Yesterday I wrote about using mashups to offer business users the ability to do more business intelligence activities with limited assistance from IT. The idea, as espoused by JackBe CTO John Crupi and other smart people, is for IT to do the technological heavy lifting while leaving most of the data analysis to business users.
But how much analysis are business users comfortable and/or capable of doing on their own? It's an interesting question addressed by Mary Jander on Internet Evolution. As proof it's not easy to define where IT's role begins and ends, Jander presents opinions from BI analyst Seth Grimes and David Silversmith, VP for information technology at FirstBook.org.
Though Grimes says there's no single right answer, he generally believes "IT should get business analysts the tools they need and get out of the way." However, IT should handle hardware and network support, security, backups and "all that essential stuff that end users typically overlook." IT can often add "indispensable" assistance with enterprise-wide analytics, mainstream tasks and production deployments, he says.
Silversmith emphasizes the importance of enlisting business-savvy people with a grasp on the concepts of relational databases and some knowledge of analytical software/reporting tools. But, he says: "The problem is finding these folks." Many companies ask IT staff to familiarize themselves with subject matter knowledge such as sales numbers and financial data rather than training business users on data-analysis methods.
There are possible problems with this approach, of course. Knowledge sharing is tough for many companies, thanks to 20 organizational traits mentioned in a post on the Leveraging Organizational Knowledge site. Among the traits that could hamper BI cross-training and knowledge sharing between IT and business units:
Another issue touched upon by TDWI Director of Research Wayne Eckerson on his blog is a lack of BI professionals in the pipeline, thanks to the offshoring of entry-level BI jobs. This isn't a problem exclusive to BI. When I interviewed Hackett Group analyst Erik Dorr and colleague Michel Janssen last month, Dorr told me that many traditional IT career paths have been disrupted as lower-level jobs are offshored. He said:
In IT, there was a traditional career path, where you came in as a programmer, became a project manager and then an analyst, and from there some people grew into leadership roles. But now that the lower level of workers is drying up, with much of that work moving offshore, that model has been disrupted. So as an organization, what do you do?
Eckerson refers to an initiative at Columbus, Ohio-based IT services provider Information Control Corp. that combines outreach to local colleges and universities, a college recruitment program and an in-depth training program for new hires. The approach involves creating blended teams of three junior developers, a senior architect and a senior quality assurance analyst. Eckerson's post piqued my interest, and I'll be discussing the ICC program in more detail soon.
All of the commenters on Eckerson's post stress the importance of employing folks who straddle both business and IT to boost the success rates of BI. If companies don't make the commitment to creating this blend of skills, their BI projects will suffer.
Interestingly, as I wrote in September, citing information from Intelligent Enterprise, companies don't appear too concerned about a possible shortage of data analysis professionals. Thirty-four percent of the 534 participants in an InformationWeek/Intelligent Enterprise survey said they "already have skilled analytics professionals on staff." Forty-eight percent said they expect to "train in-house BI experts and power users on analytic tools."