What Does a Systems Analyst Really Do?

I received a job offer from a large petroleum company during my senior year in college. Upon hearing the news of the offer my mother said, “That’s wonderful darling, but what’s a systems analyst?” At the time, I really didn’t know!

Three weeks after I graduated in May a big moving van collected all of my possessions, including my new car (my first post-graduation debt!) I flew on a plane to Houston while the van made its way south. I did not know anybody in that city. My only contact was an employee that had called me a few times. I knew his name was Fred and I thought he was another systems analyst. When I arrived in the city, I called Fred and he invited me to meet him at headquarters. To my surprise, Fred had a huge corner office on the 25th floor–he was a big-shot manager, not another systems analyst. Fred introduced me to the people in human resources who helped me find an apartment and get situated.

Once settled from my first big move, I had to make another major life adjustment–I was expected to start work at 7:15 a.m.! The first few weeks, I was enrolled in various training classes on the petroleum industry as well as technical classes on COBOL and JCL. During this time, I got to make friends with the other 60 new hires. (I said this was a big company.)

Most of the first work assignments for the new hires involved support of existing systems. My first assignment was on a development team to replace the entire accounting and operating system for the company. There were 70 people on the project, divided into various sub-groups based on business functions, such as accounts receivable, inventory control, accounts payable, general ledger, chart-of-accounts, etc.

I worked on the inventory control subsystem. My team consisted of a team leader–another analyst with 5 years experience, myself, and a full-time user, Ed. Ed used to run one of our largest pipe and wellhead warehouse in New Orleans, but was re-located to Houston to work on this project. He had over 20 years with the company. The goal of our subsystem was to reduce the $1 billion in surplus inventory due to poor business processes. There were over 2,000 warehouses (some are very small, basically a pile of pipe next to a drilling site) and 300,000 material codes. My first job was to understand everything about pipe and wellhead warehouses, including how material is ordered, received into inventory, inspected, tracked, transferred to the drilling sites, etc. Ed and I spent six weeks in a large conference room drawing data flow diagrams of the processes. Then the project leader quit and there was no immediate replacement. (Boy did I panic). I decided that I had to go to the warehouses because I couldn’t conceptualize the business from the data flow diagrams. (Plus I was excited about going to New Orleans).

My senior supervisor said I could go to Midland/Odessa (this was less expensive than New Orleans). This experience was a shock. I showed up at the warehouse in a suit and heels, expecting a clean building with conveyor belts and fork lifts. Instead it was a huge dirt lot with a fence around it. I followed the warehouse personnel and began to appreciate why the accounting systems were so messed up. These people were so busy hauling and inspecting pipe (with big water-pressured machines), that the paperwork was the last thing they did each day. They had to fill out forms and have to remember the material codes for everything that went in and out of the warehouse that day. With 300,000 material codes to choose from, that’s no easy task. If they don’t know the material code, they have to write out a detailed description, such as the weight, grade, thread, length, condition code, etc. After that trip, Ed and I had a much better time communicating.

After starting to design the inventory control system with Ed, I learned the true meaning of the word “integrated system”. We always had to communicate with the other sub-systems. For example, the purchase order sub-system wanted to use a new material catalog, which would affect every one of our programs. The chart-of-accounts subsystem wanted to create new accounting codes, again affecting the design of every one of our programs. We all had to keep in constant communication and there were disagreements over who would change what. (I.E., everyone wants the other team to accommodate them.)

To make a long story short, midway through development, the company decided not to build the system from scratch, but to buy a software package and customize it. We waited 4 months for the contract to be negotiated and signed. With the prospects of nothing to do until the new system arrived, our senior supervisor created “RAMBO” teams to design, develop, and implement little fixes to our current system. The inventory control team (which had a new project leader, yeah!) began designing lots of little things to fix. We bought a Sales and Use Tax table and wrote a program to automatically calculate the right tax for material transfers. (The tax laws are so complicated that we were paying taxes “just-in-case”.) We also built an electronic data interchange to a company that tracks current market prices for pipe and wellhead. This was great because the accountants used to have to keep tons of catalogs in their office to look up prices. We wrote another system to immediately put joint interest checks in a bank (an electronic funds transfer). (Actually, these projects took more than 4 months, but you get the idea).

While working on the development team, I also had other duties. I was the data dictionary coordinator. That meant that as project teams started identifying new data items, I had to give them a valid name and enter it into the dictionary. I also provided reports for the database design team who had to logically order all these data fields.

I was also the security request coordinator. Every time someone wanted access to a data set, I had to verify that they had a legitimate need to either read or read/write to a dataset. I passed the paperwork to the Security Administrator.

I also had to give lots of presentations to other project teams, supervisors, and users. At first I was so nervous about these public speeches. But I joined Toastmasters and learned to really enjoy talking in public. That was a vital skill to learn because that’s about the only time senior level people are exposed to the analysts, and they are the ones who ultimately determine performance ratings.

In summary, my first two years as a systems analyst were very exciting. I spent most of my time talking with users to understand the business and to other analysts to ensure compatibility between subsystems. I did a lot of design work, and created documentation for these designs, including reports, input forms, and programming specifications. I coded some of the programs myself (in COBOL and PL/1). I learned how to test systems as well as implement them. I did some technical writing by documenting new systems, including technical documentation and user documentation. The best things I loved about these two years was making friends with all the other analysts (work was very social), learning all the time about both the business and technology, meeting new challenges such as public speaking and learning to adjust my “technical jargon” to my audience.

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21 Responses to “What Does a Systems Analyst Really Do?”

  1. Leez Says:

    Joining toastmasters was a good idea. I hate public speaking; maybe I should give them a go as well.


  2. Katty Says:

    Well, i dont wholly understand the whole concept of a system analyst, from this story.
    I think, i really need some more data about it. You can send it 2 me, to my E-Mail address above. Cos i really wanna be a good one. Thanks. Kate.


  3. Thembani Kumalo Says:

    Hi guys i’m currently doing my computer science degree in midrand and i’m clueless on how to make it usefull for my life, i think i need a company that will hire me and give me some experience even if its without pay. Pls contact me on 0739531746. I need a company to grow with i’m doing my third year next year and i’m 20 years old. I dont want to waist all i’ve studied.


    • Smarter_than_you Says:

      You want to learn something that will be beneficial? LEARN TO SPELL!!!!

      “Useful” only has one “l”
      “waste” is the word you want – “waist” holds up your pants


  4. Yoly Says:

    Your article is very helpful. I am researchng about contents to put in our IS Virtual Career i.e. Onboarding, Career Management, Performance Management, Training and Development. Can I use the link http:www.systemsanalyst.com/what-does-a-system-analyst-reallydo/?


  5. Ammar Qasaimeh Says:

    i’m third year computer science student in Al-Balqa Apllied Univ. /jordan,my marks in such courses are at least b+, my aim is to be a system analyst so please i need help from you all if there is likns of training firms or any firm in system analysis.

    i will complete my master and PhD in system analysis to achive my aim in these firms so my email is : ammar_ca2003@yahoo.com
    looking forward to hearing from you
    best regards


  6. lena Says:

    i’m third year computer science student in Al-Balqa Apllied Univ. /jordan


  7. lena Says:

    The number of computer systems analysts is expected to grow much faster than average through the year 2018.

    People with proper training should have good job prospects. Those who have college degrees in business and courses related to computers also should be able to find jobs in this field.

    New jobs are expected as more companies try to use computers to improve their businesses. New Internet and wireless technologies are also expected to create more jobs.


  8. New_Systems_Analyst Says:

    I just got a job as a Systems Analyst and was wondering how to begin training. Your article was very helpful. I was wondering if you or the others could suggest any certain tools that are helpful to create the design documents, data flow etc. Also any tools/skills for the testing phase? Thanks!


  9. Zubair Says:

    I got an offer for System Analyst, I’m excited now after reading this. ;)


  10. chinwe Says:

    here is my contact 07065663619


  11. bguy Says:

    Who writes this stuff Amazing that people actually hire folks right out of school with zero experience or even any idea of what a system analyst is. Who wears a suit to an industrial warehouse. It’s not a job interview.


  12. Real Estate Finger Lakes Says:

    Focus on the article’s information, not the grammar and spelling.


  13. Thomas Sullivan Says:

    Most systems analysts work with specific types of computer systems—for example, business, accounting, and financial systems or scientific and engineering systems—that vary with the kind of organization. Analysts who specialize in helping an organization select the proper system hardware and software are often called system architects or system designers. Analysts who specialize in developing and fine-tuning systems often have the more general title of systems analysts.
    Systems analyst is one of the top five jobs in the United States.


  14. Pepero Says:

    Gudday,pls wat courses/programs should i learn do to be a system analyst. Pls my email is danipeperozi4u@yahoo.com


  15. eniam Says:

    Hello there! I am very glad I was able to search this site. I am a graduating IT student and I am very decided on becoming a good systems analyst some day. :)

    I would just like to ask. Is it true that an analyst does not necessarily have to know the intricacies of programming (since it’s the job of the programmers/application developers?)…? That only the fundamentals of it are what the analyst need?


  16. Pinder Says:

    Looking at the article/story and looking through the comments makes my descion to become a systems analyst quite promising. As this job is in the top five at the States and that its a job which is growing vastly. Brings hopes that i’m making the right choice and that i could go to the the States!! :)


  17. chinwe Says:

    i really love to be a system analyst but am confused about the whole thing. am not good in public speaking cos i stammer, it really puts me off. what can i do?



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