Systems analysts examine a company's IT systems and infrastructure and work out how to improve them

As a system's analyst, you'll use computers and related systems to design new IT solutions, modify, enhance or adapt existing systems and integrate new features or improvements in order to improve business efficiency and productivity. You'll need a high level of technical expertise and clear insights into current business practices.

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 programmers and developers, throughout the development process.

You will conduct a cost analysis and agree the time frame to implement the proposed solution. You'll 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.

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.

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

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 you’ll typically need to:

  • liaise closely with external or internal clients
  • analyse clients' existing IT systems and business models
  • map and document interfaces between legacy and new systems
  • understand software development lifecycles
  • translate client requirements into highly specified project briefs
  • identify options for potential solutions and assess them for both technical and business suitability
  • conduct requirements analysis and prepare specific proposals for modified or replacement systems
  • develop solutions and related products
  • produce project feasibility and costings reports
  • present proposals to clients
  • work closely with programmers, developers, testers and a variety of end users to ensure technical compatibility and user satisfaction
  • ensure that budgets are adhered to and deadlines are met
  • draw up, supervise and document testing schedules for complete systems
  • oversee implementation of a new system including data migration
  • plan and work flexibly to deadlines
  • support users on change control and system updates
  • provide training and user manuals to users of a new system
  • keep 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, on average, in excess of £40,000.
  • 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.

Figures are intended as a guide only. For information on systems analyst salaries, see IT Jobs Watch.

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. Work usually takes place in a project team, which might be based on clients' premises.
  • You may be able to work flexibly or from home. Organisations often outsource systems/business analysis and IT development work to IT 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. Experienced analysts may choose to set up as independent consultants.
  • There are more men than women working in the industry. However, various groups exist to support and increase the representation of women in IT and technology, such as BCSWomen.
  • You will need to travel to meet clients and may have to stay away from home overnight. You may also travel overseas if the company has interests and clients outside the UK.

Qualifications

You don't need a degree for entry-level positions that include 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 or electronic engineering
  • information management systems
  • mathematics and operational research
  • science-based subjects.

It's also possible to take a BSc/MSci IT Management for Business (ITMB). This degree was established by leading employers and Tech Partnership Degrees to address the skills gap and shortages in the industry. Search the course providers offering the ITMB.

You could also take a degree apprenticeship, which combines work with part-time study at a university. Tech Partnership Degrees, for example, accredits the Digital and Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are available at different levels and in various areas of IT.

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

You can enter this field without a degree or HND, but you'll need well-developed IT skills and previous experience in a related role.

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

Skills

You'll need to have:

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

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

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

Work experience

It's important to get relevant IT-related work experience. This could be through vacation work, an internship or an industrial placement. Large companies usually advertise internships and placements on their websites and on IT job websites, but you may have to make targeted speculative applications to smaller businesses.

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, such as IBM, to micro organisations employing fewer than five people, so you should think about which type of organisation will 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 civil service
  • commercial and manufacturing companies
  • the financial services and insurance sector
  • global investment banks
  • the public sector
  • retailers
  • service industries
  • utility companies.

Some IT companies specialise in one area, such as internet solutions, or produce software tailored to a particular market. If you're employed as an analyst, you'll 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-sized 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:

See the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) for a list of member consultancy firms that may be useful for speculative applications.

Professional development

Training often takes place on the job with additional support from 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.

You can also develop your interpersonal skills in order to enhance interaction with clients, with courses in areas such as:

  • communication
  • leading a team
  • presentation skills.

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

Membership of relevant bodies such as The Institution of Analysts and Programmers (IAP) and the BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT) is useful for building up a network of contacts.

Continuing professional development is key throughout your career and you'll need to keep updating and reviewing your skills as new technologies, products and services emerge. You could study for a short course or Masters at a university or undertake a practitioner qualification offered by a specialist training provider. Useful CPD qualifications include the BCS Practitioner Certificate in Enterprise and Solutions Architecture and Prince2.

With experience you could apply for professional registration as a Chartered IT Professional (CITP).

Career prospects

Your immediate prospects depend on the size and type of the organisation you work for, so movement between employers is relatively 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
  • cloud technology
  • data protection
  • mobile apps
  • security.

Your career advancement opportunities might include:

  • progression to senior or lead analyst, leading a team of analysts
  • indirect moves within the organisation, such as 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.

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