What Does the Future Hold for the Business Analyst Role?

I was recently looking at some of the new requirements modeling/management tools, and some of the other technologies that seem to be making manipulating technology more and more accessible to the traditional business stakeholder, and I caught my self wondering: How long will the industry support a distinct business analyst role?

New tools are making it easier and easier to capture and communicate ideas. Increasingly, a moderately tech-savvy business stakeholder can reasonably be expected to drag-and-drop his/her way to an initial design given the ease of use of tools currently available. For management of enterprise business rules and intelligence, rules engines and data warehouses with simple syntax and GUI-based tools have put the actual implementation of new application rules and creation of new reports in the hands of the business consumers themselves.

In these cases, no business analyst is required as an intermediary to carry needs to developers for implementation or to serve as the “translator” of business speak to tech speak and vice versa.

It seems we’re becoming less and less dependent upon wordsmiths to convey ideas. In theory, for less “revolutionary” tech projects, a business sponsor could sit down with a someone who was adept in rapid/rough prototyping and equipped with the right tools and bang out a basic flow, requirements and UI without as much of the preceding planning, analysis and deliberation.

My goal is not to dispute the value of business analysis. As a BA myself, I am absolutely convinced of the value of having a strong business analysis competency in an organization, and I think business analysis will continue to be sought after and rewarded. My question is this: how viable is the distinct “business analyst” role over the long term?

Will we see it absorbed into or combined with other roles (i.e. project management, solutions or information architecture, UI design or into the line of business) as modeling and design tools become more accessible and usable and business stakeholders become increasingly tech savvy? Will the role evolve or dissolve? What skills are going to be valued in the business analyst of 5-10 years from now, and how will they be different from today?

I have some thoughts of my own, but I’m not making any bold predictions at this point. What I’d be really interested in is hearing what other analysts have to say on the matter, so please do comment and share!

About the Author

Jonathan Babcock is a management and IT consultant with expertise in business analysis, process optimization and solution delivery methodology. Practical Analyst is his outlet for sharing what he's learned, and for interacting with solution delivery professionals across the globe.

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33 Comments

  1. i totally disagree … Just take a look @ the type of customers in the 3rd world countries ,,, and check their ability to make themselfs clear … I believe what you say might be correct in EU or US … Where the stakeholders become rapidly educated and gain more tech. Experience but the MEA or Africa … I guess that will take much longer time …

    1. To be fair, while this is true today, it doesn’t really impact the point that the article is making; all it does is move the timeline frward. Unless you are arguing that the developing world will never be as tech-savy as the western, developed world is becoming, the underlying issue is the same. True though, it may not affect our generation(s) povided that we are in a position to relocate to the markets that are servicing the developing. It would be a shame though to see business analysts make the mistake of thinking a problem that doesn’t arise within their personally-relevant timeframes is not in fact a problem.

  2. That’s a good point, Wael. The whole world certainly isn’t on an even footing in adoption of the newer tools that enable business users to take on some of the traditional requirements aspects of the BA role.

    1. Beside the low awareness of our customers and the main concern that they are not able to make themselves clear (which increase the importance of elicitation), also you will be amazed if you take a look to the level of maturity of project management skills for both (PM or PM Team) you will find a fatal problems related to the understanding the main concepts of Project management.
      also we can not deny that most of developers don’t like to get much involvement in business details.
      Hence the BA in these circumstances becomes the last hope that is able to smooth the frictions & look ahead for the steps that should be done if the company is really willing the success of the project.

  3. Reports? Bus people have doing that since the 80s with the first 4GLs. Simple apps? Started with dBase and on to Access. So I don’t see this as new, and is needed because real mission-critical stuff needs BA and Dev skills to make sure it is right and works. Will still be a long before that isn’t true.

    1. I’m not saying it’ll ever be true that we don’t need developers and people who can do business analysis.

      I guess it just hit me while studying up on some of the new technology that there are just large swaths of what used to be full-blown IT projects that just won’t be that way anymore, and I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly that’ll mean for BAs over time.

      I really appreciated the GL system example you cited on Twitter. Excellent example of a similar case in point. And you’re right, there’s certainly no less a demand for analysts as a result.

  4. No tool will be able to ellcit and define the real business needs of stakeholders. As most BA’s are aware, stakeholders jump right into he solution scope without considering why a solution is needed in the first place, and that cheaper altenatives may exist.

    1. ATDP and additional heterogenous teams are the future. Devs lead with technical debt, stakeholders bring solutions, not problems, etc… We haven’t been successful in changing these truths. So, all being true, it’ll be behaviors scaling and not the tools or policy scaling of the future. None of these truths are resulting in bad decisions unless they are being done in silos. When we make decisions based on others decisions and perspectives, we make educated decisions with the necessary counter points. The advantages of this awareness will end our current arguments and discussions around change, authority, and the future. The BA role and it’s perspectives are integral to it’s success. I feel we are limiting ourselves with discussions like the future of PMs, BAs, etc…. I personally prefer the humans over the tools that guess.

    2. Thanks for the comment! I definitely hear what you’re saying and agree about the stakeholders who like to dive headfirst into solutions!

      But to play the devil’s advocate, consider that 10 years ago I would never have been able to have a website with the features this one has without someone to help me plan and design it, and then build it for me.

      Tools have emerged during recent years that have enabled me (and I’m no developer) to take the requirements gatherer/consultant and developer completely out of the equation and build a site just the way I want it all by myself.

      We’re seeing similar evolution in tools and technology in the areas of business rules and enterprise data reporting tools, for example.

      In some cases, business rule changes to applications, or creation of new reports – things that historically would have required an IT project with an analyst and developer, – the business user can do by him/herself.

      Now, I definitely don’t think the BA role goes away, I just think it may change in the sense that the BA will be relied upon more for enterprise analysis, and perhaps less for traditional software requirements.

      I am with you all the way on the notion that someone will always have to be around to make sure that the root cause analysis is done, and objectives defined, etc.

    3. I think we are on the same page. In a purely software perspective I will add this: I have been in many conversations about agile risk ID and mgmt. I caution anyone yu king that any role is becoming obsolete to consider that “you dont know what you don’t know.”. Until you sit a role for five years or so, beware the subjective opinion of the uninformed.

      I am right behind you with a transformation of role. I have seen too many people changing roles since agile has taken off. These same ppl are now in influential positions, but not necessarily qualified to make the recommendations that are made. We aren’t here to change the business you do, we are offering additional means to the same end, value, quality, and product. Anyone telling you otherwise should be “decloaked”. As Derek mentioned below, BAs analyze, not do. BAs know what PMs traditionally dont know and vice versa

      Now take this example and scale it to the enterprise roll out, the question becomes, “What is your risk tolerance?”. Mine says, ask the BA.

  5. BAs are the facilitators and Dev planners of the future. I see the role morphing to bridge the gap most PMs and Developers often overlook in the big picture of BPM and CRM. I know, crazy talk……

    1. Bang on, Scotty. BA means Business ANALYST, not Business Stick-Figure Drawer (UML) or Business Tree Killer (spec docs).

      There is definitely a need for people who can hold complexity in their heads and parse it out as needed to the right people in the right situation. A good BA is a great aid to the Product Owner role in Scrum, or to any Agile team needing “just the right amount” of context for their detailed stories.

  6. Great article JB. This seems to be a topic going around in may different circles within the online space recently.

    I agree with you that as a fellow BA, I feel strongly that our role won’t disappear but instead grow and evolve. I believe more than ever we will need to accept responsibility to become experts across many domains. Perhaps the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none” would be appropriate here.

    It seems to be that many who find themselves as a BA came from a background of PM, or an alternative analyst role (e.g. Systems). I feel this shows that these jobs actually inform and influence the growth of the BA.

    I have to say I don’t feel too threatened with the creation of these new tools. Firstly I try to embrace them to see if they can actually help me in my own processes. The other factor for me is that for every one that promises to simplify and contain a magical process I think the real threat is they are trying to sell a false expectation to a business stakeholder.

    Some of the greatest ‘tools’ in our BA toolkit will never be replaced by a program. The ability to build rapport, trust and communicate with influence. These are the fuel which makes requirements modeling and management tools turn over.

    Hope I have added some food for thought to this topic.

    Sean.

    1. Thanks for joining the conversation, Sean.

      You’re right. I think we’re talking about an evolution in ways that business analysis is used, not a reduced need for it.

      Where we sit in the organization may change some and the puzzles we’re asked to solve may change, but there will always be work for a good analyst.

  7. I believe the tools will impact smaller projects. Obviously the website analogy is spot on, you don’t need a whole bunch of designers/developers to create a simple blog these days, but if you’re looking to go for a startup service that relies on some form of programming you still need those services. Similarly in the future you may not require a business Analyst to deliver a straight forward CRM or a simple tool, but they’ll still be required for more complex projects (ERP implementations like SAP for example).

    All jobs evolve over time, and most of these tools are meant for business Analyst to use rather than to replace them. Did MS Project replace a project manager, and the Project Management frameworks we had are a lot mature and the applications developed around them have improve significantly, yet we find ourselves still needing project managers :).

  8. The role of business analyst is poorly defined, and that’s good! I’ve seen BAs do everything from manage projects to write code. They serve as analysts, product or project managers, developers, testers, and even pseudo end users. Such a diverse set of roles assures longevity in some form.

    The value of a dedicated BA is significant for enterprise-scale projects. For small-scale efforts, The PM or even an end-user can serve as BA.

    The real value in a dedicated BA is having an understanding of the “big picture”. It’s not just about the project at hand. It’s also about how this project fits into the enterprise. What data needs to be shared? What application integration issues arise? How are non-users impacted? Preserving the BA role means thinking big!

    1. I like your comment about the definition of the BA role. It’s not by accident that IIBA cast such a wide net in their definition of what consitutes a “business analyst”,

      There have been BAs since long before we called them by the name, and there will be long after we stop!

      BTW, I just subscribed to your feed. Good stuff!

  9. @Barbara has the right of it. The need for our skills is growing with the complexity world, not going away. And while I like the idea of pushing more control to the business, we have a long way to go before we get there. I do not see where the business is ready for this yet.

    In a similar vein, I discuss our recent past, which is relevant when talking about where we are today and where we are going. http://goodrequirements.com/2011/5-years/

    Lastly, Joe Shideler imagined what the future of BAs could be here: http://requirements.seilevel.com/blog/2008/01/requirements-sci-fi.html

    1. Thanks for commenting and sharing the references, Jeffrey! Really enjoyed your article, and hadn’t read the Seilevel one, even though I do try to catch most of their stuff.

  10. Great post Jonathan!

    I think the fusing of roles is already in effect. Different organizations are merging BA role with other project hats, like PM, QA, etc.

    However the thought that technological advances triggering a BA role to be redundant is quite intriguing. Like @Keith pointed out, tools only have an illusion of replacement and wont completely displace a given role.

    Its just like asking will cloud computing replace all infrastructure professionals and developers? (because I have created a school management app using point and click tools without installing anything on server, or writing a single line of code). The roles will only evolve to be more advanced manifestations, and will provide more value in shorter time aided by technology, e.g: quicker project plan, specs, code generation, etc.

    Different companies will respond differently to emerging technologies. Huge financial services firms, and banks are the slowest to adapt to any of these. Given their complex environment, and strict regulatory compliance, it is not easy for a product manager to initiate a change in product rules using a drag-and-drop tool to come-up with a spec to implement changes (again, I am not suggesting its not plausible, only, scary sometimes 🙂

    Like @Scotty points out, big picture thinking is essential. I think ultimately we need to understand that any tech tools won’t be able to understand the soft issues of the project, do the systems thinking for a given problem context, and create an alignment for the team. Only, a BA can tread that path, not matter what the role is called in future.

    Just my two cents! 🙂

    1. Thanks for joining the conversation, Yamo. I agree that we’re definitely looking more toward an evolution in the role than anything else.

  11. I started of in this industry 12 years ago as a power user hired as a BA. In that time I have seen a lot of advancement in the role, description, tools, and expectations of a Business Analyst. I don’t see the trend reversing at this point. I always tell end users that efficiencies brought on by tool technology tools frees them up to do what they were meant to do….analysis. I believe the same is true for us.

    1. Vicki, welcome to Practical Analyst and thanks for participating in the dialog. My path to becoming a BA was a similar one – although beginning not a true power user in the field, but a power user in testing!

      I like your suggestion that efficiencies will actually free us up to do more business analysis.

      I think it will be interesting to see how well the BA who has made a career playing uniquely in the realm of software requirements analysis will make the transition to more of a “business analysis” oriented role.

  12. Hi Jonathan,

    Your post is thought-provoking. Without too many thoughts flying from my mind (they being dis-organized) let me bring a quick couple of points to the table. I agree totally with many points that you brought up but when I compare the same set of questions asked around in every technology/process that has ever been brought out, it underlines the imperfections of 1) Humans 2) Processes and 3) Technology. We said the same thing about programming languages that we will do away with programmers. Now we are at a stage where we need more programmers to know what those self-programming tools do. We brought sophisticated cell phones to our lives and it made our lives more complex to deal with.

    So, essentially, what I see is, there will be more morphing on the face of a Business Analyst, but it won’t dissolve.

    Furthermore, our systems (personal, organizational, social) have become loosely coupled, meaning…..They are closest than ever before but farthest in terms of coherency. So, that scenario makes it more difficult to predict what’s going to happen in the next 10 years.

    Take for example, many BA tools that are available today. They do excellent job of doing part of BA work but there still needs to be a human who would need to do input into those tools to work properly. That human has to find the correct balance. The tool itself has to be tuned to work accross various departments and possibly spanning several countries (atleast in the future). I myself have seen a complex help-desk system like Remedy which will totally do away with human interaction for maintaining ITIL practises in an organization, down on its knees begging the humans to understand her (the Remedy tool) but because of management practices, human imperfections, cross-departmental, cross-cultural barriers and what not, the process is where it was before the Remedy.

    I don’t mean to say that our process will ever stay in rust. It will improve but not at the cost of doing away with a human. And THAT human in our case is a Business Analyst.

    Hope I did not blabber something stupid.

    regards,
    Ananth

  13. Great article JB,
    And great discussions around the subject.
    In agreement with everyone, in order for a role to completely be dissolved, there are many factors to consider. The BA role is still new to already talk about its dissolution :). I think it will morph. If nothing else, there will always be a need for people to use those aps, right!
    Until everyone can express their idea, define the things they do, figure out their problem, define their opportunity in a way that others can understand, we are still in business.
    Business analysis is not just about requirements gathering, the analysis part of our job requires a much sophisticated processing. I don’t believe any machine/software can mimic this processing yet. May be in the future (who knows)… until then, I believe those tools will facilitate our work.

  14. I think BA and UX will somehow converge due to the overlapping similarities between these disciplines. I’ve already started expanding my skills set into the UX field with hands on experience and formal training / certification. A BA with strong UX foundation will be much more lucrative candidate than one without.

  15. As a BA manager, whenever someone asks me what I look for in a BA, I call out three specific things:

    1) Problem solver
    2) Critical thinker
    3) Solid communicator

    Echoing what others have posted, the role will evolve, but I believe these fundamental skills will still remain at the heart. Even the most advanced software tools can’t replace the core value an analyst provides.

  16. Great discussion – I received my PMP certification about 3 years ago, but have been in IT (programming, analyst, management) for long enough to watch both the PM and BA roles evolve into what they are today. I am curious to hear from others who have read ” The Business Analyst/Project Manager: A New Partnership for Managing Complexity and Uncertainty” by Robert Wysocki. (I guessing @Barbara has read it since he references her book)

    I have worked for mostly small businesses throughout my career, but am preparing to step into a larger environment where I would at times be required to be both BA and PM. so this book caught my attention and is related to the discussion here.

  17. I think that with the advanced process engines and their drag-and-drop features, even the developers won’t be needed for making enterprise level apps to govern business processes. However, BAs and developers will have their places in the future to come. I read your article as a part of my research on the future of business analysis. My findings are summarized here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/far-future-business-analysis-rahul-ajani. I hope you would like it.

    When technology advances, business will also advance and many new challenges will emerge. With the faster evolution in technology and business environment, both developers and managers will face the strain and will struggle to keep abreast with latest development. And hence, the BAs would continue to exist, not just exist but flourish. Especially the role of the data analysts will be highly rewarding and highly specialized.

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