Kimball University: Better Business Skills for BI and Data Warehouse Professionals - InformationWeek

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Kimball University: Better Business Skills for BI and Data Warehouse Professionals

To deliver better intelligence, BI and data warehousing teams need business acumen, interpersonal skills and communication competencies. Here are helpful tips and 12 invaluable resources for career development and success.

Warren Thornthwaite
Anyone who takes even a cursory glance at the common data warehousing (DW) and business intelligence (BI) failure points would spot the pattern: the hardest parts for most teams are understanding business issues and handling cross-organizational interactions. The challenges will become even more common as the DW/BI system evolves into a standard component of the IT environment, thus weakening the connection to the business.

Historically, DW/BI projects were driven by visionary people who were conversant in both business and technology. They understood the potential of better business insight and were motivated to help the DW/BI team deliver on it. As DW/BI systems have become commonplace, teams are now often made up of more technically oriented people. This change is not bad in and of itself, but it does mean that DW/BI teams will need to build up skills around understanding business requirements and strengthening relationships with business users.

Let's be clear here; not everyone on the team needs to get an MBA, but everyone on the team should develop a basic understanding of how their organization works, how to work well with other people and how to communicate more effectively both in writing and in business meetings and presentations. This article presents advice on improving in all three areas along with 12 invaluable resources for professional development.

Build Business Understanding

To better understand business, the first place to start is with documents from your own organization. Annual reports, strategic plans, marketing plans, and internal-vision documents all provide solid insight into your business and its challenges and opportunities. However, without a basic business understanding, you may not get full value from these documents. Fortunately, there are many readily accessible resources to gain this understanding. Start with a book or two. There are at least a dozen good books available that attempt to boil a two-year MBA program down into a short, easy read. Here's a book that offers a good overview of the basics of business:

The Ten-Day MBA: A Step-By-Step Guide to Mastering the Skills Taught in America's Top Business Schools, by Steven A. Silbiger (Collins, 2005)

Once your senior management team has selected its top priorities for the DW/BI system and you want to learn more about it, seek out books that go into detail on those areas, whether it's marketing, sales, finance, promotions, manufacturing, logistics or other functional areas. At this level, it's probably more valuable to take a course in the particular subject area rather than read a book. A good instructor can bring experience and perspective to the topic, drawing from multiple resources and adding exercises, examples and anecdotes. You also get the benefit of interaction with classmates. If you can't find relevant courses at local universities, colleges, or community colleges, try looking online. Many major institutions offer online MBA courses. Search the Internet and you will find plenty of options.

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