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Business Intelligence for Business Pains
Vibhas Joshi
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Transaction processing systems have been used for a long time by most industries. This has matured and stabilized in most of the organizations. Now there is a strong need for supporting business systems beyond the operational level and that is the space where Business Intelligence (BI) fits in. BI capabilities are a flexible and extensible set of business interfaces and supporting services to your information, turning the information that has been collected and enriched into actionable BI. Some vendors provide BI solely in the form of historical reports that give you hindsight, but limited insight. Whereas, end-to-end BI offerings will help you understand the past, monitor the present and predict the future move. This will be delivered through data integration technologies, predictive analytics, targeted business solutions and specific industry solutions.

Though the concept of BI is not new it is now assuming increasing significance as more BI offerings are coming out to provide solutions for various business pains. Each industry can have its unique requirements in the BI space.

For example, a bank has to undergo certain processes before sanctioning a loan to figure out the risk involved in it; before issuing a credit card it is essential to fix the credit score and the credit risk. For an insurance company, prior to issuing an insurance policy, the company needs to find the rate that has to be applied, so that its profit and risk can be balanced.

The BI solution architecture model is based on movement of data, exploitation of data and delivery of a meaningful set of applications for the business pains. BI offerings' spectrum can be broadly divided into three parts - BI tools and technology platform, business (horizontal) solutions and industry (vertical) solutions.

BI tools and technology platform can be further classified into BI reporting tools, ETL (extract transformation load) tools, data quality tools, and analytical tools. ETL tools are those where you extract data to do some transformation and then load them in the data warehouse and data marts. Quality tools are a hot topic in BI, because if the data foundation is not of a high quality, then the use of analytics or intelligence is not going to add any business value. Analytical tools and applications is a specialized area to work in, wherein people with expertise in statistical techniques are involved. Business solutions such as campaign management, performance management and scorecard solutions are industry neutral and can be applied to any industry. However that is not the case of industry solutions. They are tuned specifically for a particular industry.

Broadly, there are three types of career choices in the BI space. n Careers in development of BI tools & platform, and BI Business Applications (Industry neutral or Industry Specific) n BI consulting and n BI operations.

The first category of careers is offered by players engaged in the development of Products in BI space. These include SAS, Business Objects, and Cognos to name a few. These are “software development” careers and will have technologies such as Java, .Net and also proprietary technologies.

BI consulting careers are focused on one or more of the following:
A. Pre-sales support n Post-sales support and n Undertaking projects for deployment of BI tools, platform and business solutions.

A person involved in the deployment projects may typically deal with creating a warehouse, loading and cleaning the data, building and running the reports and training the-customers and their associates. The whole process of deployment and the timeframe is driven by the scope of deployment and the state of the required operational data. BI consulting careers are offered by BI principal vendors like SAS, Teradata and also by the BI System Integrators like TCS, Wipro, and Cognizant.

The third category of careers in BI is available in the business enterprises, which have completed the BI deployment project. Here the careers available are in the areas of data management, information delivery (Reporting) and data mining. The data mining and analytical areas are avenues for candidates with specialization in statistical techniques.
As BI gathers pace, a lot of opportunities are opening up in various industries. Now it is not just restricted to Information Technology (IT) services and vendor companies but also to pharmaceutical companies, financial institutions, telecommunication companies and retail businesses. As real-time BI is getting down to the operational systems, some new trends have come up such as:

A. “Predictive analysis are being embedded in BI, creating clearer view of opportunities and trends.” The predictive analysis uses transactional data and predictive algorithms to come up with possible sets of results that will help the company to take future actions.
B. “Dashboards and scorecards are proliferating through the enterprise, offering interactive drill down capabilities.” The use of scorecards to drill down to operational and individual levels from the organizational level depends upon the maturity level of the organization.
C. “New integration technology is feeding real-time data into BI application, enabling real-time decision making.” Besides using historical data, some trends have evolved where real-time data is being used. Telecom companies are using real-time data for BI applications.
D. “BI front end is making its presence lower down the organization's hierarchy, fueling changes in business processes.” Earlier people thought BI was only for the top-level executives but that is not true. It is applicable at the operational level too, which helps in fueling changes in the business processes.
E. “Staffing needs are shifting as more staff with analytical, statistical and business domain experience are required.” Having business domain knowledge is an important factor in BI application. If you are looking to fit yourself in industry specific solutions than having domain knowledge is a key skill-set. To create a manufacturing specific industry solution, it requires help from those who hold experience in the manufacturing industry and who understand the business problems.

These trends play an important role in creating career opportunities in BI. A possible path to follow a long-term career in BI can be to explore all the three areas (Development, BI deployment/consultancy and BI operations) and gain breadth in experience, before settling down to what will be your final career choice for specialization and in-depth knowledge quest.

Vibhas Joshi is a Head of Industry Intelligence Solutions, SAS research and development lab, Pune.
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