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The future of Business Intelligence lies in deployment of BI advocates, not developers

Measuring performance is a basic requirement for most organisations, and yet it remains a challenge for many. The causes for this tend to be obstacles created by technology, data, a lack of meaningful insights and organisational culture. However, there's no overnight fix for getting a brand to fully capitalise on one of the most powerful business assets, data. Best practice business intelligence delivery is a journey.

How does an agency BI specialist differ from an inhouse BI developer?

We first need to make the distinction between the Merkle BI Delivery team, and a client-side BI team.  Here at Merkle, we come across many different BI opportunities on a vast array of platforms: recent projects have seen us working using Tableau, Datorama, Power BI, Qlik, Domo, and Data Studio, for example. Each analyst on our team needs to know all the BI platforms we could come up against, so they can align to any client opportunity.

Our team works constantly on certification in those platforms to meet our clients’ needs. They also need to have an intimate knowledge of a wide variety of data sources and the challenges faced when working with platforms such as Google, Adobe and Salesforce, regardless of the visualisation tools used to surface the data.

We also expect our analysts to be capable of estimating the effort behind a project. It’s vital that they have a keen interest in knowledge-sharing regarding new BI market challenges. They must also demonstrate an awareness of reusability of measurement frameworks across industries, possess expertise in road-mapping delivery and be able to spot the next steps for a client on their BI journey.

The traditional BI developer skillset client-side

So, how does client-side differ? Clients tend to have ownership of only one BI platform, or where they may have two or three, are often looking to consolidate. The datasets the BI teams are working with are not going to change dramatically, thus getting to grips with and mastering the data sources within their organisation, whilst necessary and worthwhile, can be a lesser challenge with narrower scope. Once their measurement framework has been mapped, the business fundamentals are unlikely to change dramatically year on year. Even in a highly agile business, change would be seen less often.  

From a client’s perspective, when tackling BI across the business, the first ambition should be self-service BI.

The minimum requirement of a BI developer is to understand the craft of the tool, alongside what measures, KPIs and dimensions drive the business. It’s also important that a developer can assess how to extract, transform and load any required data. When working on the client side these things have a finite need for full-time focus. The reason why it may appear as if they are a full-time occupation is due to the lack of self-service BI within the organisation. The future for BI developers is to transform into BI advocates for their business.

Client-side BI developers must evolve to progress

Counter-intuitive though it may sound, the client-side BI advocate should work towards making their day-to-day tasks redundant. This could be through heavy automation or by introducing a significant focus on data democratisation i.e. empowering the business to learn how to self-serve. The advocate is there to educate, push the boundaries of what is possible, monitor progress of adoption, create communities of contributors within the camp of the business users and strive to create opportunities to operationalise the data.

Having a lack of exposure to a wider variety of tools and business challenges, the client-side advocate needs to work to alleviate tunnel vision by ring-fencing a proportion of their working week to attend conferences, visualisation challenges and seek external mentors (even from agencies!) The business in turn needs to be able to fund that activity both in terms of time and cost.

The BI advocate should spend increased time working on improving the accuracy of BI natural language processing, thus further improving self-service BI. They should push the AI and machine learning capabilities of their BI platform so business users can identify outliers and anomalies (without the need to write a single line of Python or R). They need to embed BI components into the operational flow of the business. It has far more reach for wider business strategies and operations than you may think.

BI advocates: empowering their brand at scale

The primary role of a BI advocate is not just to build reports or find interesting insights in organisational data. We should all strive to find candidates who recognise that their primary focus is to empower the business at scale by leveraging both historical and predictive data. There is no need for a business user to put a request in for new dashboards to the BI team. The tools are advanced enough for BI users to set these up themselves. What they will need is access to governed data - from there they can fly.

There will always be more advanced pieces of analytics that may require a data scientist’s approach, but that is a different role. The output of advanced analytics and data science still needs to be woven back into a BI framework. The majority of clients are not fully capitalising upon their BI investment. For the first time, each platform’s capabilities tend to be ahead of what the day-to-day user can imagine. Not many users are aware of features like Explain Data, Quick Insights or NLQ within their BI platforms. These may not work out of the box and need some time invested to get the most out of them. It is the scale of what they can produce that matters. Platforms need BI advocates to make that happen.

Businesses exist at different stages of the BI journey. For some, self-service BI feels like an ambition that’s a million miles away; they simply want to get started with accurate, timely and relevant dashboards. Others have realised that the data-driven culture they dreamed of has fully taken hold. However, the demand for output is far greater than a centralised BI team can satisfy. Self-service has become imperative and is no longer simply a nice-to-have concept.

At Merkle Analytics, we bring together a pool of talent to help customers through their business intelligence challenges, be that building a robust platform and culture or empowering stakeholders to make data-driven decisions. We have a vast history of delivering impactful BI projects and programmes across multiple industries. We are here to help at whatever stage in your BI journey you are today and can demonstrate the art of the possible to inspire the future. Please get in touch if you’d like to learn more.

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