RESEARCH & RESOURCES

The BI Revolution: The Rise of the BI Builder

How BI builders will help make BI more pervasive, delivering that “last mile” of capability where no one else can.

By Brian Gentile, Chief Executive Officer, Jaspersoft

Of all the organizational and skill-related shifts occurring in business intelligence, the most surprising may be the rise of the “BI builder.” This is my term for a variety of both new and long-established technical roles that share a variety of traits all focused on building BI-enabled applications designed to serve a new and broader audience of end users. I assert that the BI builder is the real hero in the quest to make BI more pervasive. Without this critical technical skill set, BI would continue to reach a much smaller audience than it should.

We’ll begin with a definition for the BI builder role, then examine the other related technical and organizational shifts occurring that make the BI builder role so necessary. Finally, we’ll forecast what this role will mean to BI’s future in organizations large and small.

The BI Builder Defined

A BI builder is someone who develops, assembles, or customizes a reporting or analytic solution to enable others (probably business users) to easily navigate data and find new insight that leads to better business decisions. A BI builder could be a software engineer who embeds reporting or analytics into an application, an IT developer responsible for an integrated internal BI application, or an IT specialist who customizes a BI platform to make an important project successfully yield better business insight from a variety of data types. What’s common among them is a need to use a flexible, open BI platform as a powerful starting point, rather than expect something off-the-shelf to provide the answer.

At Jaspersoft, we feel a special kinship with the BI builder and have learned much from them over the years. In our own research, published earlier this year, 90 percent of the respondents identified themselves with job titles consistent with the definition of BI builder above. I don’t believe this is coincidence.

Because of their technical skill set and clear understanding of the pertinent data and relationships, the BI builder would prefer to custom-craft a BI solution that delivers real insight to a large audience. The result is an analytic application or a set of functionally specific reports and dashboards easily navigable by a variety of end users with little or no training. The BI builder delivers that critical, often-forgotten “last mile” that makes BI truly usable through relevance and simplicity.

The BI Builder: Necessary but Not Sufficient

Recent research by the 451 Group and TDWI highlight nearby organizational shifts that help propel the BI builder into prominence. Specifically, the firms cite the importance of developer operations and super user networks, respectively, as a foundation to new enterprise IT. These shifts create a more prominent role for the BI builder because of the synergies and efficiency they create as a triumvirate. In fact, in some organizations, these roles merge in title and responsibility, which emphasizes the growing need for recognizing them fully.

Developer Operations: The 451 Group, a noted IT analyst firm, has chronicled the rise in this combined role of application development, application deployment, and scalable, cloud-based computing. A recent 451 report coins the term “devops” and summarizes this role and trend nicely:

The roles of application development, application deployment, and IT operations are changing and flowing together. The forces pushing them together include vastly increased business and consumer demand for rapidly written, rapidly iterated Web-scale applications, combined with the advent of private and public cloud computing environments to host them. The devops role will help drive faster software development and more flexible and cloud-like IT infrastructure as its influence grows within mainstream enterprise IT.

Super User Networks: Earlier this year, TDWI published research describing how organizations are adopting BI in greater numbers while doing so on tighter budgets. The most important organizational strategy cited to help effectively reduce the costs of BI is the use of super-user networks. A super user is a technically skilled non-IT (business) user who helps to deploy IT projects and amplify their success by complementing the IT team with critical business context and expertise.

Perhaps most important, super users represent the linchpin in helping IT and business leaders come together and implement projects more quickly and successfully, and in a way that more assuredly satisfies the most important business goals. In its most recent quarterly report, McKinsey cited both this need and the rise of super users: “IT users throughout the business are becoming more sophisticated, due to the proliferation of IT and a range of innovative applications … these leaders must continue to champion IT across the enterprise. The next wave of innovation will flow from joint efforts between business users and IT, a partnership that will demand top-down help to break down silos and foster cooperation.”

The BI Builder: The BI builder partners with the super user to implement a solution to satisfy the BI requirements and then ensure it is actually used. Also, the BI builder works with devops to maintain the BI application’s availability, scaling and updating as more users and more features are added. The combination of devops, super users, and the BI builder create a critical trio of expertise, energy, and skill. In smaller organizations, these roles may be combined into one person. In larger organizations, all three will continue to intersect in new and powerful ways. In total, all three are necessary to chart a more pervasive future for BI.

The BI Builder: Charting the Future

Purpose-built BI applications assembled quickly and customized specifically for an organization’s needs are on the rise in enterprises of all sizes. I’ve written about this trend from two different angles recently (such as in my discussion of the future of BI). The key role that enables this new, broadly usable and faster-time-to-value business intelligence is the BI builder. In many ways, these skills will now put into place the pervasive BI that’s been mystically referred to for many years.

It is the combination of modern technical skills, interest in openness and standards, a deep understanding of the business problem being solved, and the incentives to drive faster “assembly” and customization that catapults this BI builder into necessary stardom. The relatively newfound requirement to do all of this on a limited budget without sacrificing features, capabilities, and scalability leads the BI builder to a new class of BI tool better suited to the builder’s modern needs.

I predict that BI builders will help more advanced reporting and analytics reach all sizes and types of organizations because they are now in place in a variety of key locations: application software companies, systems integrators/consultancies, internal IT organizations, and even in key business roles within an enterprise. Together, with the other organizational shifts cited earlier, the BI builder will help to make BI more pervasive, delivering that “last mile” of capability where no one else can.

What possibilities lie ahead for the BI builder? Will we see the continued rise of this important role? What nearby or adjacent positions will emerge to help solidify the success of this critical doer in the BI equation? Your comments and ideas are appreciated.

Brian Gentile is the chief executive officer of open source business intelligence software company Jaspersoft. You can contact the author at bgentile@jaspersoft.com.

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