Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.
Job title and company: Business Systems Analyst at Anchor Trust
Approximate salary range for your type of role: £41,000 to £50,000
In 2006, I completed my BEng in Computer Science from Mumbai University. Following this, I started working in my father’s construction company. You may be thinking Computer Engineering to Civil Engineering, why? The answer is simple – money is good. After two years, even though the work was challenging, I felt that something was missing. I didn’t know what it was but the quest had begun to seek out what was missing from my career. Then the day came when I decided that I need to acquire more skills, and in order to do so I decided to do a course outside of India to attain some international exposure. After much research and discussion with friends and family members I decided to do an MBA in the UK. And from then a plan was put in motion to make that happen. In September 2008 (months after my decision to go abroad for studies) I landed in Manchester start my MBA at University of Sheffield.
I was all excited about exploring life in a completely new environment. I was always planning to go back to India after my MBA but was open to the idea of doing some work in UK for a few months. But all this excitement took a nose dive, when I switched the television saw the news headline stating the number of job cuts in ‘RBS’ – the kind of work I’d been hoping to do. It was not the start I was hoping for but even though I felt low about the prospect of working in UK, I was still enthused to be in Great Britain (factoring the colonial connection between the British Raj and India) and was sincerely looking forward to meeting new people.
That was day one and before I know it, it was day 365 and I was submitting my MBA dissertation to the Management School. In those 365 days, I did my studies, learned new things, missed my family, craved Indian food (none of the curry house was even close to it), and… the best thing that happened in my life was that I fell in LOVE! So I decided to stay in the UK, and I had to find work in the middle of the economic crisis. I always believed there is an opportunity in every adversity: when you are struck with adversity your mind, heart and soul will work out a way to get out of it and this is where my academic career began!
I started working for the University of Sheffield as a Teaching Assistant in Information Systems, an opportunity that came about because I asked every single lecturer in the Management School for work (paid or unpaid) and who ever said there is “no harm in asking” was right. During this teaching role, I started working on my PhD – my thesis is associated with Learning and Teaching. My boss became my supervisor, and this was to form the next six years of my life.
Over that six years, I took up a number of projects (full time/part time, and not more than 20 hours per week due to Visa conditions). I worked with the University and with different companies in a Business Systems Analyst capacity (because my PhD was getting more focused on Business Systems). By the time I was reaching the conclusion of my PhD, I was bolder, smarter, wiser, sharper, stronger and willing to take more risks. And considering the experience I’d gained as a Business Analyst I started exploring wider opportunities. I got a contract at University of Salford first, and from there I moved to Anchor Trust as a Business Systems Analyst (can also be termed Business Analyst or Systems Analyst).
For me, the choice of post-PhD career was not because there was no opportunity in academia, but because the ethos of both these worlds are very different. In my research area, I would have found it difficult to go in the corporate sector after being in academia for a while, but vice versa is highly plausible.
My role as a Business Systems Analyst involves working within Anchor Trust (one of the largest care home providers in England with over 125 care homes and with a turnover of over ~£300 million), to understand our strategic objectives as a company, and translate this into an applications roadmap to support us to achieve. I am an expert who works across all organisational functions to guide and advise on our processes, applications, and configurations, and whether these are optimally integrated in helping us fulfil our functions as a business, with maximum efficiency. I am part of the Central IT function and work directly with the Board of Directors. My team constitutes people coming from a wide array of experiences and vast cultural diversity.
My typical day is made up of meetings with different stakeholders, attending/giving presentations, travelling to different operational sites across England, writing reports, developing process maps, data mapping, scoping new requirements, reviewing policies and procedures etc.
The projects that I am currently working on focus on designing or redesigning software or ways to use system tools and developing policies and procedures around their use. I am also designing, governance frameworks for management information – i.e. how the business collects and uses data.
Comparing the work that I am doing at Anchor and what I did the University of Sheffield, it is difficult to say which one is better than the other. It comes down to personal choices – both worlds have their pros and cons but they are very subjective in nature as it depends upon: your qualifications, experience, needs, personality, the available options, time line (short term vs long term gains), and knowing what your strengths and weakness are.
Core skills that are required of a Business Analyst are (as for a PhD) problem-solving, critical thinking, documentation & reporting, data analysis. I also regularly use visual modelling and Methodologies such as: Agile, Six Sigma, Business Process Modelling Notation (BPMN), and Rational Unified Process.
Also needed, are the skills to work with (facilitate) stakeholders to get at their systems needs. And for this I need to draw on my relationship-building skills, flexibility, being OK with ambiguity, a thick skin, and self-management – perhaps you also recognise these form your PhD. Of course PhD does not contribute to all the technical skill sets above, but it does help you to acquire and perfect the leadership skills needed to do the job.