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BI Jobs of Today... and Tomorrow

It is no secret that many business intelligence jobs are getting outsourced to low-cost centers around the world. In general, these are programming tasks that don’t require direct interaction with customers: ETL programming, testing, and some report development. As offshoring increases, we have to ask, “What are the BI jobs of the future and who will fill them?”

Drive the Business. A column by Thomas L. Friedman wrote a column for the New York Times this fall (October 21, 2009) that sheds some light on the issue:

“A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are new untouchables.”

“That is the key to understanding our full education challenge today. Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables—to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies—will thrive.”

BI Imagineers. The good news for BI professionals is that it truly takes imagination to deliver an effective BI application. BI needs people who can stand between the business and technology and create solutions that anticipate user requirements for information, who help create and monitor metrics that drive performance, and help the business leverage information technology for competitive advantage.

Those individuals who can help their organizations harness technology for business gain will be in high demand and garner substantial salaries. But their knowledge can’t be gained easily—it takes years of working in the field applying technology to business problems before practical experience translates into imaginative solutions that drive the business. Imagination requires not just technical literacy—that’s just the ticket to play the game—but it takes deep knowledge of the business, its goals, strategy, people, and processes. Acquiring that knowledge takes time.

Apprenticeships Needed. I fear that if we offshore all the low-skill, entry-level BI jobs, people will never get the apprenticeships they need to become BI imagineers (to borrow a phrase from Disney.) How will people gain a foothold in the industry if there are no entry level jobs?

Jim Gallo, a consultant at Information Control Corp (ICC) in Columbus, Ohio wrote a provocative article on this topic for the BI Journal which I highly recommend. He writes, “It’s simple, really: Unless CIOs, CFOs, and CEOs make a commitment to provide opportunities to BI neophytes, we all run the risk that our BI organizations will cease to exist as strategic enablers within our own organizations.” (TDWI members can log in and read the article here.)

Gallo’s company has figured out an efficient and effective way to hire and train college graduates and make them productive members of an agile BI project team. In the article, Gallo discusses how these blended teams—which are comprised of three junior developers, a senior architect and a senior QA analyst—can compete cost-effectively against offshore BI players.

With such an apprenticeship, the junior developers on ICC’s agile teams are well on their way to becoming the BI leaders of tomorrow, garnering well-paying jobs. They are honing their technical skills by solving real customer problems under the guidance of senior BI architects and analysts. We need to make such opportunities available in our BI programs to create the imaginative leaders of tomorrow (if not today!)

Posted by Wayne Eckerson on December 28, 2009


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