job description: Business intelligence (BI) analysts use analysis tools to query data repositories and generate reports. These reports help managers make business decisions by identifying trends and patterns in a company’s stored operational data. The data to be analyzed may be varied: inventory, sales, customers and the like. It is usually stored in companywide repositories called data warehouses or in smaller departmental databases. A BI analyst may design daily reports, such as those that sales managers use to track demand for specific products in different geographic regions. The BI analyst also helps managers generate one-time, ad hoc reports by crafting a custom query against the data repository. “This is definitely a hot role whose value to the company is helping it analyze its business data,” says Ari Kaplan, president of the Independent Oracle Users Group.
why you need a BI analyst: “If you don’t do anything with your corporate data, it’s just sitting there. To take that data and make it a business weapon, you need a BI analyst,” says Jim Lanzalotto, vice president at Yoh. Analyzing data gives a company a clear view of its business operations, the key to competing effectively. By spotting trends in stored data, a company can fine-tune sales strategies, marketing programs, supply chain operations, customer support and fraud-protection efforts. A BI analyst can also detect information the company needs to make informed business decisions.
desired skills: Deep understanding of a company’s business goals and operations. Experience with database and data analysis technology, as well as with enterprise applications and project management. An MBA or CPA degree. At least five years of experience.
how to find them: Look internally first, Kaplan says. The CIO might also consider candidates from the company’s industry or similar sectors. Lanzalotto cautions against assuming that a hire must emerge from the IT side, since a thorough understanding of business operations is key. “Know precisely the kind of person you’re looking for. The biggest flaw you have in this type of search is a lack of understanding of what you need,” he says.
what to look for: Good BI analysts are very methodical so that they can devise strategies for making sense out of mounds of data. They must also have good communication skills, be logical thinkers and work well in teams. “Playing nice in the sandbox is important,” says Lanzalotto. “You need the ability to get your point across effectively in small group settings.”
elimination round: Ask candidates a question that goes to the heart of their role as your BI analyst. For instance, a pharmaceutical company CIO should ask candidates how they have worked with clinical trials data and how their analysis helped the company.
salary range: $80,000 to $90,000 (Midlevel)
$100,000 to $125,000 (Senior level)
growing your own: Expose an employee to as many databases as possible in the organization, and train him or her on commercial data analysis tools. “That’ll give you someone with the necessary background and understanding,” Lanzalotto says. Focus that person on the business unit whose data he will analyze, to build familiarity and relationships with its managers.