Meet the Team: Niall O’Connor, Headforwards Business Analyst
Niall is a Business Analyst at Headforwards, currently working on our client's Services Portal team. Niall grew up in Sussex, did a PhD in Classical Archaeology and then pivoted to a career in IT. Niall has since gained 22 years of experience in delivery of digital applications in both the public and private sector. While Niall has worked across all phases of digital delivery, from discovery to run, he is most interested in working with business and tech stakeholders to define working solutions to deliver business value. Outside of work, Niall enjoys food and drink, traveling, watching sport and swimming, kayaking and cycling in South Cornwall.
With such wide-ranging responsibilities and often needing to switch between tech and domain knowledge quickly, pinning down exactly what makes an effective business analyst is far from straightforward.
But as Niall O’Connor tells us, there’s no set career path to the role. After the best part of a decade studying classics and archaeology to PhD level, and nearly 20 years working for PwC and IBM, Niall now uses this experience to work alongside product owners and delivery teams, guiding software projects from ideation to business-as-usual.
“I’ve always been interested in mythology, history and languages, which is what attracted me to classics,” says Niall. “But after messing about with my Dad’s early Amstrad computer and my year out job working in data entry and assisting with network installations, a career in tech became an increasingly appealing proposition.”
That year out between school and university set up Niall’s love of system analysis and business process; he received in-depth training on DataEase to create relational databases before he’d even started university.
And it was this early introduction to database management that helped him later in his career. “I created the database for my PhD in DataEase, and when I came to learn SQL for my role at PwC, I realised I already understood most of it,” says Niall. “Although I loved the subject matter and the travelling I got to do as part of my studies, when I got to the end of my PhD, I knew tech would be the way to go. And after receiving offers from several firms, I chose PwC for its emphasis on training which would enable me to make the jump from classist to IT consultant.”
The first taste of Agile that planted the seed
Throughout his career, Niall has often had the opportunity to work on some exciting projects that impact many people’s daily lives, from transforming government processes to providing online services, or implementing new digital banking platforms for a major UK financial services provider. These projects aimed to deliver both business value to the client organisations and improvements in customer experience and engagement. They were rewarding to work on because the ‘public’ nature of the user base meant that the teams got great feedback both from the media and from friends and family who were users of the services.
From systems and business analysis to web app design, build, and test programmes, Niall cut his teeth on waterfall development projects. It wasn’t until later in his career at IBM that he got the opportunity to work in Agile.
We were working on a lot of projects that had time-consuming, siloed waterfall development teams – but this started to change when clients saw the benefits of Agile delivery.
Hitting the ground running at Headforwards
After joining the Headforwards team in 2020, Niall’s role now involves working closely with internal and external developers and product owners to write new requirements and ensure work is delivered quickly and effectively.
“Being a business analyst at Headforwards is a fast-paced job that requires me to turn tasks around the same day in some cases,” says Niall. “We are managing a lot of change with a relatively small team, so it’s important we streamline our delivery process. I’m required to be proactive with all stakeholders to help maintain expectations. I also work closely with my other business analyst colleagues to ensure that we capture requirements as efficiently as possible, rethinking a lot of the approaches that I had worked with in previous jobs that had more traditional waterfall delivery processes.”
Starting at Headforwards during a once-in-a-century pandemic didn’t deter Niall’s passion for the role, either. “I like working in a team, and it’s a testament to Headforwards’ culture and our people that working remotely for the first year or so didn’t negatively impact our work,” says Niall. “And while it’s been really enjoyable building relationships in person now we’re back in the office, the majority of my work is with people across the world, so I still appreciate the benefits of flexible working.”
What success looks like, and advice for aspiring business analysts
For Niall, pinpointing one particular success in his role so far at Headforwards is missing the point of being a business analyst. Rather, each completed integration project is a proud moment, after starting each one from a blank slate that he drives forward to production.
And while Niall’s experience covers development, testing, architecture, project management, and analysis, he believes there’s a common rule for every aspiring business analyst to follow. “To be a good business analyst, you need to be open to learning as much about the business you’re working for as possible and also to building relationships between the business and the delivery team” says Niall. “The best business analysts I’ve worked with have brought business domain knowledge and the ability to gain a high level understanding of the technical solution, enabling them to act as a link between the business and the tech teams and helping to identify early those requirements that might be highly complex or undeliverable given the chosen technical solution.
Working at Headforwards isn’t all about experience – it’s about mindset, too
Just like Niall and the rest of the Headforwards team, we’re always looking for talented individuals that have that special something to offer. If this sounds like you, head to our careers page to find out more.
Our Meet the Team series introduces you to some of the people and personalities from across Headforwards. In this article, we’re joined by Kwasi Danso, who shares how he got into software development and his professional path so far.
Greg West is a Full Stack Developer, who works as part of Headforwards Special Projects Team. In his Meet the Team article Greg discusses the importance of collaboration, and talks about the latest project he’s been working on.
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