Why can’t I find good BI Business Analysts?

bi_ba1In my 14 years of career in Business Intelligence (BI) and after executing several end-to-end BI projects, I have barely come across a handful of ‘good’ BI Business Analysts (BI BA).   Aren’t there enough in the industry?  I am not sure. What makes them so scarce? ‘BI Business Analyst’ to me looks like a commonly found role in most of the end-to-end BI projects. If this role is an absolute must on BI projects and I haven’t found many ‘good’ ones, what does that mean? Haven’t these projects been ‘successfully’ implemented? Well…they have been implemented….but whether they were ‘successful’ is the real question.

Most of us think that a BI BA is someone who talks to the business users and gathers reporting requirements; documents them in the form of a Requirements Document or a Functional Spec.; participates in preparation of test scenarios and often helps during the User Acceptance Testing.  Perfect! This is exactly what the BI BA does….but what makes a BI BA… ‘good’? or let me use a superlative here…’great’?  Let’s come back to answer that a little later.

Let us first understand how a BI BA is different from a traditional BA. Knowledge of BI is definitely one of the attributes of a BI BA, but just having superficial understanding of BI is not enough. The process of gathering and analyzing BI requirements in itself is an art and only when that is mastered, you become a true BI BA.  A ‘great’ BI BA is one who understands the ‘business’ not just its requirements; one who understands how the requirements are aligned to the business goals;  one who can almost read a business users mind to capture the ‘said’ and ‘unsaid’ requirements and eventually drive the project team to design/develop a solution that meets these expectations.  The true validation for a successful solution is only after tracking its effectiveness and confirming that the business goals are indeed met.

Most of the BI BAs I have seen come from 2 backgrounds. A report developer, through his years of experience in interacting with business to develop their reports, graduates to become a BI BA OR a person with some business background (maybe through his MBA degree) with knowledge of some BI reporting tools becomes a BI BA. I view both these cases as opposite ends of the spectrum.

What we need is a person who has the best of both worlds (business and BI knowledge).  Well…I may be asking for too much here…but my experience so far has led me to believe that a person with the ‘best mix’ is likely to be the better BI BA.

Very recently I was talking to one of the IT directors who works very closely with the business team on multiple BI projects. She said that it is hard to find a good BA, harder to find a good BI BA and almost impossible to find a BI BA with relevant domain/functional expertise. So true.  The conversation continued about the pain in engaging the business on projects and I realized how far away these IT groups are from servicing the ‘real’ business needs. The chasm between business and IT keeps growing as more and more projects are executed with very less ROI for the business. I heard the IT director say how hundreds of reports that have been developed in the past through several business approved projects that aren’t even being used; that the business has gone back to their old ways of manual analysis; that the business is taking BI technology in their own hands to service their needs than relying on IT. One reason for this can be attributed to the changing business scenarios, but the majority is due to the lack of clear understanding of the business needs (said and unsaid). No wonder ‘Self Service BI’ is a buzz word these days, but I believe that though this trend might be a step in the right direction, IT cannot just rely on BI systems to provide the level of support the Business needs is making the right decisions. IT must take the onus to understand their business well and be a partner in delivering value.

Having said that…my search for a ‘good’ BI BA continues….

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A great explenation of the difference between the two types. Thank you for that!

Keith says:

Ashish,

Great article, and one that is particularly relevant to me at this time.

I have been a Business Objects developer for 12 years and a Qlikview developer for 2 years. I am now mulling over a possible career “side-step” in to Business Analysis.

What would you suggest as the next step to make this a successful move? The last thing i would want is to be one of your mediocre additions. There must be some formal path to make this work; I just dont know what it is?

Regards

keith

Chandrasekhara S. "C.S." Ganti says:

Your observations well take, what we find in the current market. BI has taken off. I understand your predicament. How about helping me out. I am an experienced Modeler /Analyst in diverse areas with Business Intelligence Report / Dashboard tools developed. Also was a Sr. Business Analyst / Principal Consultant for a major IT / Business consulting firm at thier major Insurance / Financial Vertical client sites.

Sridhar Ekambaram says:

Ashish!
In my view, a good BI BA should not worry about what datawarehouse / BI can or cannot offer or even drive projects. Leave that to the techies to figure. BI-BA should focus more on “read a business users mind to capture the ‘said’ and ‘unsaid’ requirements”. Not only that. The BI-BA should also see what can the business do with all the information from BI. That is, it should be a two way traffic. a) understand current business requirements but also b) understand how business can do with all the information available that the business is currently not doing.

Ashish Mirji says:

@Keith – If you are a generalist and do not possess solid domain/industry knowledge, I think you should focus on one industry and learn as much as you can. Business Analysis can be best done if you understand the ‘Business’.

@C.S. Ganti – What kind of help are you looking for?

@Sridhar – I agree with most of what you said except the ‘leave that to techies part’. My personal experience in working with the BAs and Technical teams is that sometimes they are unable to link the business needs with what is feasibly available as a solution. A good mix of business and technology skills ensure that there is no gap left between the business expectations and the deliverabled solutions.

Raj says:

Ashish, Very well written….Yes, per my personal experience, being as a BI BA for last 10years it’s very important to know Business/client project objectives or user intentions/Reporting requirements to transform into technology solutions (Front-end tools/access).

BI BA will play a critical role who works as a liaison between Business and IT as Business Technology person.

Cheers!!

-Raj

Saikat says:

Ashis,

A god one!

I would like to add another thing to the mix – the “time” dimension? I mean a good BI analayst should be not only be able to capture the requirements (said/unsaid) as of now but also anticipate the future needs to certain extent.

At the same time it is an “uncontrollable”.

Should an analyst invest time and (possibly client’s money) on that. There lies another predicament. As a good analyst one has to find a fine balance.

Saikat says:

*A “good” one! …

Venkat says:

Good One!!

Chris Gerrard says:

Oddly enough, I set out 30 years ago to be just this sort of multi-domain BI professional. And I’m really, really good at it.

My experience is that BI, like all things “IT” is viewed through a defective lens, that it’s a mechanical, knob-twiddling, technical undertaking.

My frustration when talking to prospective clients is that the conversation devolves to: “How good are you at product X?”, and “How little will you work for?”

I’m really impressed when asked how well I know Inmon or Kimball, and which I prefer, although it’s scary that someone would seriously pose that question and have a “right” answer in mind.

I’ve written a post on the topic of what it takes to be a BI professional, here.

Hopefully, we’ll see an increase in the recognition that being a BI professional really IS a profession, not a sideline for repurposed technicians.

Stephen says:

In my experience, to be good at being a BI BA is to get a strong grasp of the subject area/industry/domain (call it what you will) and also to have a good understanding of the tools that will be used to implement the BI Solution. You may not actually need to do the implementation but by having that understanding of the tools, you can translate into non-techno speak and your users will understand what they are getting. That will give buy-in from the user community and also give a solution that matches your design.

That is the world I live in and it works well. Personally, I find that I produce a much better solution if I have a strong understanding of what the business needs. Don’t make it a technical project – it is not about the tools being used. It is about giving the business what they need.

Rainy Quackenbush says:

I agree with the comments made in November by Sridhar: BI-BA should focus more on “read a business users mind to capture the ‘said’ and ‘unsaid’ requirements”. Not only that. The BI-BA should also see what can the business do with all the information from BI. That is, it should be a two way traffic. a) understand current business requirements but also b) understand how business can do with all the information available that the business is currently not doing.

I would expand on this a bit to say a good BI BA will understand not only the requirements but why they are needed and what will the business do once they have those requirements. What do those requirements mean to the business and what will the business do when they have this information. By understanding this, we can help assess what the next step of information that would be needed. This can lead to identification of the predictors that can be tweaked to change the desired outcome and improve the business. Now you have delivered something useful. The business may not understand this as soon as a good BI BA would. Working with the business and not for the business will deliver a much better and more useful product. It needs to be a collaborative effort. Challenging the business as to why they want what they need instead of just understanding what they need is an important differentiator.

Regard,

Rainy

Here’s one take on it: http://betterbi.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/does-your-dog-bite/

It’s important to identify the interactive model in place when describing the relationship between BI and business people. The common model is one where BI is an intermediary sitting between business people and their data; in this model everything must pass through BI, and it’s the foundation behind the idea that the BI/BA will learn the business’ needs and translate those needs into BI artifacts that, when presented to the business provide the necessary information.

This model is a legacy of an outmoded model that never really worked, except in the sense of providing employment for BI/IT people. The large scale failure of BI initiatives over the past 20 years is largely due to the use of this model.

The better model (not newer, it’s been around for at least 30 years) is where BI and business people actively collaborate to discover the analytics that deliver the information and insights the business needs. In this model the IT aspect is behind the scenes operationalizing the analytics; building out the IT components required for full automation of the analytics’ delivery.

Beware of BI people who claim, explicitly or implicitly, that they need to be the gatekeepers between business people and their data.

Curtis says:

So much has been written about the “hybrid” or “crossover” business/IT technical “sweet spot”.

But, it is important to distinguish between searching and finding.

I am willing to bet that when most people search for these rare “good BI Business Analysts” they first select candidates based on their technical experience and skills with BI technology – purposed BI applications, query & reporting tools, concepts of relational databases, SQL, ODBC/DAO, etc.

And why not, having a good grasp of these things is an absolute necessity for any technical BA, and certainly required for BI BA. There will also be a focus on these because they are quantifiable and testable and there will likely be a basic minimum set of requirements for any potential candidates.

Conversely, if someone has held title or role of BA for any period of time, you will likely expect they understand “business side”. How could they have functioned without these in their past tenures as a BA? But these skills are much less quantifiable. You will have to rely on recommendations and interviews.

However, given technical skills are much more easily quantified, and verified, proportionately they will be given greater precedence in hiring decisions.

Hence, you may want to find a good BI BA, but you may not be searching for one. You will almost always be hiring for technical skills and not the soft skills. And who can blame you? You need a defensible, quantifiable set of reasons for hiring someone.

We have recently launchedwww.hirist.com, an exclusive job board for IT/tech jobs in India.
I would request you to visit our site for latest Business Analyst/Product Management openings in India.

BushDancer says:

This kind of seems like dancing around the really obvious bush. What makes a good BA? The same thing that makes a good anything else, intelligence. That one thing that everyone knows is really the only factor and that one thing the research just keeps showing is the only reliable predictor for job performance.

For some reason you can’t talk about intelligence in our society. If you do you are breaking a social rule, you are being an elitist. You can be a classist aristocrat or a plutocrat but if you are an intellectual aristocrat Americans will hunt you down and drum you out of employment, because it is not okay be smarter than other people. At best you can use some euphemisms for it, like “gifted” or “thinking outside the box”, in the olden times, the 90’s, they used “analytical thinking” but now that just became a convention of job descriptions and no one actually means anything by it.

Yea, its not the only thing, in the same your engine isn’t the only thing that makes your car go and the President isn’t the only person in the executive branch. But at the end of the day its the thing that matters the most and its also the thing in the shortest supply because of the HORRIBLE factors we base hiring decisions on. Which just enforce a class-based system we don’t even think exists anymore. Then we have the balls to wonder why things aren’t working out the way we want.

“But I hired the most prestigious candidate! He used all the right magic passwords too O? You mean there is no relationship between prestige and buzz words with intelligence? Darn, guess I’ll just stick with prestige because it makes me feel good.” -Typical employer

Graeme says:

You and I must work for the same organization. We should go get a cup of coffee. Look me up when you get a moment…

Arpit says:

Hope you are doing good, just need a small favor from your side, I am in BI and have around 3 years of exp in Microstrategy BI tool, although in BI market is hot in India but i want myself in Analytics profile, so i searched for BA programs in IIMB and ISB Hyd or( MS in BA from US ) , so should i go for it or should i continue with BI profile and after more exp in my profile i should go for it , bit confused what to do..MS in BA or continue in BI
Thanks
Arpit

Achin says:

Found your article very much near to my experience. Good writing.
I will like to share my analysis as why it is happening.

Before advent of BI, most of IT industry had web applications, web sites to develop (discounting the operations work) . In that you would have functionality of system and Data as two separate areas. UI, Button clicks, page format, user or actor response and occurrence of events was at one side. At another side was data which Databases would generate. Most of IT work revolved around this or around generation of reports.

With advent of BI, these things are still there but BI has brought field of connecting data points or data mapping. Customer may want to know how his Billing systems and reseller Commission systems are getting aligned on product or on reseller level. There may be few different types of Billing systems but a single Commission system. That needs different set of skills. may be both business and IT ( as you have said). That is where people who are good in data analysis and understands what to connect with what comes in handy. Even these people can check through data if they are connecting right things or just making fluke.

Firms actually make mistake when they hire BA typically as MBA grad or reporting specialist because BI involves working on data pipeline from sourcing to presentation just like somebody plans water distribution network. Many times the person has to dive in data to get answers and then someone with knowledge on this data pipeline knows where to enter and where to exit.

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/achin-maheshwari/9/722/38b



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