have to make cutbacks or is looking for efficiencies, a lot of times they'll look up and say, 'Oh, this is an accounting department -- why do I have this IT person here?' "
Tyco's Hackman says he's seen it work both ways, with a dotted line to either the IT manager or the business side manager. At his unit of Tyco, he has six business analysts. They are part of the IT staff, though they work in an embedded fashion on the business side. Hackman says they function as project managers, serving as the contact point for a business problem solution and often executing the project.
What analysts want: Variety
That type of job description suits Kermit M. Smith just fine. "If I had to program exclusively, I'd probably go nuts," says Smith, currently senior solutions development analyst at Carondelet Health Network/Ascension Health. "I like having multiple projects and working on them. I need the outside stimulation and the problem-solving."
Over the course of his career, Smith has switched back and forth between IT and business. He earned an MIS degree and worked as a developer, among other jobs, before getting into healthcare IT five years ago. Right now, he's working on an electronic health records project that involves transferring 10 years of data to a new system.
But the larger part is making sure it's the kind of system that various healthcare workers -- administrators, nurses and billing employees -- will actually use.
To achieve that goal, Smith has spent time figuring out how to tweak the system so it's most usable and most effective. Carondelet's diabetes clinic, for example, has specific needs, and some of its input screens will need to be unique to those needs or else workers in the clinic will likely reject the system.
"Sometimes we want to overcomplicate things, when all they want is five things on a screen and a graph," Smith admits. "A business analyst should be making sure they're getting information to the place of users, and understand what their needs are."
What analysts deliver: Perspective
At Northwest Exterminating in Marietta, Ga., Director of IT Matthew Metcalfe employs a full-time business analyst, even though his organization is small with just three full-time IT staff and some consultants to support 330 or so employees.