Analytical, solution-focused types, who are great communicators and team players, could enjoy working as a systems analyst

As a systems analyst, you will use computers and related systems to design new IT solutions, modify, enhance or adapt existing systems and integrate new features or improvements, all with the aim of improving business efficiency and productivity.

You must have a high level of technical expertise and clear insights into current business practices. Depending on the employer, clients may be internal, e.g. departments within the same organisation, or external.

You will:

  • examine existing IT systems and business models;
  • analyse systems requirements;
  • undertake product development;
  • implement, configure and test feasible solutions.

Your role is to liaise between and report to internal and external clients and stakeholders, including colleagues and developers, throughout the development process.

You will conduct a cost analysis and agree the timeframe to implement the proposed solution. You specify and shape the system requirements and operations, the user interface and output and present the proposal to the client. You will work closely with the client team, including commercial managers and software developers, during both the report and implementation phase.

Job titles in the IT sector are fluid so look closely at job descriptions rather than job titles.

Fourth generation languages (4GL) and object-orientated programming simplify technological language, so traditional boundaries between systems or business analysis and programming have eroded. Overlap with project management is also common.

Responsibilities

As a systems analyst, you'll work on an organisation's particular IT system but also with a client's legacy environment so you need to be able to adapt to different programming languages.

Work activities also depend on the size and nature of the employing organisation and the focus of clients' business demands, but typically involve:

  • liaising extensively with external or internal clients;
  • analysing clients' existing systems and business models;
  • mapping and documenting interfaces between legacy and new systems;
  • understanding software development lifecycle;
  • translating client requirements into highly specified project briefs;
  • identifying options for potential solutions and assessing them for both technical and business suitability;
  • conducting requirements analysis and preparing specific proposals for modified or replacement systems;
  • developing solutions and related products;
  • producing project feasibility and costings reports;
  • presenting proposals to clients;
  • working closely with colleagues, developers, testers and a variety of end users to ensure technical compatibility and user satisfaction;
  • ensuring that budgets are adhered to and deadlines are met;
  • drawing up, supervising and documenting testing schedules for complete systems;
  • overseeing implementation of a new system including data migration;
  • planning and working flexibly to deadlines;
  • supporting users on change control and system updates;
  • providing training and user manuals to users of a new system;
  • keeping up to date with technical and industry developments.

Salary

  • Junior analysts can expect to earn between £20,000 and £25,000, while more experienced analysts earn in excess of £40,000, on average.
  • Salaries are higher in some sectors, especially the financial sector and in London, the South East and the Midlands. If you have good business skills, you could move into more strategic business development roles with higher pay.

Income data from IT Jobs Watch. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll typically work 37 to 40 hours a week. Overtime, including weekends, is possible in order to meet deadlines and deal with any technical issues. Longer working hours may be the norm in the financial sector and consultancy.

What to expect

  • You'll be office-based, with most communication via phone and email. You may spend some time outside the department or office, particularly in the early stages of a project when you may need to work in a client's office or business area.
  • You may be able to work flexibly or from home. Organisations often outsource systems/business analysis and IT development work to IT consultants.
  • Many experienced analysts choose to set up as independent consultants.
  • Jobs are available in many large towns and cities in the UK, but most large employers are based in London and the South East of England.
  • There are more men than women working in the industry. However, opportunities for women to enter employment in the IT sector have never been greater. Various groups exist to support and increase the representation of women in IT and technology, such as BCSWomen and the Women in Tech Council.
  • You will be busy working to meet client deadlines and the high level of responsibility may be stressful.
  • In some smaller organisations you may be able to get involved in multiple simultaneous projects, which provides plenty of variety.
  • Dress code is generally relaxed but may be formal when visiting clients.
  • Work usually takes place in a project team, which might be based on clients' premises.
  • You will have to travel to meet clients, which may entail staying away from home overnight. You may also have to travel overseas if the company has interests and clients outside the UK.

Qualifications

You don't need a degree for entry-level positions with training and development opportunities but most systems analysts are graduates in IT and business subjects.

If your degree is in a business-related subject, you'll need to demonstrate interest in, and a clear understanding of technology and information management systems, preferably with evidence of relevant qualifications outside your degree studies.

Analysts usually enter the profession as junior programmers, progressing to developer and/or consultancy roles. You'll need experience to progress.

The following degree subjects are relevant:

  • business information systems;
  • business studies;
  • computer science/information technology;
  • electrical/electronic engineering;
  • information management systems;
  • mathematics;
  • science-based subjects.

The Information Technology Management for Business degree (ITMB) was established by top employers and The Tech Partnership to address the skills gap and shortages in the industry.

For information about where you can study an ITMB visit IT Management for Business (ITMB).

Most new entrants to larger companies are graduates with a 2:1 degree. However, entry is possible with a HND if you have prior experience, although a lower starting salary is likely.

You can enter this field without a degree or HND but you would need well-developed IT skills and good previous experience in computing or business.

If you are a graduate from a non IT-related subject, you could take a relevant postgraduate conversion qualification. Search postgraduate courses in computer science.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • broad knowledge of hardware, software and programming;
  • the ability to learn quickly;
  • the ability to contribute to a team effort;
  • a logical approach to problem solving;
  • good interpersonal and client-handling skills with the ability to manage expectations and explain technical detail;
  • business awareness;
  • a methodical, investigative and inquisitive mind;
  • presentation skills;
  • excellent oral and written communication skills;
  • planning and negotiating skills;
  • initiative and self-confidence;
  • an interest in the way organisational processes work.

As a systems analyst, you will be expected to have a working knowledge of programming as well as analytical skills. Common programs include:

  • SQL;
  • Oracle;
  • Sequel;
  • Visual Basic, C++ and Java;
  • Unified Modelling Language (UML);
  • SAP business software applications;
  • Web-based technologies.

Work experience

Gaining relevant pre-entry experience, IT-related vacation work, an internship or an industrial placement, could lead directly to graduate employment.

Start making applications to larger firms in the autumn term of your final year as competition for vacancies is keen, particularly with high-profile employers.

Employers

IT businesses in the UK range from industry giants like IBM to micro organisations, employing fewer than five people, so you should think about which type of organisation might best suit your needs.

Analysts work in almost every kind of organisation within the IT industry, including firms of management consultants, software and systems houses, and large manufacturers of computing equipment, who offer consultancy services.

Consultants' client companies are diverse and include:

  • automotive firms;
  • the financial services sector;
  • global investment banks;
  • manufacturers;
  • the public sector;
  • utility companies.

Some IT companies specialise in one area, such as internet solutions, or produce software tailored to a particular market. If you are employed as an analyst, you will be required to have or develop specialist knowledge and experience in that area or about those products and client sectors.

Some end-user organisations with large IT departments may employ their own internal analysts. Increasingly sophisticated payment systems, information storage, client records management and compliance processes are growth areas.

Working with a small to medium enterprise (SME) may allow you to develop a broader range of skills, gain earlier responsibility and experience a variety of short-term projects.

Opportunities also occur overseas with UK and foreign companies, or with international organisations.

Look for job vacancies at:

You should bear in mind that virtually all companies recruiting for IT vacancies advertise them on the internet.

See the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) for companies employing consultants. You may be able to make prestigious and useful contacts, gain advice and even employment through membership of a professional organisation such as the Institution of Analysts and Programmers (IAP). They also have a Register of Consultants.

Professional development

To develop your technical and business skills you will be expected to participate in on-the-job training and in-house courses.

These are likely to cover programming languages and the principles of systems analysis, plus specific training to cover the technical skills required for particular projects.

Organisations also run courses to develop inter-personal skills in order to enhance interaction with clients, such as:

  • communication;
  • leading a team;
  • presentation skills.

Many large companies run mentoring schemes to ensure that you are exposed to different working environments and systems. They also try to tailor your training opportunities to the projects you're working on.

Top employers and The Tech Partnership have developed a qualifications framework, featuring links with qualifications vendors and awarding bodies including the BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT), to ensure professional standards and provide a platform for the recognition of skills.

The BCS also provides information and guidance to assist members to develop their expertise and recognise and plan their learning needs.

Equally, you may want to become a member of techUK to gain access to a range of courses, events and advice.

You'll need to keep updating and reviewing your skills as new technologies, products and services emerge.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is, therefore, all-important. Many technology vendors offer a range of solutions and training options, such as the SFIA Foundation (Skills Framework for the Information Age), which is supported by key professional bodies in the industry.

Useful CPD qualifications include the BCS Certificate in Enterprise and Solutions Architecture and Prince2.

Career prospects

As an analyst, your immediate prospects depend on the size and type of the organisation you work for, consequently movement between employers is common.

Analysts often develop expertise in a particular business sector and career progression depends on your ability to upskill in line with current trends in the sector, such as:

  • analytics;
  • big data;
  • data protection;
  • evolving cloud technology;
  • mobile apps;
  • security.

Your career advancement opportunities might include:

  • progression to consultant or senior consultant, liaising with top-level management in client organisations;
  • indirect moves within the organisation, for example, developing specific technical expertise (in a systems/technical architect role);
  • project management, or sales and account management roles;
  • moving in a more strategic business direction, either within the company or with a consultancy firm.

The size of the organisation that you work for is likely to have direct implications on the way that your career will progress, depending on its structure and business focus.

In a large organisation, you may have more opportunity to specialise in a particular client group, or to advance through the corporate structure. You may also get the chance to work in multidisciplinary teams or in overseas branches of the parent group.

In a small organisation, you might gain experience in a variety of associated functions across the business, feel closer to the front line of business activity and see the direct commercial impact of your contribution.