Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Where the Business meets BI

My education and early professional career was deeply rooted in the IT world. We worried about how to keep the database running efficiently, and the best way to build a reporting portal (in the old days we built ASP pages for every single report we developed). As my career matured over the years it became apparent to me that I had to understand the business side of the equation to be truly effective. This brings to mind one of the challenges we all face as leaders of Business Intelligence initiatives, where can we find the right people?

We have the distinct need within Business Intelligence to fully understand what problem the business is trying to solve, and then to understand what data is available to solve the problem. I've heard many great ideas from the business that would add a lot of value to the organization, but the data is simply not available or is of questionable quality. This is where the role of the Business Intelligence Analyst comes into play. For the purposes of this post, the BI Analyst is the person that gathers requirements from the business and then works with the IT teams to deliver the information. (I've seen about 6 different roles described when talking about a Analyst role on a BI team).

A black belt BI Analyst has 2 distinct areas of expertise:
  1. Business knowledge - Deep understanding of the business processes and models is necessary to properly "interpret" what the users are looking for.
  2. Data knowledge - An understanding of not only the data structures that are available, but how the business processes interact with the source systems which eventually filter into the data we have available to BI.

This blend of skills and expertise requires a very specific type of person. If I was to describe the qualities of a BI Analyst, the following comes to mind:

  • Hyper-analytical - Able to apply critical thinking skills to get to the heart of the problem
  • Diplomatic - Being able to guide the business in the right direction without telling them their idea won't work...8)
  • Passionate - To truly get to the heart of a problem requires tenancity and buy-in to the organization's goals

The BI Analyst is a critical component of any BI initiative regardless where in the organization this role sits. Without the proper attention to requirements and desired outcomes, a project as complicated as a typical BI initiative is very likely to fail or to fall short of our client's expectations. One of the best sources for a BI Analyst, is within the business units we serve. You likely have someone working in the business that has the right type of analytical mind set to be a "black belt"!


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