British Government create Major Fraud Incident by using IT to save on human costs! 20+ million pounds lost.

Current benefit scam (Universal Credit) in the United Kingdom has yet again shown how any approval for money given out via online validation is risky. Since the money was provided quickly by the government, scammers jumped on the chance to coax personal information out of people and even to make up fake personal information so they could get access to the most money possible. Current estimates are that over 20 million pounds has been stolen by fraudsters.

To help gain people’s trust, scammers used social media heavily to sell the fraud. Scammers also did the online application so any warnings of what was being signed up for were not visible to the victims of the fraud.

If we look at the original honorable goal of the online application, it was to provide people with money until their benefits were reviewed / approved as the approval process was taking 5 weeks or more. Government thought it would be great to give people money (in a the form of a loan) that would be later paid for by the claimants benefits (if approved) or repaid by the claimant if not approved for benefits. This way, the claimant could avoid cash flow issues. Really, the problem was that the Government did not have enough staff to process the claims quicker. The IT solution along with the loan was a cheaper approach that was badly implemented.

What was completely missed by the IT department working for the British Government when setting up the solution was the implementing of all the rules that human employees would use to process an application. This was a complete failure on the part of the business analysts involved in this software development and has ended up costing the UK government millions.

Some of the functions a human employee would have done in processing the application:

  1. Is the applicant aware of what they are signing up for? – Scammers did the application on behalf of the applicant so the applicants never knew fully. Scammers also used social media to describe the money as coming from a grant and not a loan.
  2. Do I have confirmation that the applicant knows what they are signing up for? As the applicants were not on the web site, they never confirmed what was being done. Victims have found out after the case what was really done.
  3. Do I have some reliable proof that the claim is accurate? Scammers submitted whatever they wanted to state in the claim as the validation was done over the process of 5 weeks after the money had been sent.
  4. Does the applicant know the amount and fees (if any) associated with the claim? Scammers claimed a fee to fill in the application on behalf of the claimant but there were no fees in reality.
  5. Does the applicant know who is supposed to do the claim? Scammers jumped on the opportunity to do the claim as their was no biometric validation (as compared to being interviewed by the government employee) as it was done online.

Here are the functions that we should watch for in our projects that require special attention when we are providing money quickly based on online validation only:

  • We need to guarantee that the party receiving the money is who they say they are and they know exactly how much is their money. This could be done by ensuring they are using an already validated bank account. In this fraud, a lot of the victims actually received the money to their bank account but thought they were obligated to pay the scammers part of it as the scammers had completed the online application.
  • We need to guarantee that the applicant is the one completing the application online so that the applicants are aware of what they are doing. Any warning / informational messages associated with the claiming / providing of money as part of an online application, we have to be 100% sure that the party to receive the money (legally tied to the money) has seen them! A web page pop-up with click of “Yes” along with capturing of IP address is not enough to verify that the person who needed to see the warning / informational message actually saw them. We need to guarantee the person at the computer on the web site is the valid party involved. This is where biometric information or a chip style reader (as used in credit cards) for an identity card would come in handy. Some companies use validated phone numbers with text messaging to achieved this however if the phone number is hacked or changed by the scammer this does not work. With the current fraud, it is several weeks before the Government works out that the claimant never used the web site to complete the application and thus were not aware of what was being signed for.

In summary, the British Government got themselves into this position because they did not want to hire more staff to process claims quicker. It is the classic case of relying on Information Technology to speed up a process on the cheap without due considerations of the risks involved or the human functions being replaced by the computer. Whoever did the analysis and design of this payment solution was incompetent beyond belief.

What kind of business are you in?

The question “what kind of business are you in?” seems simple enough and is a standard question that businesses ask themselves to stay relevant and not lose sight of their market. However as we know, the answers to simple open questions can end up being complicated. Looking at an example of a wrong answer for this question: railroad company thinks of themselves as a company in the railroad business, not realizing they are in the transportation business. An extreme example of bad decision making was Kodak not realizing they were in the memory / emotion capture business and instead they focused on providing film and print material because it had made them money for over 100 years. By the time they realized what business they were in, it was too late.

You might be wondering what direction I am taking this in. I want you to consider how you would answer this question in relation to your current career as a business analyst.

As a business analysts, I consider we are there to help generate improvement of profit and or reduction of costs for the companies we work at. However most employers (who are actually our customers) don’t see that in our role but instead look upon us to be specific in what we provide them in terms of knowledge and experience. Examples would be:

  • Payment handling
  • Healthcare data processing
  • General data analytics
  • Anti money laundering
  • Utilities
  • Mobile applications development
  • etc..

This narrow role definition by our customers puts us back into the mental mode of thinking that we are in the railroad business and not in transportation. Basically our customers are not going to tell us that they plan to make us obsolete with a new solution to their business needs or that they are losing market share in their industry (leading to job losses). We have to think beyond what we immediately provide to the customer and consider at least two things in our careers.

  1. Industry trends
  2. Tools we use

Industry Trends:

  • Is the Industry that we are working in shrinking or growing in our geographic location of work? Example – think of factories that get closed or corporate mergers either of which would reduce people needed in the industry.
    • To overcome, you would either need to gain experience / knowledge in a new industry or move location to where the work is (if that is an option).
  • Are there current or future disruptions to the way the work is being done in our industry that we need to be aware of? Example – looking at the railroad, the rails, trains and railcars are just a tool used in transportation. Certainly they help the railway business make money but as the railway companies found out in America after the interstate roads were built, new options for transportation by road upset the apple cart. Money invested in trains and railcars was lost because these tools did not work on the road. Basically being only in the railroad business was going to cause a loss of market share, decline in profits and decline in employment opportunities.
    • To overcome, you need to stay aware of advancements in technology / process that could impact your industry and seek knowledge / experience with the new and even considering changing industry if the new will make your industry obsolete and or reduce its market share causing a reduction in employment.

Tools We Use

  • Are the tools required to do your job changing? Example – with the move to more Agile IT work we are expected to have used formal tools for managing user stories, backlogs etc.. Reporting is another area where tools are continually evolving.
    • To overcome, you need to monitor the tools specified in job postings prior to your next job, have a budget set aside for training, get the training and if possible work out how to get experience with the tool/s.

In summary, don’t let your current success with customers blind you to the market. Stay current with what industries are doing (growing or shrinking) and what tools you need to do your job. That way you will continue to help companies improve their profits and reduce their expenses. Plan to budget for time and money to be spent to keep yourself marketable to customers. Be prepared to ditch an industry if the future looks grim. Don’t focus on pure profit, invest in yourself to stay in line with the market otherwise you may become the next Kodak.

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.

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.

 

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.

PM versus BA – the dead discussion and why being a PM may be better than being a BA

It can be interesting to read articles on the Ideal Way that things should happen. These articles are somewhat like the ones about why all people should be debt free and happy. If you are not debt free and happy, then you personally are doing something wrong.

Focus of this website is in the reality of the workplace which is usually far from Ideal. Politics, Oligarchies, Budgets etc. can all get in the way of achieving the Ideal or “World Peace”.

If you want to read up on the debate around the fact that there is no difference between PMs and BAs but it is all about what you bring to the table (“Ideal Approach”) then check out this link – PM vs BA.

Honestly however, the whole conversation is dead one which is what the author of the article states. The author basically questions why PM versus BA is even a discussion point to which I have to agree (having had a foot in both camps (PM / BA) I see no reason why the right BA cannot do PM work and vice versa). Business Analyst term has become so watered down anyway it means many different things to people in the industry. There is no one definition (outside of the textbooks) for what a BA is. Effectively as the author of the article states, project success is based on collaboration and not on title. However in the real world, project teams (especially in larger companies) are formed based on titles / roles / budgets / deliverable dates and that is where the Ideal is left behind. The company that you are at will dictate your role to you based on their process / procedures / politics etc.. Some companies will be Ideal while others will miss the mark.

From a current trend perspective over the past 20 years, I have seen the companies go from using BAs to manage small projects as they gather requirements to the other scenario of having PMs gather requirements as they manage projects. Talk about territory wars. As the trend continues, the BA starting out might be better off to go into Project Management first since they will get better experience than trying to come up through the BA ranks where they run the risk of being no better off in experience than a secretary.

From a historical perspective (ignoring the above about collaboration approach), let us talk about the facts around the PM being different from a BA.

1 – Project Managers are brought on before Business Analyst so why bother with the BA.

– Pure Business Analysts are seen as an unnecessary expense in a lot of companies – last hire in your small companies. More and more the Project Manager is being looked at to deliver the Business Case / Requirements as part of their role to avoid the expense of having a Business Analyst. Personally I have seen two recent larger clients push to have the PM do most of the work since the rational is that they need to have a PM anyway so they might as well leverage them to do everything with the theory that the project is saving money. In these companies, the BA is getting downgraded to little more than a secretary required to document whatever the PM states and store it in the appropriate software.

2 – Project Managers can always do BA tasks or vice versa

– A project that is on a tight deadline cannot afford to have the resource distracted from requirements gathering with PM paperwork / issues. Try to gather requirements while putting together multiple project status / dashboards (and they all have the same deliverable date) and you will see what I mean. Sure this is not a problem when deadlines are not important.

– Not all BAs can do financial reporting / resource management as they have not been trained nor do they have the experience. After you have sat through a few cost center allocation discussions with Finance, you will enjoy getting back to requirements gathering

– Paperwork / Software used by PMs may be unfamiliar to BAs. MS Project and the latest tools all require some form of training / experience. Dashboards have to be designed / populated for projects which takes time away from requirements. It is the same for PMs trying to capture requirements as they may not be familiar with the software where the requirements are stored.

– Some PMs have no clue about proper requirement writing (ambiguity), business case development (what does the business really want and how to justify it) and it shows when the project moves through the phases. It is kind of like expecting a BA to be able to design databases. Some have it and some don’t.

3 – PM is the natural career progression for a BA

– NO it is not! Pure Project Management is different to Business Analysis. Even the IIBA acknowledges this when they ask you to describe the role you had in the projects you worked on. If you answer too many questions from a PM perspective they will not acknowledge that experience as being BA relevant.

 

Hopefully I got the point across that the BA versus PM debate is dead. To argue it anymore would be to ignore the trend in the industry which is downgrading / killing the Business Analyst job title making this whole discussion pointless.

As Business Analysts, we should be more concerned with making sure the role we are in ties into our skills. Remember, the BA title by itself is pretty much worthless these days as it means so many different things to different companies. Your focus should be on getting the skills / experience to be in the role you desire and not on the job title.

For a list of Business Analyst job titles, see links below:

Job Titles Job Titles

 

14 tips for surviving Senior Level meetings.

At some point in your Business Analyst career you may be asked to meet with Board level staff. This should not frighten you if you follow some logical tips.

1 – Don’t go it alone.
Find someone to help you setup, run and share results/minutes of meeting.

2 – Make sure someone in the room can vouch for you.
Someone in the room of a senior enough level has to be able to support you when things get tough. If you don’t know anyone, reach out to at least one individual prior to the meeting to introduce yourself and get them on your side. Failure to do this could leave you in front of a firing squad.

3 – Know who the most senior people are in the room and respect their authority.
If you don’t know who a person is that has the power to end your job, better to find out before you challenge their meeting behavior or statements.

4 – Define the rules and objective of the meeting.
Always good to define the rules and objectives. Please note however, the higher the level of meeting the less the participants are willing to listen to the rules, in those cases you have to go with the flow.

5 – Dress to match the meeting participants.
If the meeting is a suit and tie affair, wear them.

6 – When things go astray.
Ask the participants if they are open to taking a break.

7 – Be Bold but not Reckless.
Be careful of how you control the meeting. Being respectful to participants is key and don’t get sucked into arguing with them. Note and accept their objections then move on.

8 – Meet one on one post meeting to resolve issues.
Since you avoided the argument, afterwards is when you meet with the individual or subordinate and work to resolve their issues.

9 – For long meetings, meetings at lunch or dinner make sure the food and drinks match the level of staff.
Quite often you can reach out to the personal admin of the highest of the participants and work with them to schedule the right food and drinks.

10 – Be flexible.
Senior level staff availability changes at the last minute. You may find your meeting getting shrunk or bumped. Often these people are used to meeting in the evenings post the regular work day.

11 – Learn the individual personalities before hand.
Knowing what to expect from the individuals involved in the meeting keeps the surprises to a minimum.

12 – Know the terminology / acronyms
Either learn the stuff before the meeting or have someone with you who can whisper / Instant Message you what is being said.

13 – Use IM to get live meeting feedback
If you or your companion is not presenting, have your senior friend in the room (point 2) let you know if you are going off track by Instant Messaging you feedback to the computer that is not presenting – don’t want the IM to appear on screen.

14 – Prepare psychologically.
Follow whatever routine you use to relax and stay relaxed during the meeting.
http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20140904-jitters-act-like-a-starfish

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