How to Transition into Business Intelligence

Upgrading your skill set is about more than programming, project management or engineering. It’s also about understanding new approaches to technology and how they’re being incorporated into a company’s core business.

Take this to heart if you want to explore business intelligence, the art and science of digging insights out of data. Forrester’s reported that more companies are putting an emphasis on BI, which will provide some promising career paths for those IT integration, software and data architects who are willing to learn more about business intelligence and analytics, as Forrester’s Boris Evelson told Integration Developer News writer Vance McCarthy.

Forrester’s December 2010 report, BI Maturity in the Enterprise, points out:

Senior enterprise managers recognize the importance of BI and view it not just as a reporting application, but as a major competitive differentiator for the enterprise. There’s a strong top-down mandate to build and continuously improve BI infrastructure and applications.

Two phrases stick out here: “competitive differentiator” and “top-down mandate.” One thing we saw through the recession was a willingness of the guys with walls (by that I mean executives. Who else has walls in their offices nowadays?) to spend money on IT projects that have a demonstrable impact on the bottom line. The ability to glean more information that can be used in the market has results you can see. And, since some executives have an endearing tendency to know what they want and not really care about how they get it, those who can develop the solution are going to be very valuable indeed.

So, what to do?

From Evelson’s comments:

1. Get more exposure to BI projects: “Learn what specific skills will be most valued, and then move up the ranks.”

2. Learn about collaboration, change management, communications and best practices.

3. Don’t fall into the trap of believing BI is some kind of variation on ERP:

“The need for new users to access new types of information is always changing,” (Evelson) explained. “And, I’ve often seen that by the time a BI project gets rolled out today, it can already be too late – the requirements may have changed.”

4. Understand BI is about more than new tools:

“Automated BI tools are getting better all the time, but today they won’t always fill in the skills gap,” Evelson told IDN. “BI does offer some terrific tools, but it also requires special skills, such as designing and working with analytical databases or multi-dimensional databases. The tools are becoming more automated, but we’re not there just yet.”

5. School yourself in emerging BI technology.

… such as in-memory analytics, mobile BI, non-relational databases, data retrieval from non-traditional data sources (POS terminals, instrumented devices, unstructured data from social networks, and so on), data correlation techniques, even hybrid approaches to using cloud, on-premise and available data subscription services

To me, this looks like a trend with rocks behind it. It’s not going to slow down, and it’s not going to slip backward.

— Mark Feffer