Are criminals and government fines driving new requirement methods?

We all have had the business partner who never quite tells us all that we need to know when working on a project but spare a thought for those who design solutions to defeat criminals. In their case, the criminal is not sharing what he does and most design is done in reaction mode.

One area that has got recent focus is Money Laundering. Financial Institutions that end up involved with Money Laundering not only risk loss of money and reputation but fines as well imposed by their governments or even other governments. The situation of identifying money laundering has gotten so out of control that nobody really knows how to define the complete requirements to identify money laundering.

Traditional requirement methods basically do not work anymore. With traditional requirement methods, the Business Analysts identify / capture the business rule and then implement it. Unfortunately the people who make the business rules are not the ones sharing it with us.

Criminals don’t tell us that if they do X, Y & Z then they are money laundering. The criminal’s desire is to float under the radar as normal customers. Their methods for appearing as ordinary customers have gotten so good that the people trying to create the rules after the fact to identify Money Laundering can no longer keep up. This puts Financial Organizations in a bit of a pickle.

Governments have made it so that Financial Institutions cannot just ignore the problem of Money Laundering and hope for the best. After all, if a Financial Institution goes belly up, it can affect a whole country. To avoid this worst case scenario, a government may force a Financial Institution out of business if they are not confident that the institution is compliant with laws. If you want to get business owners / board members to do something about a problem, threatening their business is one solid way to go about it and the governments know this.

For Financial Institutions to get round this issue of not knowing the business rules to implement to identify Money Laundering, they are turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to fill in the gap of knowledge. AI will scan through large amounts of data to learn, establish, monitor and update the business rules that identify Money Laundering or Potential Money Laundering. Systems will then implement the rules on the fly to freeze accounts, recover laundered money and notify government and law enforcement agencies.

While I am not a liberty to talk about the specific data being worked with, I can discuss what this means from a Business Analyst perspective. Data scientists and AI engineers will take over the role of capturing and implementing the business rules for identification of Money Laundering into the systems. Previously this was handled by the Business Analyst. However, before you cry about the loss of another piece of work for the Business Analyst role, new opportunities will open up:

  • AI needs data and lots of it. Business Analysts will be recruited to provide data interfaces into the AI machine. At least for the next little while. Eventually, the desire is to end up with more of a Web Crawler approach where the AI establishes new sources of data with little to no human intervention.
  • While AI will be good at identifying that an action is needed it will not be good at implementing the action (at least until we build the fictional “Skynet”). Business Analysts will always be involved with ensuring that the action is communicated to where it needs to be communicated and that any automatic response within an organization is performed . With the way Companies, Governments and Law Enforcement Agencies reorganize themselves on a regular basis it is unlikely that this will ever be a static solution. Given that changing environment, this should keep Business Analysts busy for a while.

What I think will be interesting in the future will be for the Data Scientists and AI engineers to be able to explain the reasoning of the AI for its decision that a particular event is Money Laundering. Eventually it could grow beyond their understanding. I can see a future where Business Analysts will be called upon to get the AI systems to pump out human readable reasoning and maybe that will be a new job task for us all.

In summary, criminals and governments are driving the need for AI to step in and generate IT requirements on the fly. This is to ensure that the criminals are kept in check and that businesses are not shut down by governments for not keeping criminals in check. While some BA roles will be lost around business rules capturing and implementing, other new roles will open up in support of the AI infrastructure and especially the output from the AI solutions.

Health Insurance & Tax impacting the American Consultant take home pay

This post is about unexpected costs that the American Government has brought to bear that are reducing the income of Consultant BAs in America.

If you work in America or thought of coming to work in America, certain changes over the past few years have really reduced the take home pay of consultants who are not self employed – known as W2 employees because of the end of year tax form received by employees.

For this post, I have assumed that the tax rate for the consultants income will be 30%.

To be self employed (known as 1099 – tax form produced at end of year for employees not directly employed), the client that you work for has to be willing to accept a Corp to Corp relationship and some clients will not accept that. If you are lucky you might be able to get a preferred vendor to hire you on self employed basis. At the end of the day, being able to work either W2 (employee) or 1099 (Self Employed) opens up the number of job opportunities that you can pursue.

How did we get to the point of losing money?

First off, Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) did not reduce the cost of health insurance for the majority. Instead, Obamacare has more than doubled the cost of health insurance since it was introduced – a $500 family policy in 2014 would cost around $1300 today based on what I have seen.

Obamacare also removed the ability to deduct private health insurance costs from your taxable income. Private health insurance was important for consultants as they change employers often. Buying into an employee policy did not always make sense as the relationship with the employer may be only for 3 months (duration of the contract). This private health insurance policy cost could previously be deducted against your taxes whether you were W2 or 1099. What Obamacare effectively did, was to get rid of that deduction option for W2 employees. This is like a 30% surcharge on health insurance because you now pay for the private health insurance policy with after tax income. 1099 employees can still deduct the cost of the health insurance against their income since the insurance can be deducted as a business expense. However, even if you are 1099, that does not overcome the fact that health insurance costs have more than doubled.

The second reason W2 consultants are losing more money is because of the tax law change of 2018. Previously if you had travel expenses that exceeded 2% of your W2 income, you could deduct that amount from your taxable income. This deduction was removed starting tax year 2018. This means that if you do any amount of heavy travel for work that your company does not pay you for, those travel expenses are now 30% more expensive. I spoke with a recruitment agency the other day who said that more and more consultants are declining W2 job opportunities that would require them to work out of their home town because of the tax law change.

If you are W2 and you need to travel for work overnight or longer, you could ask for “Per Diem”. This is a IRS approved amount that is not taxed and the amount is based on the location that you are working in. One way to negotiate this is to get an agreed rate and then ask for some of the income to be converted to Per Diem money. However there are flaws with this approach:

  • Per Diem expires after a period of time. Basically after your have been in a location for 12 months or you expect to be at a location longer than 12 months, the IRS no longer considers you eligible for tax free Per Diem.
  • You have to have a tax home more than 50 miles away from where you work.
  • The client or employer that you are going to work with may not want the hassle of doing Per Diem reporting.

In summary, the American system has started to close the door on W2 employees that are Business Analyst Consultants by increasing the cost to do business. Consultants will need to:

  • Pursue more Corp to Corp jobs (basically be self employed).
  • Work at reduced rates for companies that will cover their expenses.
  • Work only on local jobs that do not have expenses associated with them.

Self driving trucks increases risk of potential food and other consumables shortages

March 23, 2019 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: General News 

As technological advances in the automotive industry bring us closer to the fully self driving vehicle on the roads, Governments would be wise to consider lessons learned from the airline industry. Business analysts should help advise our business partners on mitigating the risks.

Recent issue with Boeing 737 Max 8 highlights how a perceived software problem can kill people and cause a fleet of planes to be grounded from use. From a business perspective, airlines were lucky that they had other types of planes to use while the problem is worked on. Still, this was a tragedy that we all wish had not happened. We should use it as a reminder on being sure to understand the risks of any software we work on.

If we jump forward into the future where the delivery trucks on the road are all self driving. What will we do then if the self driving software is found to be flawed or hacked and requires trucks to be taken off the road? It might be days or weeks before the fleet can get operational again. This would leave food rotting in warehouses and docks as it was unable to be delivered to its final destination. This could lead to mass panic and civil unrest.

As a forewarning of the impact we might see, the cyber attacks of 2017 showed how information systems that organize the flow of goods were impacted. Shipping containers were unable to be moved to their destinations as the data required to manage the containers was unavailable. This lead to some temporary food shortages.

Self driving trucks, however take us into the world that actual physical transport is also at risk of being disabled. Even if we had a physical piece of paper showing us all the destination information for a shipping container, we would not have the means to move it. No manual work around. To avoid this risk, it would be good if self driving trucks at least have the following features:

  • Ability to disconnect the Self Driving brain from the truck.
  • Mechanisms to allow humans to control the truck directly in a manual form.
  • Retain physical security that allows authorized humans to manually drive and don’t rely on software security that may fail and prevent manual override.
  • Multiple vendors, with the theory that they won’t all fail at the same time.

If we want to look at history to see a previous example of when vehicles ground to a halt and how the problem was handled for the future, we can look at the Opec Oil embargo of 1973. Restriction of oil being sent to USA meant that fuel was hard to come by bringing traffic partially to a halt. Long term solution to avoid this problem in the future was for USA to keep its own strategic reserve of oil. One could argue for the need to keep sets of manually driven trucks on standby, spread throughout the country as a similar workaround.

As business analysts we should encourage our clients / business partners to weigh up the risk of their investments in new technology and help them to consider back up solutions at the same time. The old idiom of “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” might be wise as software continues to replace even more manual processes. In some places it may be better to have multiple different solutions so that there is an alternative should one fail. Having a variety of planes has allowed the airlines to keep flying.

The more our technology solutions integrate with the infrastructure of the society we live in, the more need there is for a back up solution should a piece of technology fail. As business analysts we should not forget this.

Are we building the world defined by the movie “Gattaca”

March 14, 2019 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: General News 

This post is about thinking how the project we are working on will impact the future of society as we know it. Quality of requirements we gather can impact society in ways later on that we did not think of. Most importantly, we need to always provide a secure back door where incorrect assumptions generated by computers can be overridden by humans otherwise we are at the mercy of the machines.

The 1997 movie “Gattaca” was about a person’s DNA being used to determine their potential in society. DNA would be used to work out what careers you would have access to. The protagonist of the story pays to use someone’s else DNA (adoption of identity instead of theft) to achieve their objective which currently they were banned from due to their inferior DNA.

If you think about the mechanics of the future life direction provided in “Gattaca”, it revolves around DNA having been previously analyzed to determine the career potential of a human being. Once the analysis was done, computers take control of processing an individual’s DNA to determine future worth to society. There is no need to have human involvement in the decision any longer as the formula is already developed and the outcome determined.

For those of us who work in IT we may encounter projects that are a cog in the works of this “Gattaca” future. These projects are efforts which seek to define a value for a human based on information received. Certainly at this point they are not focused on including DNA sampling to determine the value but that would seem to be only a matter to time. If we included DNA sampling that would give us the potential to look beyond the immediate prediction of value and include a future performance prediction as well.

Some of you may remember a 1995 movie called “The Net” where the issue was that the protagonist’s identity is erased causing her to have issues with doing anything in life. Having the computer store information related to our identity was the first step towards where we are now. What is significant in today’s world is how computers are adding points to that stored information that affect your value in society.

You may be asking at this point what IT projects that I work on would fall under this future “Gattaca” classification of determining human value? Below are some examples:

  • Human Resource systems – tracking of sick days and vacation days. Certain trends identified by the system can flag an employee as a risk.
  • Credit Scores. Speaks for itself and reliant on information that may or may not be correct.
  • Terrorist Name matching – how many Mr Smiths get delayed at the airport.
  • Computer Activity monitoring – not active enough and your employer can terminate you.
  • Grocery Store cards – are you buying healthy. Where does all that information go?
  • Job Interview software – companies are pushing more and more to remove the human from the initial interview loop and instead rely on a computer interview to screen applicants. Answer a question in the wrong way and you may never get passed the computer.
  • Job Search Engines – computer selects which resumes to be reviewed for potential interviews. If you don’t spend time trying to work out the current key words, your resume may never get viewed by human eyes.

Above just represents some of the projects that you may work on that determine the current value of a human. Underlying each one are formulas that are sold as: improvement in efficiency; reduction in costs etc.. for the organization that deploys the software. Side effect of course is that a computer now values the individual human based on the formulas used against the data received. While they don’t use DNA yet, they are certainly getting close.

We already know that in today’s world identity theft can give the stealing individual access to things that they would not have access to. That was the premise in “Gattaca” where the individual adopted another’s identity to achieve their goal. Identity theft would not be as easy if it were not for the computer storing points on an individual that determine their value to an organization and society thus opening or closing doors of opportunity. After identity theft, the victim may lose their place in society for a while if not permanently as their points total will be adjusted again by the computer based on the information generated by the identity theft. Victims are then tasked with reaching out to actual humans to correct what the computer is stating is valid. Humans tasked with correcting the information are at the mercy of the computers having a back door from which they can override the incorrect information.

So the next time you start to work on a project, ask yourself if you are building another “cog” in the “Gattaca” world machine and did you provide a secure back door override.

AI will end the need for IT Requirement Business Analysts

Will say up front that this is purely an opinion piece as I don’t plan to provide the textual references to back up the statements. Purpose is just to think about the evolution of technology that had led us to this point and the impact to the IT Requirements Business Analyst.

Historical speaking if we start at the Industrial revolution, machines were used to speed up production. Back then, the equivalent of a software programmer was a mechanical engineer who designed the levers; shafts and cogs etc.. to produce the desired result. More often than not, workers were required to keep the machines fed with raw material and to remove the finished product. You could think of the raw material as being the equivalent of data coming into a modern day data processing software and the end product being the finished use of the data such as reports / dashboards or account updates.

When the electronic computer moved into the office world in the late 40’s we started to see where the processing of data by human clerks was being replaced by the computer. The mission of the computer back in those days was to reduce the number of humans involved in processing data. At this point, businesses are not looking for the computer to give them guidance but just to allow data to be processed quicker and more cheaply. Designers of software could focus on the tasks already done by the human and create software and peripherals such as printers that replaced those tasks. This would be done by job shadowing to understand the process.

Moving into the fifties and sixties, computers became available that could be programmed with complex algorithms to allow data to be processed in a way that predictions could be made from the data. At this point, the designers are no longer thinking about replacing workers but instead leveraging the processing power of the computer to produce decisions related to business. While some of this you could argue was done in WW2 to break codes, those machines were specifically built for the task. What the more modern computers allowed was for programming languages to change the decision task to meet the current need. However the one handicap was the speed of the computer in those days. Decisions generated by the computers were not done in real time and the programming involved was complicated.

With the advent of the more powerful and useful computers that come out of the late sixties, we start to see where computers become part of real-time processing. Computing processing power and storage keeps increasing every year allowing for businesses to look at new way of saving costs / increasing investments by letting the computer streamline their processes beyond replacing people to even including the ability to expand their business. This is achieved by the development of new interfaces beyond the punch card of old. Now terminals are available that allow for direct access to the computer processor allowing for live updates of data – think airline ticket handling. In this period the designer was seeing how new tools available via technology could enhance rather than replace the current process. However even with all these advances, the use of the computer was still dependent on a designer working out the needs of the business and getting it coded. Software solutions were ridged and limited to the design parameters provided.

Even when we go into the turn of the century, the faster computers with more data handling are still moving along with limited software design that involves fixed parameters and limited interfaces for data collection.

Where we seem to make the evolutionary leap towards AI is when the processing power and data handling ability of computers crosses a threshold where it can consume non-human prepped data that is beyond just text. Previously, data processing power limited what a computer could do in real time. Now a computer can process not just plain textual data but also images, sound etc. and determine decisions based on this. It is like we have removed a prisoner from a small cell where the only thing they could see was text and their hearing / touch / sensing was deliberately disabled. Now we are in a scenario where computers can be educated to interface with humans on a natural level. All the designer needs to do is define the data streams (based on the context – driving a car for example) and the measures of success. AI can then learn to process the data.

Now before I talk about the impact of AI on the BA role, I want to break the role into two:

Role 1 is the BA that looks at business processes.

Role 2 is the BA that looks at interfacing IT with business processes.

Business process BAs (Role 1) are already heavily being replaced by the Product Owner role so while this BA will eventually not exist, the role has a chance of living on for a period of time with the advent of AI as a Product Owner. Eventually however even Product Owners will be replaced by more sophisticated AI solutions. Big risk though, is that businesses become clones of each other. An AI analyzing the marketplace may come up with the same opportunities as another business AI thus killing the market opportunity as both deliver the same solution at the same time making neither have an advantage over the other. While this happens with humans today, the occurrence is less as humans cannot deliver ideas at the 24x7x365 speed that AI can. Stock market meltdowns have already been shown to happen when multiple different stock monitoring software trigger sell decisions because a trigger event occurs. This will be the same issue when AI takes over the business Product Ownership.

Role 2 BAs that focus on requirements for IT design are most likely to be impacted in the very near term by the advent of AI. This role has already seen a significant amount of work being moved to UI designers and Data Warehousing Specialists (both of whom are at risk of being replaced by AI as well) that the amount of work left is limited. With the advent of AI, its is conceivably possible for the BA person to be replaced by an AI solution that interfaces directly with the business to produce either IT solutions or output that can be used to create IT solutions. For years this has been a dream of many companies. Easier to use software being the traditional way to limit IT expenses – think about how many business users use Excel for example without ever talking to a BA. AI will make it a reality for everybody to ditch the IT requirements BA. Instead of having to learn an interface specific to a piece of software, the AI will instead provide a sophisticated human interface that replicates what the BA does today. For the business it will be as if they are working with a BA but without the human cost. Certainly it will take time and money to develop this BA replacement AI but once it is developed it can easily be distributed and shared.

In summary, AI will be a great move forward for business but will negatively impact the Business Analyst market as we know it today. Business Analysts who focus on only IT requirements would be well advised to move into Product Owner roles or be involved with the AI development that is happening so that they can be an expert in the field.

VW a lesson in marketing versus regulations

By now you will be very aware of the VW diesel scandal where the software on the car detected when the car was being tested and controlled exhaust emissions to past the test.

Anyone that works in gathering requirements can easily see the problem here. There were two competing requirements Marketing and Regulatory and in the end the marketing side won out.

Big business is a game of cat and mouse. Laws are in place for a lot of things but for business the viewpoint of laws is the risk / cost of being caught and the benefit of not following the law. If the law is not enforced 100%, business will start to think of it as an optional law. There are numerous cases of settlements between car companies and the US government or consumers. The Titanic is a classic example of the law being met but the intent of the law being missed which was to have enough life rafts to save lives – the law had not been written in such a way as to force the life rafts to be enough to meet the number of passengers.

When gathering requirements for a solution, care must be taken to understand the implications of giving one set of requirements higher priority over another. Risk analysis is supposed to be done to ensure the VW, Titanic situation never occurs today. However profit is a powerful master and it will make people blind to that which is obvious.

Double check those requirements that fly in the face of morals to make sure you are not ignoring something that will later make you a headline.

 

The industrial revolution 2.0 – where Jane & John Doe programs make sense

If you ever saw pictures from the original industrial revolution (1790 – 1870) you would have seen machines producing goods that also required humans to keep them supplied with materials. In some cases it was dangerous work as the humans darted under the mechanism of the machine to keep it supplied. One wrong step and the human resource was injured or killed.

These machine in their own way were original pieces of programming. Basically the Steam Punk of code where the internal workings are completely visible. Humans basically made up the shortfall in what could not be replaced easily or affordably by machine.

Step forward into today and while the brass and iron has vanished we still have humans fulfilling the roles where machines have not caught up.

Amazon pickers is an example of the humans still meeting the need.

When do you ask does it make sense to replace the human programs (lets call them Jane & John Doe)?

NOTE: This article is a somewhat tongue in cheek consideration of the removal of humans from the workforce and is not meant to offend anyone who is worried about AI takeover.

Let’s first look at the benefit of our human Jane and John Doe programs:

1 – Easily programmed if task is not too complicated.

2 – Can be programmed by other existing programs.

3 – Adaptable interface – Buttons, levers, switches etc.. are not an issue.

4 – Can be replaced if failing.

5 – Low short term investment costs.

6 – Can be easily reprogrammed as tasks change.

7 – Multiple interface methods for programming – auditory, touch, visual.

 

The cons of Jane and John Doe:

1 – Program can leave of own accord requiring another program to be obtained.

2 – Program can be injured requiring maintenance costs to be paid even if another program replaces it.

3 – Not all programs are of equal ability which can cause quality issues.

4 – Limited amount of transactions per hour can be handled and there is risk of memory leakage if the task is too frequent or repetitive.

 

Now let us consider the attributes of the equation to determine when to replace the Jane and John Doe programs with actual computerized machines :

1 – Cost of your current Jane and John Does + cost to remove them from the role versus the cost of the computerized machine.

2 – Frequency of the transaction – more frequent or increasing frequency raises the number of Jane and John Does programs you require making a computerized alternative more attractive.

3 – Availability of Jane and John Does – if they are getting harder to find, their cost goes up.

4 – Complexity of the task – like point 3, if the complexity of the task is getting higher, the number of Jane and John Does that can do it get less, increasing their cost.

5 – Long term need for Jane and John Doe – if the task is not changing and going to be around a long time, programming a computerized alternative makes sense as the long term return can be seen.

6 – Reliability of the computerized alternatives or level of risk a single failure point can create. When you have a large human set of programs, there is a lot of redundancy built in if one fails. With a computerized machine, when it fails, there is no backup until it is repaired.

There are probably a multitude of other reasons to keep or replace Jane and John Doe. This article is just to make you think about it from a ROI point of view and how history repeats itself 200 years later.

To quote what the head of an IT operations once said to me back in the 1989 “As soon as the cost of the tape system comes down to being cheaper than the staff I will get rid of the operations staff.” By 1992 the operations staff were out of a job as a machine had replaced them – the cost had come down enough. Machines eventually get cheaper than their human counterparts.

 

When software kills due to incomplete requirements

If you are lucky, your software has not been responsible for the death of anyone to date. If you are unlucky then you know it.

When a analyst gathers requirements for a piece of software there is a tendency to focus on the happy path and ignore the surrounding paths that can lead to disaster. Unfortunately events can lead up to the identification of the missing requirements and sometimes death is a result.

To be fair, we humans can still kill ourselves without software such as with the mechanical loaded gun or the speeding car taking a bend too fast. However software seems to give people in some cases a false sense of security that does not exist. In other cases it can give them power to do something that should not have been possible if they were directly engaged with the physical which leads to disaster.

The article below refers to two cases where software enabled a pilot to do something they should not have been allowed to do with death being the end result.

Lessons from spaceship two’s crash

In the above article, the situation was different from my previous article about lack of tactile feedback. In both cases the pilots knew what they were doing, they just did it at the wrong time or too frequently for the specific vehicle to survive.

As an analyst, be it a system’s analyst or business analyst, it is not enough to think of just the happy path. Whenever you are gathering requirements you need to also think of what will keep us on the happy path. Whenever there is an interaction or a key data point, ask yourself if the event that causes this can be triggered at the wrong time or occur too many times.

Look for the ways that one can step off of the path and see if you can build either a metaphorical wall to keep us on the path or ways to get us back on the path before any damage is done.

Testers working for nothing – why you should not go into testing as a career

Often Business Analysts will see in their job description the act of testing. True heavy testing requires special skills that do not tie in well with good Business Analysts skills.

Business Analysts often need to get out and communicate with a variety of people and dig beneath the surface of conversations to find the true requirements / processes.

Testing however relies on the information presented from the Business Analyst along with other documents and  industry standards to validate the work done. Testers effectively thrive in an atmosphere where communicating with a variety of people is not required.

While small amounts of testing such as a minor enhancement can be covered by a BA, care must be taken if the BA role requires more than that as it will weaken your BA skills over time.

Maybe the above is not enough to dissuade you from heading down a testing career path from your BA role but two trends should discourage you from heading into testing as a career:

1 – Outsourcing

Recently I saw a corporation completely outsource their Testing Department. Part of the reason behind this is the theory that the size of a testing department varies according to the work being done. A vendor was considered a better solution to handling the waves of work as opposed to having staff on hand.

2 – Testing for nothing in hope of potential rewards

This is the most worrying concern for anybody involved in testing. It looks like a Silicon Valley startup has ditched paying testers a wage. Testers have to compete to win cash by being the first to identifying bugs / issues that nobody else has identified. If they are not the first then they get nothing for their efforts. The prizes are also so small that only someone living in a country overseas could justify the risk of time and effort for little to no reward.

Data handling – know when to bring the experts on board.

We all know about the Y2K incident with the 2 digit year however there are still examples of data storage length being inappropriate for the data to be stored.

If you are a Business Analyst that deals with data then it is important to always be questioning the data requirements to ensure that they meet the need of the business / application now and especially in the future.

Industries where data is critical to their function will probably leverage Data Modelers / Engineers / Scientists to manage data definition. As a BA we should not be afraid to state when the  data knowledge is beyond us and ask for the project to employ one of these specialists. Do not try and wing it because the end result can be expensive to the company.

To read up on some of the impacts of data, see this article below from the BBC:

Data Handling that led to disasters

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