In today's world, almost all organizations rely on information technology to make sure operations run smoothly. Systems analysts are at the heart of these IT tasks. Simply put, these skilled workers show organizations how to best use hardware and software to achieve their missions and get things done.
The process of developing software and extending technology to meet maximum benefits within an organization is constant and always evolving. As a result, systems analysts are presented with an ongoing cycle of challenges, including:
- Defining an organization's IT needs
- Determining detailed specifications for these needs or "blueprints"
- Establishing suitable programming methods and tools
- Controlling creation of code and procedures
- Ensuring programs meet organizational needs and applying direct feedback
- Troubleshooting problems and adding desired features
When beginning a new assignment, a systems analyst will likely meet with an organization's management and staff to determine what type of system is needed to support their goals and then build the system around the group's needs. For example, a company might have grown to a point where their collections department cannot handled the increased volume. As a result, bills might be sent out improperly, creating unhappy customers not to mention reduced cash flow.
When called in to help, the systems analyst would likely analyze the flow of work within the department, summarize the steps needed to correct the problems and develop a plan of action to best meet the organization's billing needs. He or she might then prepare specifications that describe the data involved in collecting payment, how it will be accumulated and stored, the calculations involved in billing, the average and maximum number of orders to be handled, and so forth.
The analyst will likely then research available software products to best meet this group's billing needs. If the organization has specific requirements, he or she might work on developing in-house software code to maximize the department's productivity. After the workflow is broken down into logical components, the code will be written, tested and debugged to ensure smooth operation.
What is the average salary for a systems analyst?
Statistics show that systems analyst salaries are generally higher in larger corporations. As a result, salaries are higher in cities with a major corporate presence. As with most occupations, experience also brings higher pay. According to May 2010 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, systems analysts earned mean annual wages of $81,250, with the top 10 percent earning more than $119,000 per year.
Because of their prominent position within IT departments, Alan Norton of TechRepublic recently ranked systems analysts No. 1 on his list of top 10 IT positions. He says this position is recognized for its prestige because of analysts' "expertise in the multiple roles needed to build a successful system," and also notes that these professionals are "envied for their autonomy, high pay and challenging work."
What are career and advancement prospects for systems analysts?
BLS data suggests that employment of systems analysts is expected to grow by 20 percent by 2018, making this career one of the fastest growing in all fields. This rapid growth can be attributed to technology's expansion and advancement in almost all business environments. Widespread acceptance of emerging technologies is also creating opportunities for analysts to integrate new and existing systems. Increasing interest in information security is also boosting job creation for systems analysts, as is the health care industry's increasing use of information technology.
Numbers from the BLS show the following industries employ the highest percentages of systems analysts:
- Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers
- Computer systems design and related services
- Data processing, hosting and related services
- Management of companies and enterprises
- Insurance carriers
A recent search of Dice.com, a job search source for those interested in tech careers, pulled up nearly 11,000 current opportunities for systems analysts. Though these opportunities were scattered across the country, there appear to be higher concentrations in California, New York, New Jersey and North Carolina.
What kind of training or certification is needed to become a systems analyst?
Training requirements for systems analysts can vary by employer or by position, but BLS data indicates that most industries prefer analysts to have at least a bachelor's degree.
Those interested in becoming a systems analyst might also benefit from the following certifications:
- The Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) credential can help systems analysts advance by showing skills with key Microsoft technologies and provides a foundation for further certification from this vendor.
- Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) certification shows the ability to "ability to design and develop enterprise solutions by using Microsoft .NET Framework 1.0 and 1.1, as well as Microsoft development tools and technologies," according to vendor information. This can be useful in displaying skills both in developing and maintaining applications.
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) accreditation is increasingly valuable for systems analysts, especially as the interest in security increases.
Other certifications with strong applications in this field include CompTIA Network+ and PMI's Project Management Professional (PMP). These endorsements can show a professional's ability to develop a project from start to finish, which is essential for developing solutions and integrating technologies.