The IR Journey into BA: Applications of Business Analysis within Institutional Research


Institutional Research practitioners perform a wide range of responsibilities within their respective organizations. Professional development opportunities are crucial for building skill capacity and remaining abreast of a rapidly changing higher education landscape. I would like to share some insights from a recent professional development opportunity made available through NDUS Core Technology Services (CTS). A Masters Certificate program in Business Analysis (BA), made possible by a collaboration between Watermark Learning® and Auburn University, was offered as a six course sequence from September 2020 to April 2021. Dr. Susan Heidorn, Director of Business Solutions at Watermark Learning®, facilitated instruction for each of the following program courses.

  • Business Analysis Fundamentals
  • Eliciting Requirements
  • Agile Business Analysis
  • Business Process Modeling & Improvement
  • Influencing Without Authority
  • Organizational Change Management

Not to be confused with the BA completed as part of my undergraduate program, BABOK® Guide 3.0 defines Business Analysis as “The practice of enabling change in an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.” Business Analysis has applications in a wide variety of organizations, including higher education. A Business Analyst is therefore “any person who performs business analysis tasks described in the BABOK® Guide, no matter their job title or organizational role.”

The IR and BA roles share many of the same soft skill competencies including problem solving, analytical skills, decision making, creative thinking, systems thinking, conceptual thinking, visual thinking, and a thirst for learning. Behavioral characteristics of personal accountability, ethics, trustworthiness, adaptability, organizational management, and time management are similar across both fields. Practitioners in both fields must develop listening skills along with verbal, non-verbal, and visual communication skills. Leadership, influencing, facilitation, teamwork, teaching, negotiation, and conflict resolution are valuable skills in the IR and BA roles.

Understanding requirements is important in IR and BA work. A requirement may be simply defined as “A usable representation of a need.” (International Institute of Business Analysis. A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, BABOK® – Version 3. International Institute of Business Analysis, 2015). Careful planning is important to make sure that all requirements are fully understood. Requirements may be specific to business goals, specific stakeholders, functional and non-functional solution requirements, transition from one process to another, project implementation, and quality assurance. There are many ways to gather requirements from stakeholder groups. Surveys, interviews, and focus groups are among the tools used by Institutional Researchers and Business Analysts.

The program included an introduction to using the Agile methodology in Business Analysis. While implementation practices may differ from one organization to another, main principles (Watermark Learning) have broad application, including within IR:

  • See the Whole: The value for the solution is created through gaining an understanding of the context, the solution, and the stakeholders.
  • Think as a Customer: Ensures solutions incorporate the customer through a clear understanding of the expected user experience.
  • Analyze to Determine What is Valuable: Continuously assess and prioritize work to be done in order to maximize the value being delivered.
  • Get Real Using Examples: Involves using examples to help develop a shared understanding of the need and how the solution satisfies that need.
  • Understand what is Doable: Understand how to deliver a solution within constraints such as time, team skills, and technology.
  • Stimulate Collaboration and Continuous Improvement: BAs continually collaborate between those with a need and those delivering a solution to meet that need. The agile mindset uses feedback, both structured and unstructured, for continuous improvement.
  • Avoid Waste: Identify which activities add value and which do not. Any activity that doesn’t contribute to the goal of meeting the business need is a waste.

Business Process Modeling (BPM) and Improvement (BPI) speak to the IR practitioner roles related to planning and evaluation. Visual depictions of processes can be used to assist in training, improve documentation, highlight best practices, determine stakeholder roles, design automated systems, and facilitate communication. Sound improvement processes can reduce costs, decrease redundancy, enhance quality, streamline processes, and remove waste. IR practitioners may be positioned to influence decisions without direct decision making authority through our access to data, skills in contextualizing it, and the credibility maintained through these activities. Watermark Learning® presented its Influencing Formula in the context of Business Analysis, however, it translates well to Institutional Research:

Influencing Without Authority = Trust + Prep * Courage

Change is a constant in life, including within higher education. IR practitioners continuously collect data upon, study, evaluate, and report on changes. Organizational Change Management (OCM) is defined as “A framework for managing the effect of new business processes, changes in organizational structure, or cultural changes within an enterprise” (Watermark Learning®). An effective OCM process can:

  • Identify the personal shift in processes, behaviors, skills, and mindsets required for a successful initiative.
  • Identify who is impacted by the change.
  • Determine the change network needed to make the change happen.
  • Engage stakeholders by involving them in the design, impact analysis, training, etc.
  • Pave the way for strong and sustained sponsorship.
  • Help business partners plan their ‘readiness’ activities for a smooth cutover and change sustainability.
  • Support a faster transition period.

To maximize the prospects for the change we are seeking, we must believe in human potential, understand the importance of people in change processes, be transparent, truthful, discourage complacency, plan appropriately for the change, inform arguments with appropriate data from diverse sources, effectively communicate the reasons for change, foster effective working relationships, and treat transformation as an event.

Watermark Learning® presented a Formula for change:   C = (D * V * FS) > R

  • Change: What’s wrong with the current state?
  • Dissatisfaction: What’s wrong with the current state?
  • Vision: How will the future state address the future state issues?
  • First Steps: How will we get from the current to future state?
  • Resistance: What are the obstacles and challenges?

Source: The Formula for Change was created by Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher, refined by Kathie Dannemiller and is sometimes called Geicher’s Formula

The Masters Certificate in Business Analysis program was a very worthwhile experience as part of my lifelong learning journey. Thank you to NDUS Core Technology Services for the opportunity. Aside from being fellow entries in the alphabet soup of acronyms in education or the “acronym quicksand” more generally in our lives, BA can help guide IR practitioners in helping organizations define and implement effective initiatives.


   Dr. Gregory Carlson is an Institutional Researcher – Special Projects with the North Dakota University System. Working closely with the Department of Public Instruction and Information Technology Department, primary responsibilities include project management, data framing, and ensuring compliance with requirements for statewide K-12 public school Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability reporting through the Insights interactive public dashboards. He assists in addressing accountability data questions from education stakeholders and facilitating use of educational data to facilitate continuous improvement of student learning within North Dakota’s public K-12 schools.