What kind of business are you in?

The question “what kind of business are you in?” seems simple enough and is a standard question that businesses ask themselves to stay relevant and not lose sight of their market. However as we know, the answers to simple open questions can end up being complicated. Looking at an example of a wrong answer for this question: railroad company thinks of themselves as a company in the railroad business, not realizing they are in the transportation business. An extreme example of bad decision making was Kodak not realizing they were in the memory / emotion capture business and instead they focused on providing film and print material because it had made them money for over 100 years. By the time they realized what business they were in, it was too late.

You might be wondering what direction I am taking this in. I want you to consider how you would answer this question in relation to your current career as a business analyst.

As a business analysts, I consider we are there to help generate improvement of profit and or reduction of costs for the companies we work at. However most employers (who are actually our customers) don’t see that in our role but instead look upon us to be specific in what we provide them in terms of knowledge and experience. Examples would be:

  • Payment handling
  • Healthcare data processing
  • General data analytics
  • Anti money laundering
  • Utilities
  • Mobile applications development
  • etc..

This narrow role definition by our customers puts us back into the mental mode of thinking that we are in the railroad business and not in transportation. Basically our customers are not going to tell us that they plan to make us obsolete with a new solution to their business needs or that they are losing market share in their industry (leading to job losses). We have to think beyond what we immediately provide to the customer and consider at least two things in our careers.

  1. Industry trends
  2. Tools we use

Industry Trends:

  • Is the Industry that we are working in shrinking or growing in our geographic location of work? Example – think of factories that get closed or corporate mergers either of which would reduce people needed in the industry.
    • To overcome, you would either need to gain experience / knowledge in a new industry or move location to where the work is (if that is an option).
  • Are there current or future disruptions to the way the work is being done in our industry that we need to be aware of? Example – looking at the railroad, the rails, trains and railcars are just a tool used in transportation. Certainly they help the railway business make money but as the railway companies found out in America after the interstate roads were built, new options for transportation by road upset the apple cart. Money invested in trains and railcars was lost because these tools did not work on the road. Basically being only in the railroad business was going to cause a loss of market share, decline in profits and decline in employment opportunities.
    • To overcome, you need to stay aware of advancements in technology / process that could impact your industry and seek knowledge / experience with the new and even considering changing industry if the new will make your industry obsolete and or reduce its market share causing a reduction in employment.

Tools We Use

  • Are the tools required to do your job changing? Example – with the move to more Agile IT work we are expected to have used formal tools for managing user stories, backlogs etc.. Reporting is another area where tools are continually evolving.
    • To overcome, you need to monitor the tools specified in job postings prior to your next job, have a budget set aside for training, get the training and if possible work out how to get experience with the tool/s.

In summary, don’t let your current success with customers blind you to the market. Stay current with what industries are doing (growing or shrinking) and what tools you need to do your job. That way you will continue to help companies improve their profits and reduce their expenses. Plan to budget for time and money to be spent to keep yourself marketable to customers. Be prepared to ditch an industry if the future looks grim. Don’t focus on pure profit, invest in yourself to stay in line with the market otherwise you may become the next Kodak.

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