Got BI? Now You Need to Hire a Data Geek. Here’s What to Look For.

According to a poll conducted by KDnuggets, salaries in the analytics and data mining space are up in 2011. While there is no direct proof that the data explosion is increasing the need for business intelligence (BI) or business analytics (BA) specialists, it’s only natural that the increase in BI software adoption and demand for analytics should promote the growth of BI job offerings.

So, if your organization already has a BI or BA application in place, or if you’re going to be implementing one in the near future, you might soon be needing a data geek.

BI Is a Growing Industry
The BI space is, by every measure, an evolving one, and yet to be adopted by many organizations. According to Gartner, the BI and analytics market is expected to grow to US$10.8 billion in 2011. What this means is that companies are becoming more data management–oriented. Information and its analysis are being increasingly valued as companies strive to avoid gut-based decisions and improve their mechanisms for a complete view of how the organization is performing. And BI initiatives are being positioned among the highest priorities for many organizations.

While many large organizations are using state-of-the-art BI solutions to power their decision-making processes, some others, especially small to medium businesses (SMBs), are just starting to discover the use of BI solutions for data analysis and for supporting their business decisions. And companies that are adopting data-driven strategies are also upping the use of tools to interpret data from a wider variety of sources.

Traditional sources of information—such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, based on relational databases—are still being used extensively. But other, nontraditional sources, such as text documents and external data coming from social media content, are increasing the need for specialized software—and personnel with analytical skills—to mine the data coming from these sources.

Why Is Data Analysis So Important?
During the economic turbulence of the last few years it became clear for many companies that they needed a way to gain visibility into their operations to optimize their business—they needed to gain control and increase performance. A logical step was to look for software that enables them to analyze data and increase the accuracy of their decisions. Many organizations are in a transitional phase—improving their common reporting and measurement capabilities or reinforcing their financial planning and budgeting, but also going forward to mine data from very different types of sources.

By acquiring business analytics software—and personnel to carry out this type of work—it is possible to replace the traditional information processing method, which used raw data taken directly from operational systems, with new tools for processing the data, and using that output to make tactical and strategic decisions. This step has the potential to improve the decision-making process, if you have the right set of tools and the right people—data geeks.

These organizations are typically medium-sized companies with smaller budgets, rather than big corporations, but with a huge workforce potential and a budget to acquire at least some, if not all, of the complete and complex set of BI and analytics features. Analysis and data visualization tools as well as specific business analytics software for finance, sales, and marketing can now be found in many organizations.

Along with acquiring these types of applications, organizations need to train their personnel to analyze the data, or hire specialists for the job.

So, as organizations are buying and deploying increasingly more BI and analytics applications, a new breed of professional is taking over this domain: the data scientist—known in hip circles as the data geek. And if your organization is involved in the process of selecting a new or better BI software tool, there is a high probability that you will need the services of this new type of information worker.

Data geeks and BI specialists have as their mission to manage large amounts of data—to collect it, analyze it, and show the results in a way appropriate to the audience. So, no matter if your data geek comes from inside or outside your organization, you need to know what to look for when selecting the right data geek for the job.

What You Need in a Data Geek
Some basic things to consider when looking for a data geek for your organization:

  • A strong background in computer science is essential. Dealing with information is not easy. The data geek needs to be able to collect the data, which in many cases involves knowing about databases, some networking, and Web programming technologies (XML, HTML, etc.), for a start.

  • Statistics and mathematics are part of the game. Your data geek needs to know statistics inside out and backwards, and the software for manipulating them to develop an analysis.

  • Data visualization is key. You need data visualization tools that are in equal parts useful and appealing. Your data geek should have an eye for graphs, maps, and charts, with a feel for the right dashboards, scorecards, data mashups, or even Excel workbooks—to generate the right mix of information for the right people.

  • A bit of creativity goes a long way. The right data geek will use all the above skills to create new and improve existing ways to increase the return on investment (ROI) of your organization’s BI solutions.

If you’re lucky, your data geek will be someone who simply enjoys handling information: preparing (i.e., cleansing, profiling, and transforming) data for analysis. Someone who can adapt to the fast pace of change in the BI space.

Remember, the driver is as important as the car. If you want to make the best use of your BI application, your organization needs the right people to exploit it. BI is not just about reporting and visualization anymore. It involves intensive and creative analysis, along with data management, to create value for an organization.

And you never know.  In the process of exploring your new BI applications, you may discover your own inner data geek!

I welcome your thoughts—please leave a comment below, and I’ll respond as soon as I can.
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