It's a good time to be in business intelligence. "Since last June, there's been an upswing in full-time placements and temp help relating to business intelligence within Fortune 100 firms," according to Daniel Barber, president of Niche Technologies, which works with 65 of the 100 largest companies. The pickup in hiring demand has been especially accute in finance, marketing forecasting and sales, says Barber, with financial and consumer services companies being particularly aggressive in expanding IT manpower and building out BI deployments involving data warehousing.
The trend has been fueled in part because companies have been forced to do more with less. "BI tools are becoming the way to accomplish that goal," says Charlie Jones, VP of operations and process for Yoh Company, an IT contracting and technical services firm. "Despite price erosion in hourly consulting rates in many pockets of technology, BI and data warehousing are areas where the rates are maintained and are actually inching up," observes Jones. In the past six months, the need for architects, developers and ETL specialists and related consulting work has grown, Jones adds.
As Fortune 500s increasingly launch high-profile strategic initiatives around their core competencies, CIOs and systems architects are 'offshoring' commodity-type processing so they can focus on application development and management.
"The key is to enable the 'power users,'" says Barber, referring to the line managers and business users in finance, accounting, human resources, manufacturing and other lines of business who need to access data residing on ERP and CRM systems. "That's where the real nitty-gritty data resides, so data warehousing projects and BI are key to drawing disparate information together and enabling business users to find it, correlate it and analyze it."
As experienced BI practitioners get snatched up, demand will increase for BI software tools and applications that enable less experienced user to crunch the data. To get to the point where high-level BI can be practiced by those without technical know-how, companies first need to stratify user types within the enterprise. "The BI components we use will be deployed according to user type rather than functional area," says systems architect Erik Brokaw, who implements BI tools at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas City. "Whether it's power users employing a full range of BI components or less intense business users requiring fewer components, we need to first identify a report consumer versus a report developer versus business analysts versus executives."
The next step is to correlate different types of users' needs with the capabilities of different BI tools. "Across the board, business intelligence is very important to our organization, so we have leverage and maximize the investment," says Brokaw. That means cutting the number of vendors used and broadening the use of existing solutions. As a means to that end, Brokaw has standardized on Business Objects' enterprise solutions. "We really see a need for convergence among BI tools across the enterprise," says Brokaw. "We want to have interoperability in a seamless environment so users can migrate from one set of functionality to another without having to move from one suite of products to another."
Data warehousing, metadata management and ETL tools will have to converge, Brokaw contends, adding that "integration will be paramount" to how effectively a product suite can be shared.
— Susana Schwartz
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