In my 14 years of career in Business Intelligence (BI) and after executing several end-to-end BI projects, I have barely come across a handful of ‘good’ BI Business Analysts (BI BA). Aren’t there enough in the industry? I am not sure. What makes them so scarce? ‘BI Business Analyst’ to me looks like a commonly found role in most of the end-to-end BI projects. If this role is an absolute must on BI projects and I haven’t found many ‘good’ ones, what does that mean? Haven’t these projects been ‘successfully’ implemented? Well…they have been implemented….but whether they were ‘successful’ is the real question.
Most of us think that a BI BA is someone who talks to the business users and gathers reporting requirements; documents them in the form of a Requirements Document or a Functional Spec.; participates in preparation of test scenarios and often helps during the User Acceptance Testing. Perfect! This is exactly what the BI BA does….but what makes a BI BA… ‘good’? or let me use a superlative here…’great’? Let’s come back to answer that a little later.
Let us first understand how a BI BA is different from a traditional BA. Knowledge of BI is definitely one of the attributes of a BI BA, but just having superficial understanding of BI is not enough. The process of gathering and analyzing BI requirements in itself is an art and only when that is mastered, you become a true BI BA. A ‘great’ BI BA is one who understands the ‘business’ not just its requirements; one who understands how the requirements are aligned to the business goals; one who can almost read a business users mind to capture the ‘said’ and ‘unsaid’ requirements and eventually drive the project team to design/develop a solution that meets these expectations. The true validation for a successful solution is only after tracking its effectiveness and confirming that the business goals are indeed met.
Most of the BI BAs I have seen come from 2 backgrounds. A report developer, through his years of experience in interacting with business to develop their reports, graduates to become a BI BA OR a person with some business background (maybe through his MBA degree) with knowledge of some BI reporting tools becomes a BI BA. I view both these cases as opposite ends of the spectrum.
What we need is a person who has the best of both worlds (business and BI knowledge). Well…I may be asking for too much here…but my experience so far has led me to believe that a person with the ‘best mix’ is likely to be the better BI BA.
Very recently I was talking to one of the IT directors who works very closely with the business team on multiple BI projects. She said that it is hard to find a good BA, harder to find a good BI BA and almost impossible to find a BI BA with relevant domain/functional expertise. So true. The conversation continued about the pain in engaging the business on projects and I realized how far away these IT groups are from servicing the ‘real’ business needs. The chasm between business and IT keeps growing as more and more projects are executed with very less ROI for the business. I heard the IT director say how hundreds of reports that have been developed in the past through several business approved projects that aren’t even being used; that the business has gone back to their old ways of manual analysis; that the business is taking BI technology in their own hands to service their needs than relying on IT. One reason for this can be attributed to the changing business scenarios, but the majority is due to the lack of clear understanding of the business needs (said and unsaid). No wonder ‘Self Service BI’ is a buzz word these days, but I believe that though this trend might be a step in the right direction, IT cannot just rely on BI systems to provide the level of support the Business needs is making the right decisions. IT must take the onus to understand their business well and be a partner in delivering value.
Having said that…my search for a ‘good’ BI BA continues….