BI tools useless without skills
Business intelligence (BI) may depend on technology and data, but without the right skills and techniques backing them, it cannot deliver.
So says Gill Staniland, principal BI consultant at Synergy, who adds that there are often key skills missing in large BI projects, which results in projects not delivering on their promises.
"First, you need requirements analysis skills," she says.
"It is often difficult for business users to articulate what they need from the data. The BI team needs to be able to conduct interviews with the business user to get a very clear understanding of what is required.
"You also need to incorporate dimensional data modelling skills. Many BI teams battle when designing their own data models."
Importantly, BI also requires the ability to design a visual output, Staniland says.
"Fancy dashboards may be the order of the day, but a good visual output is more than just a collection of elaborate 3D graphs - there are techniques and rules about how they are displayed, and how they are navigated. Much like the skills required for media and Web design, data visualisation designs need to take into account that people expect certain formats and need the dashboards to be easy to scan and use."
All three skills sets are needed, and they must work in collaboration to make the most of BI.
"The skills are crucial. We have really incredible database technologies, but many are not yet able to use them effectively. On the other hand, you may find it's possible to deliver effective BI tools on the back of skills alone, without the latest, advanced technologies."
Staniland says there may be skills shortages in these areas, but says enterprises can often identify existing staff with a basic understanding of data analysis and the necessary aptitude, and train them to fill these skills gaps. With some practice and support, these people can prove invaluable.
Once the skills needs have been met, BI's success also rests on the way the enterprise adopts and uses it, she says.
"There needs to be an understanding that BI and analytics are not a 'project' with an end date.
"BI is an ongoing strategic operation - like HR. You may have individual tasks with deadlines, but overall, it is always a work in progress," she says.
The benefits of the ongoing investment in BI are huge and span the enterprise, Staniland points out.
"At a strategic level, it's an imperative - it forms the basis of decisions about all operations - be it restructuring teams, building new products or reacting to the competition.
"Many companies are still basing critical decisions on disjointed information from various departments, and it is up to the executive to try and decipher and interpret the information in order to get an overview and make a strategic decision," she adds.
"This is where BI should be sitting - showing what the relationship is between factors, such as changing a product price and the impact on manufacturing or distribution. BI is about joining all of the dots so the board can see the whole picture."
Staniland will address the upcoming ITWeb BI Summit on the effective use of BI tools and creating an enterprise roadmap for BI. For more information about this event, click here.