Improve my business intelligence.
February 19, 2010 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Looking for advice on how to plan a career move into an IT field (business intelligence, specifically). Right now I am an end-user with no IT experience or expertise.

Right now I work as an analyst in a Financial Planning & Analysis department of a pretty large firm. I’ve been doing this for roughly five years, and while I like the job well enough, I don’t love it. I’ve done this work in two different organizations, and the part of the work that has appealed to me the most is working with business intelligence platforms and working with them to find out the unique ways they can build reports, query data, etc. I really, really, enjoy this aspect of the job. So far I have experience with Microstrategy and IBM Cognos TM1.

In my organization now we have a Director of BI, who is probably unique in that he knows our industry well, he knows FP&A well, and he knows the inner workings of BI systems, data warehousing, etc. His job is to maintain the BI system, make sure it's running, implement necessary improvements, etc. This job seems pretty appealing to me, but I have literally none of the IT expereince and expertise necessary to have a job like this. I think I would really dig being in a position where I'm a liason between the finance/operations/general business side of things and the IT side as this person is.

I know there are BI jobs out there, but most require some IT background that I just do not have. I have no functional work experience in any IT-related field (especially DBA and data warehousing, which seem big here) but I'm totally willing to work to get it.

What is the best way to do this? Bonus points for methods that don't involve getting another degree. I'd rather have more hands-on experience that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, though I'm certainly willing to take some classes. Thanks!
posted by PFL to Work & Money (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
On phone, so can't type long reply, but the essential part of my advice is: talking with the people at your current firm who are in BI.
posted by demagogue at 7:10 AM on February 19, 2010

I know there are BI jobs out there, but most require some IT background that I just do not have.

Try approaching it from a project management standpoint, rather than a purely technical standpoint. Someone will have to build the systems, and that someone needs someone else to ensure everything runs smoothly and the right people and resources are provided at the right times.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:11 AM on February 19, 2010

The IT side of a BI application like Cognos involves sizing hardware (disk resources, CPU), defining and running operation schedules (many BI applications present views of data files rebuilt nightly, weekly or monthly, if run in batch environments, or, in OLAP environments, in real time), and operating communication/network resources. In addition, IT generally handles software and hardware upgrades and maintenance, security/operations/user training, and either provides or contracts whatever custom programming/SQL/database support is necessary to build BI applications.

An IT degree is generally the expected minimum for a senior IT person responsible for a system running a BI application, usually over an ERP system which provides the transaction and accounting foundation. In addition, significant vendor application training, in both the underlying transaction/accounting systems and in the BI application are usually needed. Sometimes, in small shops, I have seen a person with many years of operations experience rise to an IT manager or director level, without an academic backround in IT or CompSci, by virtue of long term loyalty to a particular company, particularly when the business model is fairly static, and there is not great demand for customization, or on-going BI application development, making reliance on contract programming resources and maintenance and upgrade planning more a vendor responsibility.

But even in these situations, the IT operations staff is expected to have a good deal of SQL familiarity and to know how to handle the operating environment of the system, on a daily support basis. In larger shops, specialization can occur, resulting in lower level DBA and user support jobs, which may allow you to develop skills on an employer's training dime, as you work there, if you're willing to put in the time in junior IT positions. The later problem for many people who get into IT jobs through that path, is that much of what they learn and know is vendor/company specific, and is thus hard to apply in new environments in subsequent jobs.

Another means of acquiring IT/BI knowledge and experience, is to get on with a consulting company, doing client installs, upgrades, and training. Here, your essential value as a minimally experienced person is your willingness to travel constantly, live in hotel rooms in the middle of nowhere, and be nice to everyone you meet in your temporary work settings, while you are being billed out at 5x what you earn. In exchange, you'll generally get a fair shot at a good amount of vendor training, and some contact, if you're willing to stick it out, with some of the hotshots of the consulting business, in larger vendor support roles. And if the traveling life does appeal to you, you can make a good living at it.
posted by paulsc at 8:20 AM on February 19, 2010

I won't get the bonus points but you may consider studying for the ITIL Foundation certificate. It will give you an overview of the terminology and key concepts of IT at a very high level. And it won't cost you an arm & leg either. The certification itself cost a bit more than 100USD and you can find a lot of free material on the web to prepare for it.
posted by rom1 at 8:22 AM on February 19, 2010

Response by poster: A couple follow-up points: I am very new at this position and don't feel 100% grilling the BI people about how to get their job just yet. This is definitely something I will do when a little more time passes.

Also, regarding the consulting route: before I took this job, I had a soft offer to join a consulting group that specialized in IT implementations for healthcare companies - mostly electronic records management. This door may still be open. Would this be a good way to break in to the IT world or should I look for something more BI-specific?

Thanks so far everyone!
posted by PFL at 9:25 AM on February 19, 2010

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