Nearly all organizations rely on computer and information technology (IT) to conduct business and operate efficiently. Computer systems analysts use IT tools to help enterprises of all sizes achieve their goals. They may design and develop new computer systems by choosing and configuring hardware and software, or they may devise ways to apply existing systems' resources to additional tasks.
Most systems analysts work with specific types of computer systems—for example, business, accounting, and financial systems or scientific and engineering systems—that vary with the kind of organization. Analysts who specialize in helping an organization select the proper system hardware and software are often called system architects or system designers typically have an IT background of some kind. Analysts who specialize in developing and fine-tuning systems often have the more general title of systems analysts.
To begin an assignment, systems analysts consult with an organization’s managers and users to define the goals of the system and then design a system to meet those goals. They specify the inputs that the system will access, decide how the inputs will be processed, and format the output to meet users' needs. Analysts use techniques such as structured analysis, data modeling, information engineering, mathematical model building, sampling, and a variety of accounting principles to ensure their plans are efficient and complete. They also may prepare cost-benefit and return-on-investment analyses to help management decide whether implementing the proposed technology would be financially feasible.
When a system is approved, systems analysts oversee the implementation of the required hardware and software components. They coordinate tests and observe the initial use of the system to ensure that it performs as planned. They prepare specifications, flow charts, and process diagrams for computer programmers to follow; then they work with programmers to “debug,” or eliminate errors, from the system. Systems analysts who do more in-depth testing may be called software quality assurance analysts. In addition to running tests, these workers diagnose problems, recommend solutions, and determine whether program requirements have been met. After the system has been implemented, tested, and debugged, computer systems analysts may train its users and write instruction manuals.
In some organizations, programmer-analysts design and update the software that runs a computer. They also create custom applications tailored to their organization's tasks. Because they are responsible for both programming and systems analysis, these workers must be proficient in both areas. As this dual proficiency becomes more common, analysts are increasingly working with databases, object-oriented programming languages, client–server applications, and multimedia and Internet technology.
One challenge created by expanding computer use is the need for different computer systems to communicate with each other. Many systems analysts are involved with “networking,” connecting all the computers within an organization or across organizations, as when setting up e-commerce networks to facilitate business between companies.
Computer systems analysts held about 607,800 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of computer systems analysts were as follows:
- Computer systems design and related services - 26%
- Finance and insurance - 15%
- Management of companies and enterprises - 9%
- Information - 6%
- Government - 6%
Computer systems analysts may work directly for an organization or as contractors, often for an information technology firm. The projects that computer systems analysts work on usually require them to collaborate with others.
Most computer systems analysts work full time.
Education & Training Required
When hiring computer systems analysts, employers usually prefer applicants who have at least a bachelor's degree. For more technically complex jobs, people with graduate degrees are preferred. For jobs in a technical or scientific environment, employers often seek applicants who have at least a bachelor's degree in a technical field, such as computer science, information science, applied mathematics, engineering, or the physical sciences. For jobs in a business environment, employers often seek applicants with at least a bachelor's degree in a business-related field such as management information systems (MIS). Increasingly, employers are seeking individuals who have a master's degree in business administration (MBA) with a concentration in information systems.
Despite the preference for technical degrees, however, people who have degrees in other areas may find employment as systems analysts if they also have technical skills. Courses in computer science or related subjects combined with practical experience can qualify people for some jobs in the occupation.
Employers generally look for people with expertise relevant to the job. For example, systems analysts who wish to work for a bank may need some expertise in finance, and systems analysts who wish to work for a hospital may need some knowledge of health management. Furthermore, business enterprises generally prefer individuals with information technology, business, and accounting skills and frequently assist employees in obtaining these skills.
Technological advances come so rapidly in the computer field that continuous study is necessary to remain competitive. Employers, hardware and software vendors, colleges and universities, and private training institutions offer continuing education to help workers attain the latest skills. Additional training may come from professional development seminars offered by professional computing societies.
Other Skills Required
Employers usually look for people who have broad knowledge and experience related to computer systems and technologies, strong problem-solving and analytical skills, and the ability to think logically. In addition, the ability to concentrate and pay close attention to detail is important because computer systems analysts often deal with many tasks simultaneously. Although these workers sometimes work independently, they frequently work in teams on large projects. Therefore, they must have good interpersonal skills and be able to communicate effectively with computer personnel, users, and other staff who may have no technical background.
How to Advance
With experience, systems analysts may be promoted to senior or lead analyst. Those who possess leadership ability and good business skills also can become computer and information systems managers or can advance into executive positions such as chief information officer. Those with work experience and considerable expertise in a particular subject or application may find lucrative opportunities as independent consultants, or they may choose to start their own computer consulting firms.
Employment of computer systems analysts is projected to grow 7 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
About 47,500 openings for computer systems analysts are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
As organizations across the economy continue to rely on information technology (IT), computer systems analysts will be hired to design and install new computer systems. Small firms with minimal IT requirements will find it more cost effective to contract with outside firms for these services rather than to hire computer systems analysts directly.
The median annual wage for computer systems analysts was $99,270 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $60,680, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $158,010.
In May 2021, the median annual wages for computer systems analysts in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Management of companies and enterprises - $100,340
- Computer systems design and related services - $100,220
- Finance and insurance - $99,340
- Information - $97,230
- Government - $80,040
Most computer systems analysts work full time.