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Challenging assumptions and pushing boundaries. Meet our Business Analyst of the Year 2021.

“As an eight-year-old I started my own business… I had a colour coded ledger with running totals. I think that was a clue!” 

She’s a passionate advocate of the BA role and a YBA champion. Read on for our official winner’s interview with Rebecca Richmond-Smith, Business Analyst of the Year 2021.  

Congratulations on the BAOTY award. Did you expect to win?  

Absolutely not! I entered Business Analyst of the Year because I thought that it was a useful exercise, an opportunity for reflection on the past year. I hoped to reach the interview stage because that would mean a conversation with other passionate BAs. Making the shortlist alongside candidates of such a high calibre felt like an achievement in itself. When my name was announced at BA Conference Europe I was completely shocked, I’d already awarded it to several other people in my head. 

You have said you want to raise the profile of the BA role.  

Winning BAOTY gives me a platform to promote business analysis as a career as well as the value business analysts can add. A large part of the BA role is to help businesses solve problems and identify opportunities; I think it deserves greater recognition. I’d also love to get to a point where young people realise at school it’s a possible career – not only because it may be what they want to do but also because it has so many transferable techniques to other careers. I’m an advocate of lifelong learning too, I believe BAs need to be constantly learning and sharing knowledge in order to deliver the most value.  

The judges commented that you have ‘pushed boundaries’ and had a strong influence on your organisation.  

In my current organisation, I was the second BA recruited into the business.  Coming in with a fresh pair of eyes I was able to challenge assumptions. That resulted in a number of key enterprise-wide transformations such as a digital transformation I led from identification through to realisation as well as some culture shifts about how we approach improvements. The recognition of BAs has increased and we’ve gone from “What’s a BA?” to “Where can I get a BA?”. Alongside this we’ve got buy-in to grow and develop our business analysis capability through internal development, increasing team size and most recently recruiting a BA practice manager. Eventually, when we have a large and established BA team and that support structure in place, I hope my organisation will consider BA Apprenticeships. 

Would you say that you challenge assumptions? 

I’ve always challenged my own assumptions. When I was at school learning languages did not come easily to me but I’m now learning Greek. I try to flip self-limiting beliefs and instead say ‘I need to build that experience or skill, why don’t I give that a go?’. In my work with Young Business Analysts (YBA) I encourage others to do the same. 

I also challenge assumptions in my organisation. You have to be mindful how you go about it, especially with senior stakeholders. It’s also possible to challenge by example by showing that you don’t need decades of experience add a lot of value and take on responsibility.   

I’ve also challenged assumptions in the wider business analysis community through my work with YBA. 

What do you think were the clues that you were destined to be a BA? 

As a child I questioned everything, wanting to understand, I suppose I was quite analytical, wanting to look at different ways of doing things. I had a strong urge to help people and improve things. I also had an entrepreneurial mindset from a young age, as an eight-year-old I started my own business making homemade greetings cards with my own sales team (kids in the neighbourhood). I had a colour coded ledger with running totals… I think that was a clue! 

BAs are naturally inquisitive and often are interested in a variety of things. This definitely showed throughout university as I was always busy with extra-curricular activities. I founded an entrepreneurship club at my college and challenged senior college leadership as part of Punt Society to change their rules to allow night punting. This involved mountains of paperwork and legislation, but I was in my element. I love to help other people and create opportunities, which led to leading TEDxCambridgeUniversity, running a student radio show, and being involved with the publication of a scientific magazine.  

How do you think you developed your drive and motivation? 

I’d like to think I’ve been intrinsically motivated from a young age, and I think my parents recognised that so were fairly ‘hands off’ yet they were encouraging and open to my changing direction. My grandmother was a huge influence on me, her ‘you can do anything’ attitude had an impact. My mum also says: ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’. 

Your BA ‘lightbulb moment’ was during a job interview. What happened? 

I was in a job interview for a data analyst role when the COO of the company asked me where I pictured myself in 3-5 years. When I explained what I would love to do – which was helping people to solve business problems – they told me I was describing the business analyst role. I did not get the data analyst job, but they created a business analyst job especially for me. That interview launched my BA career.  

How have you developed and trained as a BA? 

At my first company I had no formal BA training, however I took advantage of all the great resources that are out there for new BAs. I read ’99 Business Analysis Techniques’ which is now ‘123 Business Analysis Techniques’, I read articles, blogs and watched webinars and videos from IIBA and wider BA community.  

When joining CMR Surgical I was very fortunate there was already a senior BA who made me feel welcome, supported my development and was a great sounding board. CMR also supported me through the International BA Diploma, which I took through AssistKD. The trainers (and entire team!) were incredibly supportive, I have to give a special mention to Mike, Jonathan (H), Julian, Fraser and Karen.  

You work with the YBA, what does that involve? 

I’ve been involved with Young Business Analysts since 2019. It’s an organisation run by YBAs and for YBAs all over the world, we ‘Inspire. Empower. Influence.’ YBA does great work with events, advice, university outreach, and giving back to the community. It is all about making an impact and inspiring the next generation. 

You’ve answered lots of questions, what message would you like to finish with? 

Business analysts can have an impact in any number of different ways. We need to realise that and think not only how we can keep bettering ourselves but also those around us - keep learning, sharing knowledge, promoting the BA role! We definitely need increased visibility of the role for those interested in joining the profession as well as those who can benefit from it. 

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