It’s Good to Be in Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing
BI and DW pros enjoy simultaneously straddling both the IT and line-of-business sides of the divide.
It’s good to be in business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing (DW). That’s straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak: the horse (or horses) in question being BI and DW pros. These professionals cite the unique challenges associated with working in BI and DW, ready opportunities for career advancement, the pleasure of simultaneously straddling both the IT and line-of-business sides of the divide, and, of course, the sheer fun of creating star schema databases, complex multidimensional reports, and other tricks of the BI and DW trades.
Consider the case of Michael Vardinghus, a DW architect and freelance BI consultant who works primarily with public sector clients in the European Union (EU). Vardingus came to DW from the opposite side of the aisle: he started out as an accountant in the mid-1980s, became an internal auditor in the early 1990s, served a stint with AMU Center (a large Danish educational institution) as chief financial officer, and finally transitioned into DW and consulting a few years ago. All along, Vardinghus says, he’s been fascinated by the problems of accessing and formatting data.
"I have always been attracted to getting the right data the easiest and fastest way to the user. When I worked as [an] accountant, the tools interested me more and even when I became [a] manager … it was always the use of data in the systems and automating the process of reporting that had my great interest," he comments. "Back at AMU-Center we discovered pivot tables in Excel—the BI way of looking at data—and now [Vardinghus and his parthers] have a company called Pivot Consulting and together with KMD we built a budgeting application for government agencies using write-back-to-cubes." Vardinghus says he feels "very secure" working in BI and DW. In fact, he explains, he decided to become a freelance consultant after two of his former colleagues went the freelance route and asked him if he’d like to follow suit. Since then, Vardinghus reports, he’s never looked back.
"It’s unique to be able to follow the whole process. Taking the data from the systems and ‘rubbing’ it together with the users and to [be able to] see their responses when they get much more control over … [the] data in their organization," he explains. "Just to see their reaction when [they have] ‘one view’ of zooming in on business areas … instead of … trying to remember how to zoom and how to ‘rub’ data to make them ‘true’ for what they are [working on]." Nabil Suleman, a BI consultant with a major pharmaceutical chain based in the Bay Area, came to BI from a technical background.
"Although my major was computer science, I was never interested in programming—[and] I still don't like programming. Reporting, however, is a completely different area for me. I first started working on [Microsoft] Access as part of a summer job in college, which later continued during [the] school year as a part-time job. Mind you, at this point I had no clue what BI or DW even meant," Suleman says.
"A friend advised me to take an Oracle course," he continues, "and I am still very grateful to him for his advice. During that class I was exposed to what a DW is, [although] I still didn't know what BI really was. I started reading on DW and there was something about it that didn't quite appeal to me. However, that's when I was introduced to BI and reporting and I just knew I wanted to do it. What attracted me to BI is a balance of technical know-how and business understanding along with human interaction."
Suleman says he’s compelled by BI’s "balance" of technology and business know-how, which challenges him in ways that traditional programming or IT work does not. "What makes BI so challenging and yet interesting to me is working on BI means we are supposed to not only know the technical side of it but also the business process too—as to when and why would they use the data and most importantly how would they use it."
Like Vardinghus and other BI pros, Suleman says he’s optimistic about his future in BI. "I think in today's highly competitive Internet- and outsourcing-savvy environment, it’s every man for himself" he indicates. "I am very confident and optimistic about my future prospects in BI and I look forward to greeting my next challenge with my knowledge, experience and—of course—Googling!"
Few BI pros seem to be doing business intelligence or data warehousing just for job security, though. Consider Suleman, who—like many of his colleagues—says a career in BI has unique rewards of its own.
"What excites me most about working in BI would be knowing I have produced something. I mean, changing from what was earlier just data to now what's viewed as information used by business users for making business decisions," he comments. Suleman says this will remain both a reward and a challenge going forward, thanks in part to the relational database design status quo.
"The biggest challenge BI faces at this moment is the database design architecture. In an ideal world, the database would be designed with reporting in mind. However, that's not the case in the real world most of the time. BI is usually supposed to adjust based on database design—sometimes poor design— and that causes performance issues, incorrect data, and more issues," he indicates.
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.