1. Why is business intelligence a good place to be?
Businesses and IT managers are hungry for business intelligence jobs (BI) with the worldwide market for BI software forecast to grow 10% in 2011, according to analyst giant Gartner Group. The analyst group has ranked BI number five on the list of the top 10 technology priorities for chief information officers (CIOs) in 2011. BI has remained healthy because it is seen as an important tool for organisations.
Ian Bertram, managing vice-president, Gartner
2. What does BI do?
IBM defined the phrase back in 1958 as: "The ability to apprehend the interrelationships of presented facts in such a way as to guide action towards a desired goal". A practical example is the retailer who wishes to know what time of day particular groceries are purchased and in which combinations, for example. This knowledge makes it’s possible to lay out supermarkets to better match consumer buying patterns.
3. What are the tech origins of BI?
It evolved out of decision support systems of the 1960s that tried to provide accurate and timely information to support business decisions. With origins in Cobol-based, green-line reports, these evolved though executive information systems (EIS) in the 70s and 80s to become sophisticated tools for report design, ad hoc query, and online analytical processing (OLAP). Modern BI platforms combine these tools with databases, integration technology, and portals to deliver sophisticated BI applications.
Kevin R. Quinn, vice president of product marketing, Information Builders
4. And the necessary IT skills are...
Languages, in a nutshell. Products such as SAS divide BI process into three steps: The first data step of a SAS program uses a database-oriented fourth-generation programming languages, similar to SQL or Focus. This allows the programmer to concentrate on the details of working with the data within each record. Other procedural tasks are then accomplished using SQL to interrogate data. Third, macros can be written on top using imperative and procedural programming. With the move to integrating BI with portals and offering it as a web service, XML plays a bigger part in making it accessible over IP networks.
5. What’s this ‘back end’ and ‘front end’ business?
BI used to be an expensive and mammoth undertaking requiring huge, dedicated data warehouses – or marts- that stored data exclusively used for ‘data mining’ purposes. Data warehouses formed the back-end of the operations and needed armies of database administrators to maintain, synch and populate from production databases. The front-end BI tools analyse the reams of data involved, and these analytical tools have become more and more user-friendly over time.
6. What’s the future use for BI?
The growth of BI and analytics as a service has changed the way BI is offered: organisations can instead provide front-end tools to those that actually need to use them, whilst back-end analytics are taken care of by the service provider. As a result, the skills needed are changing: for an organisation using BI as a service, it can be as simple as knowing what questions to ask; and so business analysts are playing a more prominent role in extracting value out of BI.
John Coppins, product director, Kognitio
7. Who’s using it?
Favoured in marketing, retail and financial sectors for understanding customers better, BI is spreading across all markets. BT uses BI to review customer use of its price plans, creating price plans to suit need and ensuring that customers choose the optimum price plan. Online retail portal Kelkoo uses BI to track the experience of visitors to its site, enabling it to ensure the visit is as smooth as possible and that customers see the products and offers that are most relevant to them.
John Coppins, product director, Kognitio
8. How are pubs using BI?
Tattershall Castle Group uses BI to measure whether a drinks promotion attracted enough sales, how a price rise hit sales and whether a bar is overstaffed. The Kognitio package presents data in a traffic-light system; all profitable hours are shown in green, areas that may need attention are displayed in amber whilst all hours that make a negative contribution are displayed in red. Bar managers now decide whether their pub has got the food and drink mix right according to objective and real time data, rather than going on gut instinct.
9. What’s the bad news for BI?
Around 70-80% of corporate business intelligence projects fail. The problem stems from communication between IT and the business, and the failure to ask the right questions or to think about the real needs of the business. IT departments make the mistake of looking at BI as an engineering problem that requires a specific package solution. BI is not a crystal ball that pops out the answer. People in IT need to understand what business they are in. They are in the information and communication business.
Patrick Meehan, president and research director, Gartner's CIO Research group.
10. The four worst BI practices are..
- Assuming the average business user has the know-how or the time to use BI tools
- Allowing Excel to become the default BI “platform”
- Assuming a data warehouse will solve all information access and delivery requirements
- Selecting a BI tool without a specific business need
Information Builders: Worst Practices in Business Intelligence
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