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Tales of Future Past

By Julian Sammy, Head of Research and Innovation, IIBA
Three years ago, in January 2011, many of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) senior leadership team made predictions about the effects that emerging technologies will have on the practice of business analysis by the end of 2013. My predictions covered video conferencing, real-time collaboration tools, requirement Interpretation and execution engines, and BA planning and monitoring tools
I'm pretty pleased with my prognostications.
Video conferencing was around in 2011, but not well integrated into organizational practices. Today, the uptake of personal video calling combined with the move to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has put increasing pressure on businesses. Almost every mobile phone can provide high-quality video conferencing for free and people have become much more comfortable with it for distributed teams. At the Building Business Capability (BBC) Conference this year I informally polled people about their use of video in their work. Very few BAs never used video conferencing.
At the same time, we have seen instant messengers, Facebook, and Google+ become more “real-time” communication channels, pushed by heavy use of SMS and the popularity of Twitter. While many people are still unpracticed in using a chat client while on a conference call, it is much more common than it was. This can be a distraction—when people chat about something off topic for the meeting—but it can also be a powerful tool for focusing attention. At IIBA® we often use chats during calls, pasting in relevant links, adding questions or comments, and answering questions. It saves a lot of time: instead of doing a roll call, just ask everyone to say “Hi” in the chat window.
Like any communication tool, these ones take practice to use. If you're seeing resistance to adoption, ask yourself what the people who refuse to participate think they're going to lose. If you can address that expectation of loss you can quell the resistance. Don't assume that participants are competent in the tools—or able to “pick it up on their own”.
My predictions about Requirement Interpretation and Execution Engines are coming true, but not the way I expected. Certainly, business rules engines and business process management engines exist, and are being adopted by some organizations—but the rebranding of Software as a Service (SaaS) to Cloud Computing has hidden a shift to business—configurable technology systems. Cloud services often seek to eliminate formal requirements elicitation by providing a solution that fulfills a common requirements pattern. 
The development of better tools for BA Planning and Monitoring has been happening, especially in smaller organizations and Agile shops. The heavyweight planning tool is still MS Project, but there are a lot of alternatives that are much simpler, and good enough for many projects (such as Trello and BaseCamp). 
Predictions for 2016
1. Automated Transcriptions
In the next three years, expect to see automated transcriptions of meetings become common. Instead of typing out all the requirements or transcribing them from a whiteboard, BAs will be able to do a quick search through the transcription, copy out the relevant information, and do a little clean up. Along with widespread adoption of collaboration tools (shared whiteboards, chat, video, and so on), expect to see significant changes to the work you do, and an increased focus on value generation. One of the difficult parts of our profession is being automated. It happens to many professions: a “printer” once referred to a business with a lot of people and complex machines.
2. Integrated Planning Tools
Increasing integration of business analysis and project management practices is still coming. Over the next three years I expect to see significant progress in this area for several reasons. First, the draft of A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) v3 has a greater focus on integration of BA plans into overall project plans. Second, PMI has increased their focus on requirements engineering and business analysis.
3. The Automated Assistant
What aspects of your job would be simpler if you had a personal assistant? Could you be a better BA if you were supported by a person who knew you inside out—perhaps even better than you know yourself—and who was dedicated to helping you succeed?
By the end of 2016 expect your devices to know almost everything about you—your habits, your family, your friends, your work—all of it. Our machines are already contextually aware; they understand natural language and information context (IBM Watson, Google search, Google Now), sense our physical surroundings, and are starting to pay attention to how you interact with the physical world (Google Glass, Kinnect, Leap Motion). We are in an era where our tools understand human behaviour: Amazon, Google, and Netflix are successful because they can calculate our intent and predict our actions—often better than we can ourselves.
This will affect everyone: imagine never having to search for an email again or a file again, because the information you need is just presented to you when you need it. The technology for this exists today (Google Now). In three years expect to see it everywhere. I suspect it will take more than three years, but this kind of technology will eventually be used to help manage requirements. For example, your devices might do a gap analysis on your work as you run an elicitation session, and offer suggestions for subjects to explore further.
Scheduling and calendars are another place where life will get easier for everyone. Imagine you're in a meeting, and say, "Let's meet next week to talk about [topic]." A few moments later the people you're talking to get a meeting request. Your devices automatically negotiate this based not only on your calendar free/busy time, but also using your workload and deadlines and work habits. For business analysts, this should make it easier to engage stakeholders for meetings, and to identify stakeholders who might be a risk. For example, if you said, "Computer, set up the elicitation sessions and review meetings in the plan I have open," it might respond with, "Stakeholders in the finance department are unlikely to agree to this schedule, based on month-end and quarterly workloads."
We're finally in the age of artificial intelligence. When you consider the skills you will need in the coming decade remember that our tools are already better at managing information than we are, and they're getting better. This means your underlying competencies will become ever more important. One day soon your computer might be able to predict when a key stakeholder is likely to have a meltdown. It will be a long time before that computer can take a leadership role in a team and manage that relationship.