By now, most companies understand the need for Business Intelligence. Whether it’s general reporting or advanced analytics, upper management has a never-ending desire to turn data into actionable information.
Companies have the data, the hardware, the software, the analysts and even the programmers, but the end product is never as good as anticipated and delivered much later than promised. So what’s the problem? It could be a lack of Business Intelligence leadership and organization.
Considering the speed with which technology has evolved over the years, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Rather than racing to keep up, businesses should take a step back, devise a clear vision, road map and strategy. The first step in that strategy should be making sure the right team is behind the effort.
Assembling an All-star Team
Look to the world of sports for clues in drafting a winning Business Intelligence team. A functional football team can’t be built with three top quarterbacks and no good running backs. BI teams also must be structured with balance. An ideal BI team combines various technical talents and skill sets. Having a team of three highly skilled senior database developers may seem like a good idea on paper, but several unintended consequences can arise.
The potential for power struggles over how things should be coded is one unintended consequence of stacking a BI group with senior-level skills. Senior developers have adopted patterns and techniques that may clash with those of their fellow senior counterparts.
An effective teambuilding approach is to stagger ability, pairing a senior and one or two junior to mid-level developers. This allows the senior to set direction and focus on complex issues while the junior handles more routine tasks. Not only is this cost effective, but it also provides a healthier team balance and growth opportunity for the junior roles.
Stacking a team with senior developers can also ultimately lead to high employee turnover. This results in lost productivity. Even more damaging may be the loss of domain knowledge specific to a company. This intangible asset often goes unrecognized until it is too late and the individual has already left the building.
While staggering ability, it is also a good idea to stagger skill sets. Business Intelligence has become very dynamic, demanding both database and programming ability. Having a mix of team members who can ‘throw’ and ‘catch’ the ball is paramount.
An important goal in building a team is finding people that work well together. The old adage, “There is no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM’” comes to mind. In other words, personality and the individual’s ability to collaborate with others often trumps his or her ability to perform a technical task. Technical skills can always be learned over time but behavior is hard to change.
Managing the Effort
Once the team is in place, the next step is to ensure it is properly managed. Having a strong manager at the helm is vital to high performance and team success. This individual acts as a liaison between the team and the rest of the company, hence needs to be carefully chosen. A good BI manager must embrace both hard skills to work with the team and soft skills to work with management across the company. Being able to code brings instant credibility and respect among the team, while being business savvy is just as important.
Wayne Eckerson, former director of research at The Data Warehousing Institute, calls those leaders who can straddle the divide between business and IT “purple people” because they “are neither blue (i.e., business) nor red (i.e., IT), but a combination of both.”
Sometimes the strongest Business Intelligence managers can be found within an existing team. According to research by Matthew Bidwell, an assistant professor at Wharton, “workers promoted into jobs have significantly better performance for the first two years than workers hired into similar jobs.” Ultimately though, the goal should be to hire the right fit for the role, whether from within or without.