Who I Want at the Business Intelligence Table

March 27, 2009
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Go and look at any guide on implementing Business Intelligence (BI) and invariably executive leadership is touted as a must.  I couldn’t agree more.  In the end, the product of BI is to help them manage the business and make the company successful.  But, the reality is that they look to their department managers and IT teams to work out the details.  Show them the investment and ROI, then get busy on delivering it.

So, what next?  Who do I want on my BI team?

Rather than looking at this in terms of titles and functions, let’s look at this in terms of areas of expertise and levels of project responsibility.  They reason I do this is because as much as process is the typical focus for the typical IT project, BI is a big picture endeavor.  Process will show where data originated from and how data is defined, but it won’t always be a direct…..

Go and look at any guide on implementing Business Intelligence (BI) and invariably executive leadership is touted as a must.  I couldn’t agree more.  In the end, the product of BI is to help them manage the business and make the company successful.  But, the reality is that they look to their department managers and IT teams to work out the details.  Show them the investment and ROI, then get busy on delivering it.

So, what next?  Who do I want on my BI team?

Rather than looking at this in terms of titles and functions, let’s look at this in terms of areas of expertise and levels of project responsibility.  They reason I do this is because as much as process is the typical focus for the typical IT project, BI is a big picture endeavor.  Process will show where data originated from and how data is defined, but it won’t always be a direct linkage to the business objective.  Example:  Predictive analysis might focus on anticipating customer defection.  The process is a component of the customer experience, but the analysis crosses multiple processes.

Business Side:

  • BI Leader:  Strategic thinkers with deep expertise across department practices.  This is where you get bench strength for the project.  You need these strong generalists that see the big picture of customer relationship, financial management, or operational functions as they pertain to business objectives.  These people have been there and done it in some shape or form.  They may have even moved across departments and shifted across areas of expertise.  They know the type of information necessary to be strategic, improve process with information, and how to focus and prioritize information needs.  Where to look: Manager and director positions close to the executive sponsor that have proposed or driven change.
  • BI User:  Analytic champions that have mastered company information providing a range of analysis.  BI Users will be the real developers in the details of the requirements.  They know the company data better than the people that designed the warehouse to manage it.  They can tell you the limitations they have in providing analysis that is meaningful.  Champions have a wide array of analytic techniques from the highly simple to the more complex.  In fact, they could fulfill analytic requests regardless of the department.  They are the scientists in the company.  Where to look:  They support the successful managers, directors, and executives that use data to influence business decisions and priorities.
  • BI Business Analyst:  Business technologist that has experience across multiple types of implementations.   Technologists have a pretty good understanding of how to optimize and fulfill business needs with technology.  Many times they are considered the liaisons between the business and IT.  However, this is more than the note taking of requirements and passing along to IT, project managing, and then ensuring priorities are met.  The technologists are versed in their businesses.  They have migrated from a business role to technology focused role rather than starting from IT and moving to the business.  In addition, they have a depth of technical knowledge and know how to converse and validate recommendations and solutions from IT.  Where to look:  They have most likely been through a couple of solution implementations or data integrations and have a key role in establishing requirements as a business lead or as the lead project manager and business analyst.

IT Side:

  • BI Leader:  Strategic thinkers with deep expertise in driving business outcomes through solutions.  This is the person that talks about the business and rarely about the technology.  They focus on  the strategic implementation and adoption of technology for competitive advantage.  While experts in solutions and infrastructure, the real focus is on efficiency and effectiveness of the business.   They ask, “What problem is the business facing and how do I help?”    They are attuned to company success.  For BI, they need to have a perspective across enterprise applications and data warehouse management.  Where to look:  These are IT leaders that are close to business executives and are goaled on supporting business outcomes.
  • BI Solution Provider:  Solution champions that perfectly unite applications with their back-end information.  They recognize how data relates to the business process as well as the next step of how people use data in the process and to manage the business.  Solution Providers are strategic in their approach to solutions and differentiate between requirement fulfillment and business enablement.  They do what their title says, they come up with solutions rather than just implement technology.  When building applications, data modeling is not far from their thoughts and data warehouse teams are tightly involved in strategy and design.  This is the person that is in the nuts an bolts of best practices of solutions.  Where to look:  These are the people that you turn to for application and data integrations due to M&A activity or legacy system integration and migration.  They spend as much time with the business as they do with IT.
  • BI Implementers:  IT technologies with deep expertise and range of experience in their tools.  BI Implementers will be many spanning across application development and data warehouse.  While not typically in contact with the business during business analysis and design, they are critical to proper development.  They will have silos of expertise in user interfaces, application infrastructure, data warehousing, data management, systems management, data quality, ETL, and database architecture and modeling.  Depending on the size of the company, these silos of expertise will be supported by one or more people.  They will either perform the technical development themselves, or have a team that is experienced to do so.  Where to look: IT Solution Providers that recognize deep strengths in their teams for a strong implementation bench. 

The Often Forgotten One:

Database modeling is one of those aspects of application development and data warehousing that is often left out.  Modeling is a critical factor of success in BI because of its ability to make analysis very easy or force unnecessary issues in performance and programming work-arounds, particularly within ETL and the user-interface.  I can’t stress enough the value of having and expert modeler on hand.  So, if you don’t have a modeler on staff, consider how to fulfill this vital role at the beginning of your design phase.

Using these profiles as a guide to build your team will set you up to successfully design and implement your BI practice.  In addition, you have the ability to see the how the Business and IT balance each other out in experiences and expertise to allow for a good working relationship.  These profiles should also give you a perspective of what, if any consultant or contractor help you need.  The key is to recognize that building your BI team is not unlike hiring an employee and that the more breadth of expertise and experience that person has, the better off you are in the long run.