Why BI?

Given the rapid growth in the interest in data science and business intelligence I thought I might share some thoughts about the advantages of working with data on a professional level and why BI as an IT realm was an obvious choice for me.

Personally, for me working closely with data is a labor of love (although if you ask me on Friday afternoon my response may be different). Having tried a few other IT-related avenues, I found that BI offers the highest level of flexibility and variety of duties as it cleverly incorporates a large number IT facades, never allowing me to go through the motions or get bored. Also, on the plus side, building your career on a data-centric application stack combined with business interactions, could be a future-proof and rewarding experience as (big)data is gaining an incredible momentum in all enterprise ventures where businesses are looking to gain that extra bit of competitive advantage.

Naturally, a lot depends on your working environment, scope of your duties and personal situation but over the last ten years of being involved in small to large BI/data related projects I generally found BI to be very accommodating as far as the gamut of duties that it involves. Note that I have never allowed myself to be tied down to just one or two BI-related duties e.g. reports designing or ETL development. I have been fortunate enough to be part of all stages of SDLC, even if only indirectly or superficially. This gave me a better skills-set and perspective on BI in general. It also allowed me to enjoy the flexibility and variety mentioned earlier, ensuring that I can become proficient in nearly all aspects of a BI project.

I could never see myself as a nine-to-five programmer, even though I have a lot of respect for those who can write beautiful code. Despite of programming gradually becoming easier over the years, mainly due to the proliferation of capable IDEs and productivity-boosting frameworks, programming is still one of the hardest and mentally-involving professions. However, most of its core and fundamental expressiveness comes from writing the code, which in turn involves long hours spent typing out characters according to the syntax rules and debugging. Some people are made to do just that; however, I quickly got really fidgety, longing for some human interaction. This is the first reason which working in BI can be very exciting. If you want to/have to code, there is copious amount of that to keep you polishing those beautiful “while-loops”. Working primarily with Microsoft tools I often find myself using Python, C# or VB to accomplish something which BIDS (Business Intelligence Development Studio) does not offer out of the box. Besides, there is always plenty of SQL, DMX or MDX to write so I cannot really get away from writing code. In fact, the knowledge of programming and its occasional use is a perquisite to producing professional solutions, particularly when data analysis is your domain (think R or Metlab). Also, SQL is still ubiquitous and it being a high level language, it can accomplish a lot with little effort. Having said that, writing code is just a part of everyday BI and you will never feel like all you are doing is churning out code all day. Big plus!

Another factor which comes into play when making BI such a versatile realm is the ability to get close to “metal” or hardware if the need arises. Often, particularly in small or understaffed organizations, BI professional needs to wear many hats, one of them most likely being a sysadmin or a DBA. Although lately, there has been much hype over self-service BI (which is also finding its way to the development spectrum, not just the end user side), there is still a considerable amount of work involved in tuning and optimizing the hardware platform. In such cases, particularly when starting a new project from ground up, a BI professional needs to have a good understanding of underling physical structures, server side processing, storage, virtual environments, security, network and other components which make up a complete solution. This typically constitutes a small portion of the duties, but it provides a good balance and breaks up the monotony of what the job title typically implies in the eyes of CIOs or IT managers.

Furthermore, if you enjoy creating visually appealing content, building reports can somewhat provide such experience. And I am not referring to an Excel-like, tabular, so 1999, lifeless dump of data. Today’s tools offer rich content which can be easily incorporated into very sophisticated, dynamic, animated and interactive reports that can quickly provide a sense of immense gratification, both for you and manager with their affinity to pretty graphs and dashboards. Naturally, building reports, no matter how advanced, will never be a substitute for designing a beautiful web site, but from a BI point of view, for me the end result is as pleasing as it needs to be without bogging myself for days or weeks in CSS, HTML or whatever one uses to generate a web site. Just a good balance of visual stimuli which can keep me (and my employer) satisfied as well as a springboard from other BI-related duties when I want to get distracted.

There is so much flexibility and variety when doing BI that other IT-related paths seem too bland or streamlined for my liking. Naturally, I am generalizing here and I am sure those who committed themselves to years of nothing but specializing in programming, system administration, web designing or other IT streams will find those findings too far-fetched, but for those of us who thrive on “playing” with today’s IT synonym of black gold – data and want their expertise/presence felt across the whole business (from the nuts and bolts of binary code to high level end user or management strata), BI gives you just that and in the right ratio.