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There is a department at my company called Business Intelligence (BI). They mostly build reports and configure SSRS, SSIS and related Microsoft technologies. Most of them barely understand SQL (even though they work with databases all day long) and fewer know anything about writing software.

At other companies, BI had very little to do with IT. I am curious if my current company is simply mislabeling/misunderstanding what these folks do. Or is this what BI is really all about?

If they aren't true BI, does anyone know what the proper name for their position is? It will be helpful when trying to hire new people so we don't end up wasting their time.

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closed as off-topic by Florian Margaine, Jimmy Hoffa, Mathew Foscarini, MichaelT, BЈовић Jul 31 '13 at 7:02

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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about asking about other fields than programming and feels more like a rant. –  Florian Margaine Jul 30 '13 at 15:06
You know, the CEO makes more money than you. Yet he probably knows nothing about technology. I don't really understand why you're comparing salaries like this. –  Florian Margaine Jul 30 '13 at 15:07
Business intelligence is an oxymoron. –  Mathew Foscarini Jul 30 '13 at 15:22
I noticed you edited your question, which reads much better so I've given you an upvote. If I was in your position I'd be just as frustrated. –  Daniel Hollinrake Jul 30 '13 at 15:49
I am a Business Intelligence specialist and if they don't know SQL at the expert level, they are incompetent pure and simple. You cannot do SSIS packages or SSRS reports effectively witrhout knowing advanced SQL. Yes you can throw something together but it is likley that it will be incorrect and the people who are relying on the reports will not know it. These people are more than incompetent, they are dangerous to the organization as real world decisions are being based data provided through their incompetence. –  HLGEM Jul 30 '13 at 18:46

3 Answers 3

One of the things to bear in mind is what the company is selling. A lot of IT firms, and users of their services, live and breathe reports. They want to know how well these services are working for them. If you can't provide this information then your competitor will.

That said, if the people working in your BI section don't know much about SSRS and SQL then your company is in deep trouble.

The chap who writes the reports and the SQL behind it at my current firm certainly knows his stuff. He deserves his salary. Mind you, he is a skilled DBA. What he has done is take a very poor set of reports and dramatically improve them. Now, our customers trust what we are telling them and can work with useful relevant information.

Most people working with IT don't understand what it does, or care for that matter, but as soon as you are talking money then they very rapidly start paying attention.

I'm not certain if I directly answered your question but I might have given you a few insights.

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Based on the feedback I have received so far, I think the job title is correct but the skill levels don't match. It sounds like these people should be capable of understanding databases and be masters of the tools. We may need to be more critical in upcoming interviews. –  Travis Parks Jul 30 '13 at 15:23
@TravisParks, a reporting specialist should be able to write a long SQL statement (with maybe 15-20 joins and 10 where conditions) that runs fast. Never hire anyone for a role like this who is not expert in performance tuning as reporting is often where the worst of the performance issues lie. In interviewing ask them how they would replace a correlated subquery to get the code to run faster. Another good question is to ask them what they don't like about SSIS (If they say nothing, they don't know SSIS very well.) Ask them how they would scrub data. –  HLGEM Jul 30 '13 at 18:53

If those guys are taking raw data and turning it into something useful for business purposes then yes the job title applies.

As for the salary, it's a matter of perspective. If these people aren't good with SQL and don't write software, what are their core competencies?

For example, are they CPA's capable of making sense of data that a software developer or architect might have trouble with?

The point is, just because someone works with technology doesn't make them a technologist. They may bring something else and of equal value to the table.

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Non-geek people are working their way into IT areas, getting the higher salaries and getting to be the bosses of us geeks. –  user61852 Jul 30 '13 at 15:07
They don't seem to have any particular business focus. For instance, they aren't accountants. The reports they make can help a business to make decisions, but they have as much of an outsider's understanding of the business as any other developer would. –  Travis Parks Jul 30 '13 at 15:14
Seems like something's missing though. It doesn't make sense that they would hire some randoms to whack together business reports. –  Tombatron Jul 30 '13 at 15:35

Business Intelligence is about transforming data into information, and aiding the business in making data based decisions. That sounds like a marketing-speak cliche, but it isn't really - it's about identifying the subsets of useful data from a large data set, and creating reports or other display mechanisms for end users to get the appropriate information from that data.

To that end, these people are indeed performing the Business Intelligence role. They work with data, they are involved in the transformation and presentation of data, and they primarily bridge the gap between 'the business' (users) and the data.

They do not need to be programmers. I'd be somewhat surprised if they don't understand SQL, but there are plenty of people who don't understand much outside the core responsibility of their role. A good BI developer should understand the data model on a conceptual level (relationships, limitations, design decisions that have been made) whether or not they are able to implement that data model.

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