One of the most important roles in a data warehousing project is the business analyst. However on most projects the role can involve several different roles. In addition, the project might require then to fill multiple roles.
The first and most common role is that of defining business requirements. So let us call this function business requirements analysis. In this role the job of the data analyst to discover from the business their requirements for the project. These requirement can be documented in various ways. Often the requirement can be expressed in the form of questions the business has. Another way the requirement can be expressed is in the form of report requirements. In each case we are not looking at the business processes, only at questions the business has or the reports the business wants.
Another role is that of business analysis. This role is more challenging because the analyst must understand the business and the challenges the business is facing. Based on this understanding, the challenge of the analyst is to come up with ideas about how better information can help the business perform at a higher level. Take as example a retailer who captures buying patterns of shoppers based on the cash register record. The analyst might suggest to focus on a segment of purchases and analyze the profitability of that shopping basket. Another way of analyzing the buying patterns is to look at the customer as opposed to the basket. The customer buying patterns can be analysed often through loyalty card data. A good analyst will look at the actual processes in the store and ask different questions than the retailer might ask to divine business intelligence.
The third activity as opposed to role is one of design. The result of most analysis is a design to meet requirements. I have found that most analysts rushed to solution and design far to fast. Based on the data that is available the analysts quickly comes up with reports that can present the data in new ways. However if we avoid the steps of understanding the business problem, we will rush to a report based on the data we have as opposed to a response to a business problem. Most analysts will rush to solution and design because of the discomfort of dealing with uncertainty and admitting to a lack of understanding of the business problem and process.
The business analyst is caught in the middle between the business and IT folks. The role is to create a bridge and understand the issues on both sides of the chasm. I do not think we appreciate how difficult the role can be and do not give them support they need in dealing with the complex issues of data warehousing project hoping to deliver business intelligence.