The BI analyst: why you really do need one

A business intelligence analyst might just be your sharpest strategic weapon

To get the most from your data and your investment in technology, and to really make your business hum, a business intelligence analyst should be your next hire. Computerworld tells you what to look for.

Job description: Business intelligence (BI) analysts use analysis tools to query data repositories and generate reports. These reports help managers make business decisions by identifying trends and patterns in a company’s stored operational data. The data to be analysed may be varied: inventory, sales, customers and the like. It is usually stored in company-wide repositories called data warehouses or in smaller departmental databases. A BI analyst may design daily reports, such as those sales managers use to track demand for specific products in different geographic regions. The BI analyst may also help managers generate one-time, ad hoc reports by crafting a custom query against the data repository.

“This is definitely a hot role whose value to the company is in helping it analyse its business data,” says Ari Kaplan, president of the Independent Oracle Users Group.

Why you need a BI analyst: “If you don’t do anything with your corporate data it’s just sitting there. To take that data and make it a business weapon you need a BI analyst,” says Jim Lanzalotto, vice president at Yoh Services, a US firm that offers recruiting and outsourcing services. Analysing data gives a company a clear view of its business operations, which is the key to competing effectively. By spotting trends in stored data a company can fine-tune sales strategies, marketing programmes, supply chain operations, customer support and fraud-protection efforts. A BI analyst can also detect information the company needs to make informed business decisions.

Desired skills: A deep understanding of a company’s business goals and operations. Experience with database and data-analysis technology, as well as with enterprise applications and project management. An MBA or accounting degree. At least five years of experience.

How to find them: Look internally first, Kaplan says. The chief information officer might also consider candidates from the company’s industry or similar sectors. Lanzalotto cautions against assuming that a hire must emerge from the IT side, since a thorough understanding of business operations is key.

“Know precisely the kind of person you’re looking for. The biggest flaw you have in this type of search is a lack of understanding of what you need,” he says.

What to look for: Good BI analysts are very methodical, so they can devise strategies for making sense out of mounds of data. They must also have good communication skills, be logical thinkers and work well in teams.

“Playing nice in the sandbox is important,” says Lanzalotto. “You need the ability to get your point across effectively in small group settings.”

Elimination round: Ask candidates a question that goes to the heart of their role as your potential BI analyst. For instance, a pharmaceutical company CIO should ask candidates how they have worked with clinical trials data and how their analysis helped the company.

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