BY Dawn RzeznikiewiczFebruary 03, 2022, 3:10 PM
Katherine McCormick, vice president and business data architect at BNY Mellon (Courtesy Chris Szulwach—The Story Photography)
The role of a business analyst is still relatively new, but it is becoming an increasingly common position at companies, with a projected growth that’s faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It’s a challenging job that can vary widely from corporation to corporation, though can be more simply described as a master problem solver. That’s certainly the case for Katherine McCormick, vice president and business data architect at BNY Mellon, who graduated from Syracuse University’s master’s of applied data science program.
“When there’s a problem that feels insurmountable, and I can work in collaboration with trusted partners…that is so satisfying and thrilling to me,” says McCormick. “At first it’s like [the solution] is blurry, and then it comes into focus.”
While BNY Mellon offers a wide-ranging suite of investment solutions to its clients, McCormick is focused on what’s known as Data Vault. This product helps financial companies efficiently collect, connect, store, and distribute data across their organizations—and it’s the job of McCormick’s team to ensure the product is customized and implemented for each client’s specific needs.
While there is a day-to-day cadence to McCormick’s role, her favorite part is that ultimately, she gets to provide solutions that allow someone to work better and faster. Fortune spoke with McCormick to learn more about how a degree in business analytics takes shape in the real world, and what a typical day looks like. Here’s what she told us.
Business analytics in action
A degree in business analytics can prepare graduates for all sorts of roles, with job titles that range from data scientist and systems manager to product manager and management consultant. The International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA) defines the general role as an enabler of change, someone who uses a disciplined approach for introducing and managing change within an organization. In other words, business analysts use data and technology to help businesses do their work more efficiently.
“We’re tasked with implementing technology for our clients,” says McCormick. “We look at the technologies the current company has and we’ll work to architect a clever, elegant, simple solution that works for them.”
A surprisingly interpersonal role
The role of a business analyst sits between the people who are doing the building of digital products or software and the people who want the building done. For McCormick, that means her main responsibility is to be the “chief communicator” and relay business needs to her team of business analysts and developers.
“I’m making sure that the developers get the answers to the questions they need from the client, and that the client feels like the solutions are being built to their satisfaction,” she says. “That’s what drives me throughout my day.”
McCormick spends about half her day in meetings, collaborating with others. Each day begins with an internal team meeting to assess the day’s tasks and is often followed by a working session with the client, which happens three times a week. The clients at BNY Mellon are generally Fortune 500 companies within the areas of investment managers, worldwide banks, pension and employee benefit funds, and broker dealers.
The rest of her time is spent collaborating with her team to tackle various problems. “I spend a lot of time with my developers,” says McCormick. “The majority of my day is in close conversation or review; collaborating with people who are building the solutions.”
A portion of a business analyst’s job is making sure all stakeholders and higher-ups are aware of the project’s status. “I do have some governance and status reporting in my life,” notes McCormick. This involves providing status reports at weekly calls as well as logging the more granular conversations in a system like Jira in order to keep track of what has been done, and what’s left.
“I don’t write code all day long; I read code”
McCormick notes that while some of her colleagues spend a majority of their days writing lines of code, that’s not typical for her position. “When I got this degree, I thought: ‘Oh my goodness, am I just going to be in a cubical all day long? Not talking to anyone, creating something that’s going out the door.’ Very joyfully for me, that’s not the case.”
In actuality, McCormick spends her time reviewing, asking questions, and testing the code while going between her team and the client. When the team is heavy in delivery mode, McCormick runs working sessions with the client to answer questions such as, What are your business requirements? or What results do you expect? or What’s the logic to create these particular fields?
After getting these specific requirements from the client, McCormick’s team builds the product or feature, and then reverts back to the client for review. The final steps are creating any necessary documentation for the client to sign off on the completed product.
“Day to day, I’m reading someone’s code and communicating back and forth to make sure that we have the questions answered that we need to get a really powerful, useful tool into the hands of the people who are using it,” McCormick says.
Master problem solvers
“I’ve actually found it tremendously valuable in the financial services field to have an English literature background,” says McCormick of her undergraduate degree. The value of this non-finance background is rooted in the role’s extensive communication requirements, but also because of the critical thinking and problem solving that’s required in business analytics, and often emphasized in a liberal arts background.
Continuing her education with a graduate degree has also been of immense value too, McCormick says, adding that she learned the necessary fundamental skills such as programming,—SQL, Python, etc.—within the master’s program. What’s more, that experience also afforded her the professional aplomb when it comes to jockeying for promotions and raises in the working world.
When asked what the number one sign of someone not fit for a business analyst career: “If you don’t like wrestling with problems,” McCormick says with a laugh.
See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best business analytics programs, data science programs, and part-time, executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.