A Business Analyst’s job is never done. You drafted a perfect set of requirements for that new solution your business is itching for, and handed it over to the development team. You’re done, right? Wrong!
In today’s business world, a Business Analyst adds value long after the requirements are done, because there are additional choices for a business to make. In the past you would hand over requirements for an in-house development team to code and just wait for the solution to be done, but today’s marketplace has additional complexities.
Consider some of the various ways in which a business could implement a solution:
- Your in-house development team can build a new custom solution and deploy it to your organization’s servers or data center;
- The development team can build a new custom solution, but deploy it to a cloud platform;
- Your coders can limit their activity to modifying existing code rather than building something new;
- The business unit could buy a software product from among a number of vendors (called Commercial Off-the-Shelf Software or COTS), eliminating most software development except for what is necessary to configure and deploy it in your environment;
- The business unit could opt to license a managed service, something a vendor provides and hosts with minimal customization (think of something like Gmail or Microsoft Office 365 as examples).
The options are bewildering. This is especially true when you consider that when you go with outside vendors for COTS or managed services, each vendor will provide a different bundle of functionality that may meet more or less of what you need, in different ways. Somehow, the business must choose.
So guess who plays a key role in picking? YOU, the Business Analyst, of course!
The key to finding order in this madness is using evaluation criteria. When there are multiple solution options competing against one another, you need to have objective goalposts to use for measuring how good each solution is in an apples-to-apples kind of way. You can then score each potential solution against the criteria and decide upon the winner.
If you’re wondering what criteria you should use for evaluating solutions, here are some of the most important to consider. You don’t necessarily have to use all of them, and you may decide to use others not on this list.
There are four major categories to consider.
1) Business Function Evaluation Criteria
These are your functional requirements, preferably in an abbreviated form that allows you to check each off as “yes” or “no” when judging whether a potential solution can meet the most important ones.
2) Technology Evaluation Criteria
There are a number of factors to consider here, each of which becomes its own criterion. Most of them have to do with the attributes of the technology rather than the direct business functions they provide.
- Architecture: does the solution fit well (i.e., interoperate well) with your system/application architecture? Is it compliant with your enterprise architecture vision and standards?
- Flexibility/Scalability: how well does the solution scale with increased numbers of users/transactions/whatever is relevant to your business?
- Security: does the solution meet your organization’s security standards?
- Data and Information: does the solution meet your organization’s standards for managing, storing, and interacting with data in a secure fashion?
- Performance: what performance level does the solution provide?
- Measurement: how does the solution measure performance? What analytics does it make available?
- Ease of use: how easy is the technology to use for the business and for customers?
- Deployment model: is the solution on your own premises or in the cloud? (Your organization may prefer one or the other.)
3) Vendor-Specific Evaluation Criteria
In addition to judging the product itself, you must also judge the vendor providing the solution (if you are going with COTS, cloud, or managed service implementations.)
- Overall vision: what is the vendor’s overall vision for the product’s future, and does it match well with your organization’s?
- Vendor stability: Is the vendor on good financial footing? (You want someone who’s going to be around for a while so they can support your product.)
- Vendor reputation: What does the industry think of the vendor and/or the product you are considering?
- Tech support: what are their levels of tech support? (9-5 Monday through Friday, 24 hours? etc.)
- Training: what kind of training do they provide to you for their product?
- Software Releases: how frequently do they release patches with enhancements or security updates?
4) Cost-related Evaluation Criteria
Last, but certainly not least, is cost. Cost matters a lot. Businesses frequently choose less-than-ideal solutions because they cost too much, and have to settle with something less than perfect. The question is where do you draw the line. Consider:
- What is the cost for initial acquisition and licensing of the product?
- How many user licenses does the business need and at what cost?
- What are the costs for implementing (i.e., coding, testing, and deploying) the product?
- What is the price of maintaining the product after implementation, including tech support, over a number of years?
- How much does the hardware cost for supporting the product?
- What is the estimation of resources and costs the solution would use if deploying to the cloud (e.g., storage needs, bandwidth, computer processing needs, etc.)?
Once you select your evaluation criteria, you must rank and weigh them so that they can be useful for choosing from among your different options. That procedure is the subject of a future post.
There’s a lot to know here when developing these evaluation criteria, and technical staff can help refine and ultimately judge the criteria. But you as the Business Analyst are responsible for providing the overall direction and parameters for judging a solution, and these evaluation criteria will help you show the way forward.