Never has there been a better time to have a career in business intelligence (BI) than the present. The discipline of making decisions based on relevant, timely and accurate information is now a standard business practice. The technology that we enjoy today supports this discipline while competitive, economic and regulatory factors are forcing individuals to embrace it. As the amount of data continues to accumulate at a rapid pace, organizing it in a meaningful manner is critical to realizing and sustaining any value.

BI is the mechanism that enables information to be organized and easily accessible for monitoring, reporting, analysis and decision-making purposes. BI, in combination with data warehousing (DW), has evolved from its early beginnings as a technical solution for integrating data from disparate systems to an enabler of business and an integral part of any organization. This evolution and recognition of BI is a continuing trend that has created a wealth of opportunities.

Industry Analysts' Perspectives

In Gartner's EXP 2006 CIO Survey, BI was ranked as the top technology priority. Previous Gartner EXP CIO Surveys listed BI as one of the top 10 technology initiatives; moving to the top spot this year reflects a broad awareness and willingness to invest in this technology. According to Forrester Research, BI and DW software is one of the leading technology growth areas in the U.S., with a projected 2006 growth rate of seven percent. With the greater appreciation by executives for the value of BI and its role in effective decision-making, BI should be one of the top technology priorities for the foreseeable future. Recognized as a $5 billion market and growing, there are many reasons why professionals would want to consider a career in BI.

BI Roles

Career opportunities in BI are just as exciting as the growing executive-level interest and technology outlook. As with most professions that require knowledge of various subjects, areas of specialty exist. Within BI, an individual can participate in numerous areas, including planning, design, development, deployment, maintenance and support. The roles range from a business analyst to a technical architect to the project manager. Each of these roles requires a blend of business knowledge, technical expertise and people skills. The various roles can be grouped into three areas of focus: business, technical and a blend of both.

  • Business Focus. Individuals who possess business function or process knowledge, such as finance or supply chain, would be well suited for a business analyst role. In addition, industry-specific knowledge may be required, given the subject matter that is being addressed. For example, in health care the terminology and business processes surrounding patient care are unique to that industry. Having command of the appropriate terminology and an understanding of the business processes enables the business analyst to gather requirements and help create the BI strategy. In addition to subject matter knowledge, business analysts must excel in verbal and written communications, possess strong organizational skills and understand data modeling and business process design.
  • Technical Focus. There are several roles for technologists in BI, ranging from architects to software specialists. Architects are knowledgeable about DW, BI or data integration frameworks and corresponding software technology. They work with the business analysts to design the approach and configuration of the technology to support the organization's information needs. Software specialists have a commanding knowledge of a particular software application, such as reporting or data integration software. They understand the capabilities, features, functionalities and limitations of the software. They collaborate with architects and business analysts to implement the software in a manner that supports the objectives of the BI solution.
  • Blended Business and Technical Focus. With BI initiatives, the project manager and the data modeler must have an understanding of the subject area and BI/DW principles. The project manager must also demonstrate outstanding organizational and communications skills to lead the team. The data modeler is typically well versed in data modeling principles and has the ability to understand and translate business requirements into a data model.

These areas of focus represent specialty skills and knowledge that individuals must possess to contribute effectively to a BI initiative. However, having a focus is just the beginning.

Continuous Learning

BI is an ever-evolving field due to the changes in technology and business information needs. To stay current and enhance your BI knowledge and skills, embracing a mind-set of continuous learning is required. Depending on one's specific needs and availability of time and funds, three options for further enrichment include:

  • Periodicals and online materials. These vehicles are the least expensive and most effective for individuals who are self-motivated or have limited time. They can be a very efficient means of learning and understanding a specific topic. Good examples include DM Review's magazine and Web site, BI Review published by SourceMedia (the owners of DM Review) and the Business Intelligence Journal published by The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI).  
  • Conferences and seminars. If time and budget are of less concern, conferences and seminars are an excellent source for interactive education and networking with experts, peers and colleagues. The most prominent conferences are offered by TDWI, Shared Insights' BI and DW conferences and the BI Forum and CDI/MDM Summit organized by SourceMedia. These conferences offer attendees many sessions to choose from, enabling them to customize their own learning experience. Other venues to consider are seminars by Kimball University or TDWI. Seminars provide specific education on a topic in a smaller, more personalized setting. These educational venues help to disseminate knowledge about the technology, methodologies and practices associated with BI.
  • Technology training. For individuals seeking specific training on a software product, most software companies provide specialized training on their technology. Training ranges from one-day specialty topics to weeklong sessions that teach individuals about features and functionality of the software.

Whichever learning option or combination of options is chosen, it is best to make the most of the investment by applying the new knowledge or skills as soon as possible. Practical application reinforces the learning experience and creates a lasting impression.

Employment Options

The demand for experienced BI professionals has grown tremendously in the past two years. Although the need is currently highest for people with hands-on experience with specific software technologies, BI is a mainstream IT discipline, allowing most technologists to transition into this area with some training. After all, BI is the foundation for many innovative technologies.

The opportunities in BI span many industries, large and small companies and consulting firms. A professional who follows a path in BI will have many opportunities to deploy his or her skills and knowledge. Figure 1 illustrates the various career paths with advantages and disadvantages of each.

Figure 1: BI Career Paths


Compensation Ranges

Overall, compensation in the BI field is very lucrative and pays on the higher end  in comparison to pure IT roles in a variety of industries. Practitioners receive attractive compensation packages in return for direct participation in the success of the company.

BI professionals who choose consulting typically reap the highest benefits, with industry positions paying very well, particularly in vertical markets with the highest growth, such as pharmaceuticals. Individuals working in the lowest paying industry, government (state/local), experienced the highest increase in compensation from 2004 to 2005. Figure 2 is a comparison of an average BI salary between several industry verticals.

Figure 2: Average Salary by Industry for BI Professionals


Characteristics of Successful BI Professionals

Successful BI professionals possess many characteristics resulting from their academic background, continuous professional education and work experience. These individuals have substantial knowledge of BI technology coupled with significant industry and business process understanding. They have very good verbal and written communication skills and are typically good listeners. They understand that a BI solution only has value if individuals ultimately use it. Therefore, beyond demonstrating BI technical expertise, they strive to help organizations or clients utilize the solution to create value and enhance decision-making. By actively working with business analysts or information consumers, they comprehend the information needs to design and create BI solutions that meet or exceed the capabilities that were originally requested. They also know that the deployment of a BI solution is not the end, but just the beginning. As individuals interact with and adopt the BI solution, requests for changes and new data sets evolve the BI solution to meet the ever-changing needs of the organization.

Credentials to Distinguish Your Skills and Expertise in BI

The experience obtained from designing, developing and deploying BI initiatives provides firsthand knowledge. This knowledge, along with continuous learning, can build sufficient expertise resulting in a successful and rewarding career in BI. However, for those individuals who wish to distinguish their expertise and set themselves apart from others, various credentials are available:

  • CBIP - Certified Business Intelligence Professional. The CBIP is offered through TDWI in partnership with the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals. The CBIP credential is a test-based certification program offered in five key specialties for BI success: 1) administration and technology, 2) business analytics, 3) data analysis and design, 4) data integration and 5) leadership and management. For information about CBIP, visit www.tdwi.org/certification/cbip.
  • CITP - Certified Information Technology Professional. The CITP is offered through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and is available to individuals who are CPAs. Individuals holding a CITP credential are technology professionals recognized for their unique abilities to bridge the gaps between business and technology. A CITP must master seven areas: 1) technology strategic planning; 2) IT architecture; 3) business process enablement; 4) systems development, acquisition, implementation and project management; 5) information systems management; 6) systems security, reliability, audit and control; and 7) business reporting and decision-making. For information about CITP, visit www.aicpa.org/citp.
  • Academic Programs. Many U.S. universities and colleges are now offering courses, certificates or degrees in BI. Whether the program is a certificate in BI and DW or a master's of business administration with a concentration in BI, the academic element of these programs adds significant credibility. Local academic institutions are well worth exploring. The Data Management Association (DAMA) also provides a list of academic programs in data, information and knowledge management. To review this listing, visit www.dama.org.

While having credentials is no guarantee of success, it does distinguish you from your peers and colleagues as an individual who has earned recognition for your knowledge in this field.
More and more C-suite executives are recognizing BI as a means to enable operational efficiencies and identifying growth opportunities by monitoring and aligning strategic goals with tactical initiatives. The future of BI is strong. This growth yields opportunity for those considering a career in the BI market - whether as a consultant, an independent practitioner or industry expert. 

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