What is the difference between a Business Analyst and a Functional Consultant?

Jaime Smith, 25 February 2013

I was recently asked “What is the difference between a Business Analyst (BA) and a Functional Consultant?” and I had to think about how to answer…..because I was sure they were different but I wasn’t quite sure how to explain it.

According to the IIBA1, a BA is any person who performs business analysis activities, no matter what their job title or organisational role may be.   That’s not very helpful but they do have a definition of business analysis as well.  Business Analysis is the set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders in order to understand the structure, polices and operations of an organization and recommend solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.  Okay, so it is a pretty dry definition but I can relate to it – it is all about using your skills to help people find what they need to achieve the organisations goal.

So then what is a Functional Consultant?  I went looking for a definition and thought the place to start would be Microsoft’s Sure Step project methodology as I was sure that’s where I first saw the term but no such luck.  I found a definition for an Application Consultant who is responsible for configuring and customizing the Microsoft Dynamics application to achieve the customer’s business requirements; I looked at bit wider and found courses that talked about taking a Functional track towards being a Consultant but no definition….So it was off to Google.   The most common definition I found was:

“The functional consultant has to understand the modules they are implementing and the set up and configuration options available, the key skill is being able to map the requirements of the customer to the capabilities of the ERP system.”2

If you ignore the reference to ERP it sounds very much like the definition of an Application Consultant….

But let’s make these definitions generic – it is all about mapping the customers’ requirements to the selected system and working out the best way to deal with any gap in between.

Finally we are getting somewhere!

So for me the bottom line is the BA gets the requirements and the Functional Consultant looks at how the chosen solution can be best used to meet those requirements and what to do about the gaps.   So yeah they are different but what makes it confusing is that often they are one and the same person!

1 International Institute of Business Analysts
2 http://it.toolbox.com/wiki/index.php/Role_of_a_Functional_Consultant