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the future of business analysis (BA)

Gil Regev · December 15, 2021

What will we do when everything is automated and “informated?” 


I live in a wine country above Lake Léman (or Lake Geneva as it is called in the rest of the world). As I was walking my dog this morning, I saw the familiar scene of the farmer dusting his vineyard. He came in with his tractor coupled to the duster and proceeded to go down each vineyard lane dusting it. I guessed that it would take the farmer about one hour to dust the whole vineyard completely. Seeing this, I started thinking about how this scene might have looked about 60 years ago, before the widespread use of machines in agriculture. It might have involved as many as ten people for whom it would take about one day of messy, hard labour to accomplish what the single farmer did alone in just one hour. 

A few months later, the grape harvesting is in full swing. Many people are busy collecting the grapes in the vineyards all over the region. But in some vineyards, there are very few people. Instead, one big machine now harvests a whole vineyard all by itself, with one operator. The same story of automation repeats itself. The harvest is accomplished in much less time and with much less effort. The outcome is reached much faster and more accurately, but all the people who harvested the vineyard are gone. 

In the same 60 years that farming has transformed from a labour-intensive collaborative activity into a largely mechanized solitary job, IT has experienced the same evolution. Every person with a smartphone can now accomplish what very many people together could not dream of doing 60 years ago. For example, video conference with a colleague across the planet or creating a sophisticated website by glueing together a few modules on a cloud-based system.  

automation today is all the rage, but it is only one aspect where IT has transformed our lives.

Shoshana Zuboff, in her seminal book, The Age of the Smart Machine (1988), proposed that automation is only one of the two main capabilities offered by what was then the emerging use of computers in organizations. The other capability, she said, was to inform. While automating work, IT has the ability that mechanization lacks – to gather and provide data about the work done. Zuboff called this “to informate.” “Information technology,” she said, “not only produces action but also produces a voice that symbolically renders events, objects, and processes so that they become visible, knowable, and shareable in a new way.” [1] 

The combination of these two capabilities – automate and “informate” – she remarked back in the 1980s will transform organizations and society much more than pure automation. Zuboff contends that if we fail to grasp the uniqueness of “informating,” “we will be stranded in a new world with old solutions.” And “will suffer through the unintended consequences of change.” [2] 

now, consider the role of business analysis

It is only now becoming a recognized role in organizations. Until recently, it has been part of the job of developers or project managers. For developers, there has been a gradual evolution from just writing code to defining specifications (defining what the code will do before coding), to requirements (defining what the users need before we specify what the code will do).  

Business Analysis emerged as a practice separate from coding and project management sometime in the 1990s. It can be seen as a direct response to the kind of concerns raised by Zuboff. The original definition of Business Analysis has been changed from “the set of tasks, knowledge, and techniques required to identify business needs and determine solutions to business problems[3] in the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) version 1.6 of 2006, to the “practice of enabling change in an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders[4] in the BABOK V3 of 2015. It is no longer about business needs, problems, and solutions. It is about organizational change, value and stakeholders. 

Unfortunately, BABOK falls short of addressing its own vision. The underlying enterprise model that it subscribes to is hierarchical command and control, inherited from the age of the industrial revolution. Automation is treated separately from the informing process. Information is seen as just an ingredient for improving decision-making. Zuboff foresaw that we might be caught in this double bind. “Will we have leaders able to create the organizational conditions in which new visions, new concepts, and a new language of the workplace relations emerge?” [5] she asked. As predicted by Zuboff, this leads to perpetuating the same organizational structures we inherited from the industrial revolution, resulting in the “unintended consequences” of the rejection of change initiatives. To avoid the unintended and unwanted consequences of change, the business analyst would do well to understand the role of “informating” and automating in creating these new visions, concepts, languages, and relations Zuboff talked about.  

The “informated” organization, Zuboff writes, is based on relations of equality promoting learning for all its members, adding that “In the traditional organization, the division of learning lent credibility to the legitimacy of imperative control. In an “informated” organization, the new division of learning produces experiences that encourage a synthesis of members interests, and the flow of value-adding knowledge helps legitimate the organization as a learning community.”[6] 

To be true to its own aims of enabling change, business analysis would do well to include the “informating” dimension and its promises rather than its pitfalls, as outlined by Zuboff more than 30 years ago. In passing, it needs a name change, better call it Business Synthesis, to promote the essence of the organization as a structure for working and learning together. 



[1] Shoshana Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine, Heinemann, 1988, p. 9
[2] Shoshana Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine, Heinemann, 1988, p. 12
[3] IIBA, A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, v1.6, 2006
[4] IIBA, A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, v3, 201
[5] Shoshana Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine, Heinemann, 1988, p. 12
[6] Shoshana Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine, Heinemann, 1988, p. 394

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