A systems analyst is a valuable part of any company that has any significant IT architecture. But sometimes it’s hard to pin down exactly what a systems analyst does, partly because they do so much.

In the most basic sense, a systems analyst is a person who analyzes some workflow, process, operation or structured framework in order to optimize it for some purpose. You can see this from boilerplate definitions on your favorite reference sites. But what does that mean?

We’ll be looking specifically at what systems analysts do in the IT world – not just in any given industry.

In general, systems analysts have kind of a dual role. They work with processes and interfaces – and they also work with people. We’ll explain how both of these ideas work together. (To learn about various IT roles, see 8 Hot Jobs in Information Systems (and What You Need to Know to Get Them).)

The Interface Guru

Since systems analysts are responsible for optimizing systems, it stands to reason that one of their major responsibilities will be to evaluate an interface.

Interfaces are the lifeblood of business IT (or personal IT for that matter). A good interface will enable functionality and ease of use. A bad interface will cause confusion, sink productivity and create bottlenecks.

Enter the systems analyst.

“A systems analyst investigates the ways in which business is done within a company,” says Drew Farnsworth, Partner at Green Lane Design LLC. “They create a system flow diagram to identify bottlenecks and constraints, then optimize that flow to remove those bottlenecks within the constraints. Usually they then take that analysis and attempt to find software that will improve the business. They may be responsible for cost analysis as well. System analysts suggest process flows that have nothing to do with IT but usually the purview is limited to IT.”

“(A) system analyst analyzes the effectivity of the computer system in order to provide the optimum output for the specific benefits of the organization,” adds Andrei Vasilescu, CEO and digital marketing expert of a money-saving platform called DontPayFull. “This person also finds out the possible flaws of the computer system which might prevent getting the maxim positive results from the computer system. Therefore, a system analyst provides a vital and active help in achieving the targets for any business.”

Nooria Khan at GigWorker had more to say about how systems analysts combine their interface work with collaboration with stakeholders.

“System analysts have a broad knowledge of programming, software, hardware and have analytical skills,” Khan says. “Their role is to maintain and troubleshoot the data center or data warehouse. They use the computer systems to modify, enhance, adapt and design IT solutions in their existing systems, also integrate new features or improvements if required. During the entire development process, a system analyst makes sure to work closely with the client, stakeholders, colleagues, and developer.”

Building a Bridge

Because of those two goals that we referenced above, the systems analyst has to have one foot in the technical world and the other foot in the business world.

“(Systems analysts) need to have both business experience and technical design exposure in order to bridge the gap between the user’s non-technical requirements and the hardware and software that is required to create a solution,” says Neil Price-Jones, President of NVP Software Solutions. “The work they do feeds into programming and Quality Assurance, so the system can be created and tested to ensure it does provide what the user wants.”

“A system analyst is a liaison that works with business analysts to truly understand the requirements of a system to be created, and then opines on the system to be created,” says Nick Kamboj, CEO at Aston & James. “This opinion and feedback can come through a series of questions, comparative analysis, design specification documents, requirements specifications and/or spreadsheets.”

Jeff Bittner, Founder and President of Exit Technologies, adds to that definition:

“The Systems Analyst performs two primary roles within the organization,” Bittner says. “In one aspect they serve as a change agent that leads the organization down new technological avenues in order to advance the goals of the organization. The other is to serve as a liaison between the business side of the organization and the technical side. Because this person functions amongst these two worlds, the terms Computer Systems Analyst or Business Systems Analyst are also used interchangeably as a job title. Communication skills are critical because the Systems Analyst serves as an interpreter and collaborator between business and IT so that business goals can be translated into technology requirements.” (For more on communication skills, see The Importance of Communication Skills for Technical Professionals.)

That’s a little bit about what systems analysts do and are responsible for in their professional roles. At the end of the day, these gatekeepers of IT need to make sure a business has what it needs to perfect processes and excel in its markets. And that’s a tall order.