Domain Knowledge: the knowledge which is valid and directly used for a pre-selected domain of human endeavor or an autonomous computer activity. Specialists and experts use and develop their own domain knowledge. If the concept domain knowledge or domain expert is used we emphasize a specific domain which is an object of the discourse/interest/problem. (Source Wikipedia)

Domain expertise is hands-on business skills or domain knowledge acquired by working in a specialized industry such as automotive, banking, insurance, telecom, utilities or in a specialized business operation such as customer relationship management, finance, sales and marketing. It is a very important asset for a business analyst working on specialized IT projects. Arguably, domain expertise is not required in all kinds of projects a business analyst would work on.

The importance of domain knowledge for a business analyst:

Although critical business analysis skills like capturing requirements, creating use cases, conducting interview and sessions, are crucial for the success of a project; domain knowledge plays an important role in playing a more active role in projects. Most of the business analysis skills are portable from one domain to another. However the domain expertise can be subjective to the kind of project you work on. Does a simple migration project of a rating database from IMS to Oracle or DB2 require that you be a domain expert in Insurance? Not necessarily. Although if you had a project that involved an underwriting related rules changes, migration of a legacy application, or data analytics of region wise premiums you may be required to be a domain expert in Insurance.  This fact is not considered by most of the HRs filtering resumes for a job posting. If the search result of your resume doesn’t contain a certain domain you are not even invited for an interview, no matter how much of an expertise you have in business analysis skills. This is sad, but a reality of today’s recruiting system(and justified sometimes in an employer market).

How does one gain domain expertise?

Domain expertise is acquired over a period of time by being in the “business” of doing things. A banking associate gains knowledge of various types of accounts that a customer(individual and business) can operate along with detailed business process flow. Similarly an Insurance Sales Rep knows the various stages involved in procuring of an Insurance policy. A marketing analyst knows the key stakeholders and business processes involved in a CRM system.

Some business analyst acquire domain knowledge by testing business applications and working with the business users. They create a conducive learning environment though their interpersonal and analytical skills. In some cases they supplement their domain knowledge with a few domain certifications offered by AICPCU/IIA and LOMA in the field of Insurance and financial services. There are other institutes that offer certification in other domains.

How to start working on a new domain?

A good business analyst, has an analytical mind and approach. This is in itself a potent tool in learning the new domain. You can keep the following points in mind when you work on a new domain:

  • Think like a business user: When you start working in a specific domain, develop though patterns like that of a business user. How would a sales rep of an Insurance think when solving a specific problem of a customer? How does a financial advisor advise his clients on the best financial advise based on the situation at hand?
  • Act like a business user: Get involved with the application. If there is a dev region available for you to play with. Start off by exploring the application. Think of all the scenarios possible, happy paths, exception path, etc.
  • Sympathize with business user: Ask questions, ask pain points, and sympathize with the business user for the system limitations. These can be a potential opportunity for application enhancement.
  • Ask questions and keep a log: Ask a lot of questions and keep a log of things, so that you have a personal knowledge base of the application.

In conclusion, domain knowledge is a very important aspect of the business analyst skill profile. However it is not imperative (like most HRs think) for certain kind of projects. If the project involves complex and radical changes to the business processes, involve complex data analytics related to domain-specific data, etc , domain expertise would be imperative.

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