If you’re a carpenter, there are tools you likely use on every job, for every task. At its most basic, your toolkit probably holds a couple of screwdrivers, a saw, a tape measure, and always, a hammer. That essential tool is never far from your hand, and it’s almost synonymous with carpentry. Well, successful business intelligence has a similar set of absolutely crucial tools; tools you will lean on every day of every project, and in nearly every task within those projects. At first pass you might say ‘writing SQL queries’ or ‘creating compelling visuals’, but I’d argue that it’s something a little more fundamental.
I contend that attitude and aptitude are the hammers of successful BI practitioners. As an executive responsible for building out BlueGranite’s world-class team of data and analytics consultants, I’m constantly balancing our need to attract and retain senior talent, with that of developing and training new consultants. As the demand for data and analytics solutions skyrockets, many organizations are facing similar challenges – whether they are working with new recruits engaged to lead up BI initiatives, or current team members (e.g., developers, DBAs, business analysts) transitioning to this innovative, exciting field. At BlueGranite we designed a Junior Consultant program to help our new recruits deliver value across a wide spectrum of data and analytics projects. The planning process for the program really drove home that attitude and aptitude are essential to, or the hammers of, business intelligence success. Here’s why:
First, let’s start with attitude. Successful business intelligence has always been a mix of sharp business acumen, communication, and technical know-how. This means that successful candidates for these roles need to stand out in thought and action. Stereotypical ‘business users’ and ‘IT staff’ both have their fair share of surface area to be skewered in Dilbert, and a successful BI practitioner should leave that way behind. Perhaps no two qualities are more important than curiosity and flexibility, and both of those qualities represent a dynamic attitude. Straddling the space between the IT process and the dynamic demands of the business, we must be aware that we are working in an area not dictated by standard operating procedures, guidelines and best practices. And while the industry does, in fact, have best practices, much of the skill involved in successful BI projects is knowing how and when to deviate from those practices in order to deliver value. BI practitioners are not afraid to try something new – whether it’s a new technology, technique or project approach – and must be willing to continuously learn from mistakes, as well as critically assess successes. This challenging environment will frustrate or burn out those who don’t approach it with the right attitude.
This magnifies the importance of aptitude. In addition to having the right attitude, and a desire to try new things and learn, successful BI practitioners must have the aptitude to actually DO the learning, and to do it quickly. This includes understanding business drivers and patterns, as well as technical solutions and features. A BI expert may be supporting a marketing team, and need to quickly understand the process and flow of the team’s social media and inbound marketing initiatives, and then rapidly put these concepts into the context of new data visualization technology that itself has new features and techniques to apply. That same BI expert may be assigned to help drive data modeling in the finance department next, and must rapidly pivot to grasp the nuts and bolts of how financial data is recorded and accessed, and how to help provision it for the data-hungry audience who already live and breathe in Excel.
In short, being quick on your feet and capable of rapidly adding to both domain knowledge and technical capability is a requirement, and for many folks, this can be off-putting. Professionals who build a wealth of knowledge in one area and build success as an expert (either domain or technical) can feel frustrated by this demand, and may look to move into an IT or business-labeled position.
But those whom are equipped with the right attitude and demonstrate a sharp, innovative aptitude are well their way to success in the business intelligence world.
Stay tuned for our next installment, Part II: The Supporting Cast, where I’ll dig in to a series of slightly less sweeping but no less important skills that are crucial for a world-class business intelligence practitioner.
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