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Key Business Intelligence Skills to Advance Your Career

The main role of business intelligence (BI) is to enhance all the parts in a company by improving access to data, then using that data to create insights into business processes. So, what skills do you need for a career in business intelligence? And what careers are even available in this felid? This article outlines everything you need to know from why you would want a career in BI, BI roles, the skills you need to have for such roles, some ballpark salaries, and the process of finding a job in BI.

First off, we should address what business intelligence is in more depth. BI is a technology-driven process used to analyze data and present actionable information. BI data can include historical information in a data warehouse, as well as new data gathered from running systems. This process helps executives, managers and other corporate end users make more informed business decisions. The BI process can help with strategic decisions that improve productivity, increase revenue and accelerate growth.

The business intelligence architecture itself encompasses a wide variety of tools, applications and methodologies -- all of which enable organizations to collect data from internal systems and external sources, prepare it for analysis, develop and run queries against that data, and create reports, dashboards and data visualizations. The analytical results are then available to corporate decision-makers, as well as operational workers.

Having jobs that focus on business intelligence can lead to benefits for the company such as accelerating and improving decision-making, optimizing internal business processes, increasing operational efficiency, spotting potential business problems, identifying market trends and gaining competitive advantages over business rivals.

The term "business intelligence" itself is similar to "business acumen," which describes a person who understands the systems of a business. BI itself looks more at business analytics, however. In addition, those in BI need a strong blend if business and IT skills.

BI vs. advanced analytics
Compare business intelligence and advanced analytics, including the differentiating questions asked and skills required for each process.

Why Would You Want a Career in BI?

Aside from any personal or salary-based reasons you may want to get into business intelligence, the career path provides other reasons to pursue it. For example, some roles in business intelligence, such as the BI analyst role, are becoming more integral as more organizations learn how to capitalize on all the data they can collect in any given scenario. The problem is that there aren't enough skilled BI professionals to satisfy the demand. This can work to your advantage if you're interested in BI, because companies are always on the hunt for qualified business intelligence specialists.

It may be the ideal career if you answer yes to the following questions:

  • Do you love extracting, wrangling, organizing and analyzing complex data to uncover a story to help company management make better, faster and more informed business decisions?
  • Do you look forward to providing employees with the data, benchmarks, metrics and insights to help them be successful in their roles?
  • Do you strive for automation, optimization and continuous improvement, knowing that processes can always be improved?
  • Are you flexible, creative and detail-oriented while staying focused on the big picture?

Given that BI is rooted in business strategy and computer science, it also provides you with a lot of flexibility. The field itself is varied with plenty of different areas to focus on. If you want to change fields, finding your current focus isn't for you, it won't take an extreme effort to get up and shift areas of expertise. If you find that a more computer programming-oriented role is too isolated, then you could shift to something more face-to-face oriented -- or reversed.

In addition, many choices in direction are available when it comes to finding a job in business intelligence. The insights you can pull from data -- and what you can do with those insights -- means many different types of organizations use BI. For example, if you want to focus on something in healthcare, you could help a hospital run effectively through healthcare analytics.

If you want to work in a more isolated environment and do a deep dive into technical insights, then you can consider coding-focused positions.

There's also a need for business intelligence positions in small and large organizations. So, if you prefer the startup culture of a small organization, or the established rigidity of an already prominent organization, you should have the option open to you.

Business Intelligence Roles and Responsibilities

Because business intelligence is such a wide and varied role, plenty of different BI roles exist, each with its own different breadths of responsibilities. Some examples include BI analyst, BI developer, BI consultant and BI engineer. Each role plays a specific part in the business intelligence process.

Business intelligence analysts. They are generally responsible for analyzing the data an organization uses. These analysts typically have to dive into large data sets to find relevant data for different departments and development processes. BI analysts should be proficient in making decisions based on data-driven inferences and strategic thinking to discover new insights.

BI developers. These are engineers who are responsible for developing, deploying and maintaining business intelligence software -- the tools that help BI analysts with their work. Some of these tools, for example, can include data visualization tools such as interactive dashboards and data monitoring tools. BI developers should be proficient at developing software platforms as well as executing data-driven queries upon request -- also called data driven decision management.

BI consultants. BI consultants help an organization learn new strategies to manage its data. As such, you'll help improve the company's existing software or implement new systems to enable the organization to operate more efficiently. These consultants may have a variety of different goals, such as overseeing the improvement of internal processes, providing expertise in design development, implementing BI tools and systems, or providing designs and reports between data layer sources and ad hoc query tools. BI consultants should be proficient at a variety of tasks, such as providing reports for performance metrics, coming up with cost-effective software, comparing operational progress with project development, assisting with budget planning and creating timelines.

BI engineers. BI engineers are responsible for the full development lifecycle of data warehouses and BI reporting environments. The engineers support the implementation, production and performance management of those systems. BI engineers may also design reporting and analytical software. Basically, they help fine-tune BI-based tools and processes while maintaining a strategic implementation of those tools and processes. A BI engineer must be able to successfully collaborate with BI analysts, developers and other departments, as well as with clients.

From these four positions, you can see how the roles and responsibilities in a BI environment may differ. More technical roles, such as BI developers, work independently on specific subjects, whereas other roles, such as BI engineers or consultants, require working with others.

Common BI titles include:

  • BI Administrator
  • Business Analyst
  • Big Data Developer
  • Business Intelligence Manager
  • Database Applications Developer
  • Data Analyst
  • Data Warehouse Developer
  • Data Warehouse Engineer

Business Intelligence Skills

The skills needed for a BI role may change per position, as different positions require specific skill sets. However, some general hard and soft skills you should have include:

  • Aptitude in data analysis
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Knowledge about SQL
  • Industry-specific knowledge, such as for healthcare

Data analysis refers to the skills needed for database management, data query writing and critical thinking to determine how to gather data. You also need to know how to classify the data you collect. For problem-solving, you should be able to identify issue areas, determine factors that may contribute to issues, and develop solutions and costs estimates.

Because the skills needed for each position is different, we'll go over data science skills needed to be a BI analyst as an example. A BI analyst should possess the following skills:

Different business intelligence skills are needed in whichever area of BI you may find yourself in. A small list of some of these more technical skills include:

  • C and C++
  • Creating data-based reports
  • Data governance
  • Data visualizations
  • Debugging
  • Evaluating BI software
  • Monitoring data quality
  • Proficiency on Microsoft platforms, such as Excel and Power BI
  • Statistical analysis

BI Salaries

Salaries for BI positions vary depending on time and location. In addition, salary estimates in general when it comes to some of the more well-known websites that report average salaries. Indeed, for example, estimates the average salary for someone in BI ranges from $43,557 per year to $112,466 per year. PayScale estimates an average of $68,336 per year, while Glassdoor estimates $76,402 per year.

Your salary also depends on the type of BI position you seek. For example, the four previously mentioned roles will make an average of:

  • BI analyst: $43,557 per year
  • BI developer: $101,797 per year
  • BI consultant: $76,402 per year
  • BI engineer: $81,514 per year

Where to Find a BI Job

A good way to get started in finding a BI job is to go on LinkedIn and reach out to some BI professionals to ask if they can offer any starting advice. If you already know someone in the industry, then you'll have a much easier time getting started. You can look for jobs available online on websites such as Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Dice, AngelList or Monster. Also, you could always look up a hiring manager to help with the searching process.

When writing your resume, you should focus on your most relevant skills, tools you know how to use, your current job, certifications, side projects and educational background. There's no general BI resume template out there, but you should do your best to sound skilled and unique.

Your cover letter should emphasize any analytical skills you've used in your past jobs. Providing examples of past issues that you were able to overcome is also a good idea. Make sure to mention the skills and requirements the original job posting may have made. Additional knowledge around BI -- such as how machine learning aids in the BI process – also helps, if you have it.

You could also obtain a BI analyst certification, which may help in the process. For example, the Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP) certification, provided by Transforming Data with Intelligence (TWDI), is one of the only few professional certifications available for BI analysts. The certification shows that you know BI concepts, techniques and tools. The certification also has different levels depending on score; the Practitioner level is awarded to scores at or above 50% and the Mastery level is granted to scores at or above 70% on each of the three exams. You can also get certified in common BI tools or languages such as R, Hadoop and Python.

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