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.