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Seeking a career in business intelligence? Here are five areas to be proficient in

If ever there was a career that fits into the need to mesh technology and business success, it is BI. Here are some skills you should learn if you choose to consider a career in BI.

In this blog, I have carped ad nauseam about how IT pros, in order to succeed, should be able to understand the business and how technology fits into it. It's no longer enough to sit back and present a technology solution when there is a problem. Successful IT pros pitch technology solutions before stakeholders even know there is a need.

This brings us to Business Intelligence. If ever there was a career that fits into the need to mesh technology and business success, it is BI. BI enables companies to organize and access their information in order to make better business decisions.

This trend has a wealth of career opportunities. But, according to Jason Dove, writing for Techcareers.com, there are five main areas a Business Intelligence specialist needs to be proficient in.

  1. Relational databases - You have to understand how relational databases work. There are limits to what you can achieve by just working to the table schema provided by the database developer.
  2. SQL - Dove says, "It is possible to have a successful Business Intelligence career and never be able to write a line of SQL, but it can certainly make it easier when trying to solve more complex problems."
  3. Basic programming skills - Reporting software has an underlying scripting language similar to how Excel has macros.
  4. Knowledge of reporting software - With reporting software, it's more important that you understand the theory behind rather than having an intimate knowledge of all the software out there. However, Dove does recommend Crystal Reports because it's the most popular and wide-spread in use.
  5. Analysis skills - Dove recommends this skill with some reticence. BI analysis is different from what is generally considered "analysis" in the IT industry. Also, Dove recommends this skill with some reticence, conceding that the science is so new that there aren't any books or resources to explain it yet.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

12 comments
roy.evison
roy.evison

I have to calm down.This sounds like system analyisis (can't spell) which is a crock. One needs experts at every level and they need to talk to each other, anything less is penny pinching and it will bite you on the behind. An accountant cannot do a soliciter's job, etc. Roy.

krogovin
krogovin

I think this is an excellent list but I would add one more: the ability to work with the business. In most organizations, IT/BI are relatively separate from the business users. In fact, the business tends to evolve much more quickly than the IT solutions. The ability to truly act as a team player is invaluable--quick response, listening, respect (all of those things we learned by 1st grade).

8string
8string

Sorry, after 30 years in global enterprises and the crash of the last two years with it's causes and business media types not comprehending what was happening, the notion of "business intelligence" seems like a bad pun on the Daily Show. I would not want it on my business card anymore. Perhaps it's time for a change of title, like going back to what these people really are, "Business Functional Analyst"

juliebeman
juliebeman

It's interesting how basic the list is. Not that I'm complaining. It's nice to see something simple. I would suggest some knowledge of data warehousing as well. And, sensibly, the desire to keep oneself on top of trends in this ever-evolving (and fascinating) discipline.

juliebeman
juliebeman

Business Intelligence requires the ability to do, as Alex mentioned above, fine-grained data mining and analytics. I didn't need to know how to do any of these things while working as a systems/data analyst. Data mining uses applied statistical techniques which, in many cases (or maybe just mine) requires additional education. At a previous job my role included selecting the correct data with the customer, mapping and transforming it, validating it (all standard SA skills), choosing the most meaningful data for analysis, running statistics against it, mapping the results using geo-information software, explaining the results to the customer, and helping them understand how they could use the information to fine-tune their product offerings in selected geographies (NOT standard SA skills).

juliebeman
juliebeman

I'd be more inclined to call them Data Analysts.

AlexPC
AlexPC

Thanks for the advice about networking above, Julie. Your description of your last job sounds like exactly the kind of work I'd like to be doing. Any suggestions on web sites where I might find some hints about what companies local to me are "progressive" enough to use/benefit from BI? Is there a professional organization for BI practitioners?

AlexPC
AlexPC

I don't think user 8string knows what BI is. Look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_intelligence - BI is primarily about fine-grained data mining, analytics, and information architecture. I.e., in practice, looking at the data collected in an ERP system, making sense of it, and presenting it to management in a decision-support role. As Toni says it is a career path that requires equal parts IT and business skills - ideally, I believe, software development, financial analysis, and a dash of IA thrown in (knowledge of web front end development to create dashboards, for example). That's exactly the career I'm trying to create. The hard part is convincing managers who are technically- or business-oriented, but not both, to see the forest for the trees, and realize that someone with that combination of skills can be an asset. (Any advice, anyone?) Alex Chamberlain apchamberlain.blogspot.com

ruby.otero
ruby.otero

i also involve in creating report for top management, as a former programmer, it helps a lot having a solid experience in database and creating applications. I also agree that while it needs to have a technical know how, it is much better if you could also have a financial management background.

juliebeman
juliebeman

I always assume that soft skills are required. Check this out: I recently interviewed for a consulting role which listed "having a gentle approach" in the position requirements. The organization has employees who have been at their jobs for 20+ years and who were terrified of technology and change. I was very interested in the position until the hiring manager stated that he had concerns about my ability to deliver because I had a BA in Philosophy, which meant I was probably a dilettante. Huh? Could he be the reason they need someone with a gentle approach?

juliebeman
juliebeman

Hi Alex, If you're really in the "convince managers" place, I think the best thing you can do is teach them about successful BI programs. Network and find some folks who've implemented them and show the managers how the intelligence was used to make critical decisions. Bring them metrics: Where was the money saved? How many new customers did they attract? How did they tie up the loose ends of their compliance program? Julie

snips56
snips56

The list provided is an excellent start on the technical aspects. Having spent many years in educational needs analysis working with industry to define the skillset of various IT roles, I hear over and again the importance of the non-technical skills - and I suggest it is the same for BI professionals: Communication and Interaction Skills; Analytical Thinking and Problem Solving; Strategic Business Knowledge (including Modelling and Quantitative Analysis methods); and Behavioural characteristics like ethics, and personal organization - are equally, or more important to demonstrate when you are convincing those tough-to-convince managers of your potential. BI pros need to be BAs in many areas, especially in areas like requirements elicitation, data modelling and data flow, business rules analysis. Consider evaluating your skills against the BA Competency model of IIBA (www.theiiba.org) for those skills.

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