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What to Look for When Hiring a BI Specialist

What to Look for When Hiring a BI Specialist

Many CIOs have a BI project on their plate for 2013. But to succeed, they need people with skill sets that can complement the technology. Three Indian CIOs share their views on what skill sets are needed for a good BI project and how to get them.

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Summary:

Be it cloud, mobility or business intelligence (BI) and analytics, the next wave of technology arrives long before the people who can help organizations manage and sustain those technologies do.

The going might get even tougher for those CIOs planning to adopt BI because it is an eclectic mix of not just technology and tools, but also of business analytics and statistics, and therefore, requires a firm understanding of the industry.

Highlights:

  • What are CIOs Looking for?
  • Challenges in Getting the Right Skill Sets

Be it cloud, mobility or business intelligence (BI) and analytics, the next wave of technology arrives long before the people who can help organizations manage and sustain those technologies do.

The going might get even tougher for those CIOs planning to adopt BI because it is an eclectic mix of not just technology and tools, but also of business analytics and statistics, and therefore, requires a firm understanding of the industry.

According to the State of the CIO, 2013, 78.7 percent of Indian CIOs claim that finding the right skill sets is the biggest challenge for their IT departments. While 56.5 percent of CIOs expect to complete a BI project within the next 12 months, 28.1 percent of CIOs are worried that BI/analytics talent is too expensive to hire, 23.0 percent say that training internal staff is time-intensive and costly, and 22.3 percent feel that software/less-technically savvy employees pose a significant challenge on their road to BI adoption.

While many might think that the role of a CIO in any BI project is to provide only the right tools and technology for business users to access information in whichever way they like, the reality is much different. Sheeresh Palekar, director-IT at Raymond, believes that the success of BI depends on two critical factors: The right technology providing the required information in the most effective manner, and detailing of business requirements for better decision-making.

“Compromising on either of these areas will lead to sub-optimal implementation and utilization. Hence, CIOs have to play an active role in defining the overall team for a successful BI implementation,” he says.

Shreesh Palekar

Challenges in Getting the Right Skill Sets

While a large number of CIOs plan to embark on BI projects, most of them agree with the fact that there is not enough skill set in the market to address the technological needs. Some CIOs also feel that more clarity around what constitutes BI skill sets is needed.

Nilesh Sangoi, CTO at Meru Cab Company, says that a lot of people make a mistake by equating analytics with the tools or software package implementation and think it’s an IT job, which is like missing the woods for the trees.

While the technical skills required to manage and maintain the software are easily available with the solution providers, it’s the business analysis that is the tough nut to crack.

Before internal users are put on the job, they need to understand that a BI project is very different from a traditional IT project.

On the analytics projects, more than pure IT capabilities, a CIO should look for people who are at ease working with large set of numbers and a good statistical background.

Also read: How O&M Transformed Its Office to a BI Hub

“The team driving the analytics should be well-versed with the science behind the data. They need to understand how people create and use information, get useful inferences from it, and apply the same in making business decisions. If this doesn’t happen, the tools will just remain expensive toys for exhibition,” says Sangoi. 

Palekar believes that among the multiple BI solutions available in the market, some are by established players in the country and some are by relatively newer ones. The skill sets available for both these kinds of solutions vary according to the solution itself.

“Few solutions, though technologically superior, pose challenge from a resource availability point of view. Hence, this becomes a critical factor when it comes to selecting a BI solution,” he says.

Sangoi mentions that before internal users, be it business or IT, are put on the job, they need to understand that a BI project is very different from a traditional IT project. In an IT project, the organization first defines the outcome, then does requirement study, as-is and to-be process definitions, and implements the same with technology-based solutions after training the stakeholders.

“In analytics projects, the hypotheses are built based on the theories developed, tested through experiments, refinements are based on the findings, and the whole process is repeated for continuous improvements. Hence, a CIO needs to prepare his team for a change of mindset in managing the projects,” he explains.

Another challenge in choosing the skill sets required for BI is ensuring complete synchronization between the teams handling the technical aspect and the business analyst. Also, it works a lot better if both the technical expert and the business analyst have some knowledge about both aspects of BI i.e. the technical and business acumen.

“Analytics by its very definition needs someone who understands the business and is a good business analyst. Apart from that, he/she also needs to understand analytics tools and know how to leverage them for successful implementation,” says Sangoi.

Also read: Flipkart Drives Innovation through Intelligent use of IT

Meenakshi Agarwal

What are CIOs Looking for?

Agrawal says that there should be awareness of what is important to the business, and what the various perspectives that should be considered in the design are. Such factors would be important in the design and success of the solution.

“On the analytics projects, more than pure IT capabilities, a CIO should look for people who are at ease working with large set of numbers and a good statistical background,” Sangoi explains.

Sangoi says that Statistical knowledge here could range from knowledge of concepts such as measures of central tendency, estimation, probability, outliers, normal distribution and others to confidence intervals, hypothesis testing, regression, correlation, data visualization, time series, segmentation, forecasting and expert system, fuzzy logic, and artificial neural networks among others.

Sangoi suggests that analytics-based teams should typically be cross-functional. “People with robust understanding of business, and computer science; statistical graduates; and data scientists should typically form part of such a team,” he explains.

Since the ultimate goal of such projects is to take decisions based on data and evidence for overall business and consumer benefit, it can be very useful if the team also consists of members who have necessary understanding of cognitive and behavioral science.

Nilesh SangoiAlso read: Quick Take: How to Use BI for Competitive Edge

How to Get the Required Skill Sets

As suggested by the findings of the State of the CIO, 2013 survey, hiring business analysts or SMEs from outside the organization could prove to be an expensive deal. CIOs seem to largely believe in creating the best-of-breed talent by capturing the domain knowledge of the internal business users and the best of technical knowledge from the solution providers.

Sangoi suggests that the members of the IT team can scale up to acquire the new skills by putting effort in learning the statistical techniques. There are many good free online analytics training programs available from world’s most renowned universities.

However, there are other limitations, as a person trained in statistical analysis could be great with numbers, but it takes a business user to translate those numbers into actionable business strategy.

Palekar suggest another practical way to overcome this challenge. “Though hiring BI resource from outside is expensive, yet, in the initial phase, it may be a wise decision to get the expertise through implementation partners and build the skill sets within the internal team during the project implementation,” he says.

Similarly, since the skill sets are rare, and being a business analyst requires a certain level of experience, chances of finding a good recruit out of educational institutions is also close to impossible. Sangoi says that CIOs who are looking to hire from outside can scrounge for talent in the same industry vertical in the IT /business analytics sections.

“To me, the most useful practice has been to find good persons who have done similar roles with competitors. Another place that is as good as any is LinkedIn,” signs off Agrawal.

Debarati Roy is a correspondent for CIO India and ComputerWorld India. Send your feedback to debarati_roy@idgindia.com. Follow Debarati on Twitter at @RheeaRoy.

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