While much of the tech world was buzzing about the launch of Windows 8 last October, there is one group of IT professionals who might not have been in such a hurry to try out the operating system and its sleek new design. Those individuals are computer systems analysts -- professionals whose job it is to make sure businesses are using the best tech tools, which may not necessarily be the latest ones.
"It's the business analyst's goal to determine if it is the right solution for the business," said Dave Bieg, chief operating officer for the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), when asked if computer systems analysts would be rushing to implement Windows 8 for their employers.
Making the right decision about software upgrades is just one duty of computer systems analysts, a fast-growing occupation that some say are the latest stars in the IT world.
A career with many names
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the occupation as computer systems analysts, Bieg notes the career actually goes by many different names. Falling under the broader category of business analysts, you may find these professionals working under a range of titles, including:
- Data analyst
- Process analyst
- Systems analyst
- Business systems analyst
However, what they all have in common is a commitment to helping businesses identify big-picture needs and then working to implement appropriate solutions.
"In a nutshell," said Bieg, "it is basically an individual who analyzes a portion of a business to help create a product that is aligned with the business objectives."
Education and training for computer systems analysts
Under the umbrella of business analysts, computer systems analysts are most likely to work with IT applications and make recommendations regarding the use of technology. However, surprisingly, Bieg says an IT degree isn't always mandatory for those working in these positions.
"Our recommendation is at least a bachelor's degree and then a plan for how to continue to advance skills and competency during their career," he said.
While those leaning toward a career working on the IT side of business might benefit from a technical degree, it may not be needed for all business analyst positions.
Computer systems analysts aren't necessarily creating or implementing computer systems, but rather, they may be responsible for making decisions on how best to leverage technology tools. According to Bieg, since effective communication skills are key to being a successful business or computer systems analyst, someone with a non-tech degree may also be eligible for these jobs so long as they can demonstrate the appropriate skills. The BLS agrees with Bieg's assessment, stating that a bachelor's in a computer-related field is most common, but it's not a firm requirement (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
For analysts who want a way to show they have the necessary skills, industry groups offer continuing education opportunities as well as voluntary certification programs. For example, analysts can receive the trademarked designation of Certified Business Analysis Professional or a Certification of Competency in Business Analysis from the IIBA.
Bieg recommends students get involved in industry associations while still in school. At IIBA, an academic membership is available to students who want to learn more about the career and network with industry professionals.
Analyzing the job outlook
Students who lay the groundwork while still in school may find themselves well-positioned to take advantage of the solid growth expected in the field between 2010 and 2020. According to the BLS, computer systems analyst positions are expected to increase 22 percent nationally during this span (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
Those with the right skills may be able to earn healthy incomes, too. The BLS reports that computer systems analysts earned a median national annual salary of $79,680 as of May 2012, with the lowest 10 percent making up to $49,950 and highest 10 percent making up to $122,090 (bls.gov/oes, 2013).
Considering these job growth and salary numbers, it's not surprising that several major news and career sites think highly of the profession. In U.S. News & World Report's Best Jobs of 2013 rankings, computer systems analyst was the No. 1 technology job and No. 4 overall job. Meanwhile, CareerCast.com ranked the profession the 10th best for 2013 among the 200 it evaluated, reports Forbes.
Computer systems analysts may not be running to install Windows 8 or the latest computer hardware, but they are keeping their finger on the pulse on the latest technology as they look for new and better ways to help their business succeed. Meanwhile, for students seeking a fast-paced career in a growing field, Bieg says constantly evolving technology means computer systems analysts will always be in demand.
"Do you want a job after graduation?" he asks. "Then I would say to consider business analysis."
"Best Jobs of 2013," U.S. News & World Report, Accessed June 13, 2013, http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/rankings
"Computer Systems Analysts," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 18, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Computer-and-Information-Technology/Computer-systems-analysts.htm
"Computer Systems Analysts," May 2012 Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 29, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes151121.htm
Interview with Dave Bieg, COO for the International Institute of Business Analysis, October 2012
"The Best and Worst Jobs for 2013," Forbes, Jacquelyn Smith, April 23, 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/04/23/the-best-and-worst-jobs-for-2013/