Computer System Analysts
Systems analysts plan and develop methods for computerizing business and scientific tasks or improving computer systems already in use. Learn more about this profession.
Systems analysts plan and develop methods for computerizing business and scientific tasks or improving computer systems already in use. They may work for the organization that wants to install a system or for a consulting firm that develops systems under contract.
Systems analysts solve computer problems and enable computer technology to meet individual needs of an organization. They help an organization realize the maximum benefit from its investment in equipment, personnel, and business processes. This process may include planning and developing new computer systems or devising ways to apply existing systems’ resources to additional operations. Systems analysts may design new systems, including both hardware and software, or add a new software application to harness more of the computer’s power. Most systems analysts work with a specific type of system that varies with the type of organization they work for—for example, business, accounting or financial systems, or scientific and engineering systems.
Systems development workers are also referred to as a systems developer and systems architect. Analysts begin an assignment by discussing the systems problem with managers and users to determine its exact nature. They define the goals of the system and divide the solutions into individual steps and separate procedures. Analysts use techniques such as structured analysis, data modeling, information engineering, mathematical model building, sampling, and cost accounting to plan the system. They specify the inputs to be accessed by the system, design the processing steps, and format the output to meet the users’ needs. They also may prepare cost-benefit and return-on-investment analyses to help management decide whether implementing the proposed system will be financially feasible. When a system is accepted, analysts determine what computer hardware and software will be needed to set it up. They coordinate tests and observe initial use of the system to ensure it performs as planned. They prepare specifications, work diagrams, and structure charts for computer programmers to follow and then work with them to "debug," or eliminate errors from the system. Analysts, who do more in-depth testing of products, may be referred to as software quality assurance analysts. In addition to running tests, these individuals diagnose problems, recommend solutions, and determine if program requirements have been met.
Analysts begin an assignment by discussing the data processing problem with managers or specialists to determine the exact nature of the problem and the break it down into its component parts. If a retail chain wishes to computerize its inventory system, for example, systems analysts will determine what information must be collected, how it is to be processed, and the type and frequency of reports to be produced. After they have defined the goals of the system, they use techniques such as mathematical model building, sampling, and cost accounting to plan the system.
Once a design for the system has been developed, systems analysts prepare charts and diagrams that describe it in terms that managers and other users can understand. They also may prepare a cost-benefit and return-on-investment analysis to help management decide whether the proposed system is satisfactory.
If the system is accepted, systems analysts may determine what computer hardware and software will be needed to set up the system. They also prepare specifications for programmers to follow and work with them to "debug," or eliminate errors from the system. The analyst also would design any forms required to collect data and distribute information.
Because the possible uses for computers are so varied and complex, analysts usually specialize in either business, scientific, or engineering applications. Often, they have training or experience in the field in which they develop computer systems.
Some analysts improve systems already in use by developing better procedures or adapting the system to handle additional types of data. Others do research, called advanced systems design, to devise new methods of systems analysis. Working Conditions
Computer systems analysts, engineers and other computer scientists normally work in offices or laboratories in comfortable surroundings. They usually work about 40 hours a week—the same as many other professional or office workers. However, evening or weekend work may be necessary to meet deadlines or solve specific problems. Given the technology available today, telecommuting is common for computer professionals. As networks expand, more work, including technical support, can be done from remote locations using modems, laptops, electronic mail, and the Internet. For example, it is possible for technical personnel, such as computer support specialists, to connect to a customer’s computer remotely to identify and fix problems. Like other workers who spend long periods of time in front of a computer terminal typing on a keyboard, they are susceptible to eye strain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome or cumulative trauma disorder.
Most systems analysts work in urban areas for data processing service firms, government agencies, insurance companies, banks and firms that manufacture durable goods.
A small but growing number of systems analysts are employed on a temporary basis. For example, a company installing a new computer system may need the services of several systems analysts to get the system running.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
There is no universally accepted way of preparing for a job as a systems analyst because employers' preferences depend on the work being done. However, college graduates almost always are sought for these jobs; and, for some of the more complex jobs, persons with graduate degrees are preferred. Employers usually want analysts with a background in accounting or business management for work in a business environment, while a background in the physical sciences, applied mathematics, or engineering is preferred for work in scientifically oriented organizations. Many employers seek applicants who have a degree in computer science, information science, computer information systems, or data processing. Regardless of college major, employers look for people who are familiar with programming languages. Courses in computer concepts, systems analysis, and data base management systems offer good preparation for a job in this field.
Prior work experience in important. About 7 out of 10 persons entering this occupation typically transfer from other occupations, such as engineer, managers and computer programmer.
Systems analysts must be able to think logically, have good communication skills, and like working with ideas and people. They often deal with a number of tasks simultaneously. The ability to concentrate and pay close attention to detail also is important. Although systems analysts often work independently, they also work in teams on large projects. They must be able to communicate effectively with technical personnel, such as programmers and managers, as well as with people who have no computer background.
Technological advances come so rapidly in the computer field that continuous study is necessary to keep skills up to date. Training usually takes the form of 1- and 2-week courses offered by employers and software vendors. Additional training may come from professional development seminars offered by professional computing societies.
Indications of experience and professional competence are the Certificate in Data Processing (CDP) and Certificate of Systems Professional (CSP). These designations are conferred by the Institute for Certification of Computer Professionals upon candidates who have 5 years of experience and who have passed a five-part examination.
Systems analysts may be promoted to senior or lead systems analysts after several years of experience. Systems analysts who show leadership ability also can advance to jobs as managers of data processing departments. Systems analysts with several years of experience may start their own computer consulting firms.
Employment of systems analysts is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations though the year 2000. The demand for systems analysts is expected to rise as advance in technology lead to new applications for computers. Factory and office automation, telecommunications, and scientific research are just a few areas where use of computer systems will expand. About half of all jobs openings for systems analysts will result from replacement needs--although a smaller proportion of systems analysts than of all professional workers leave their occupations each year. Most of the systems analysts who leave the occupation transfer to other jobs such as manager or engineer.
College graduates who have had courses in computer programming, systems analysis, and other data processing areas as well as training or experience in an applied field should enjoy the best prospects for employment. Persons without a college degree and college graduates unfamiliar with data processing will face competition for the large number of experienced workers seeking jobs as systems analysts.
Systems analysts working in the Northeast had the highest earnings and those in the Midwest, the lowest. Generally, earnings were greatest in mining and public utilities, and the lowest in finance, insurance and real estate.
Other workers in applied mathematics, business, and science who use logic and reasoning ability to solve problems are programmers, financial analysts, urban planners, engineers, mathematicians, operations research analysts, and actuaries.