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A day in the life… of a Business Intelligence (BI) Consultant

“Woke up, fell out of bed,

Dragged a comb across my head,

Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,

And looking up, I noticed I was late…”

My consultancy journey started around 10 months ago with Panintelligence and my mornings are not too dissimilar to this Lennon and McCartney penned classic. Some of my consultant colleagues can skip the hair combing part and I was concerned that this was a prerequisite or consequence of the role… Is this what consultancy can do to you?! But I have been in the BI world for about 10 years now and still have my hair. I was willing to risk it.

So what does a BI Consultant actually do? Really good question

We’re a bit like the Chandler Bing of the tech world; no one really knows. The analogy I used recently on an explanation to my mother was: “Think of us like an engineer that you’ve called out for Sky (other products are available) or a new boiler. We will help you implement a whole new solution, fix an old one and train you how to use it. The difference being we visit companies rather than your house and our skills are in databases and dashboard software, not dishes and pressure valves”.

That said, us Pi consultants are all about finding a solution and solving a problem, so I reckon we’d give plumbing a house a pretty good go between us*.

*THIS IS NOT ON OUR CURRENT LIST OF PROFESSIONAL SERVICE OFFERINGS.

My background is in databases, SQL (or Seequell) and report development. I’d worked in several different sectors providing reporting solutions and insights into what all their data actually means. I’ve used several BI tools in the past but I now travel around the country providing dashboard solutions by implementing Pi and ‘writing a bit of code’ as my girlfriend often articulates it. Every day is different, the variety in the role is endless due to the world of technology moving at such a rate that no one has time to even develop a metric for it. There is always something new to learn, something new to break and more importantly, something new to implement that provides a customer with an insight into their business they weren’t aware of.

Most people in the world at some point in their lives have created a ‘report’, probably in Microsoft Excel (the most brilliant and misused BI tool there is) because it’s there on the office computer and the boss is shouting at you that they need THIS MONTHS FIGURES NOW! But your life can be easier than that, and it’s our job to help you through that process.

Personally and professionally we store loads of data but what’s the point if someone or something doesn’t try to interpret it? We won’t learn, improve or help anything otherwise. Databases are just like brains; some are good, some are bad, some are organised and some are disorganised. It’s all a CASE of what you need and WHEN you want it THEN making it happen, ELSE it’s another solution. END of. Now that’s a statement.

As consultants, we tend to have an idea of how a database will work and how to create a chart but the key to making it a success is a collaboration with the people who have the domain or business knowledge. Our role is to assist the companies we visit by making it easier to make business decisions because of the data they now have available to them. Well actually, they already probably had it available but maybe didn’t know where it was or how to interpret it. Over the years I’ve picked up knowledge of different sectors but the expert is already in the business, we’re just providing them with the tools to express that expertise.

The role is massively rewarding when you see a customer’s face change as they see visualisations of the data that was previously hidden to them. This often includes them shouting over to a colleague or picking up the phone in haste to clarify this new found insight.

“Have we really sold that many of them?!”

“Did it take us 30 days to do that?!”

“Who’s Dave?!”

The role obviously has it’s challenges too but who wants an easy life? The most common of these include:

  • “Why are there 3 versions of Mrs Robinson?”
    • No, not the multi covered Simon & Garfunkel tune; the data integrity. A database is just like a human; ingest loads of rubbish and it won’t be a pretty picture. Whether this is an accounting system or a bespoke piece of software, you’d be amazed at the number of fascinating ways people can spell the same thing. Let’s not even get started on date formats.
  • “I don’t know where the server is”
    • This is more a time-consuming challenge. Dependent on the company set up and the data trying to be accessed, we may take a magical mystery tour through multiple remote desktop connections, screen shares, outsourced IT companies and TCP errors just to get our first taste of the information. When arriving onsite and welcomed with the words: “We’ve set you up an account and login on the server, here’s the details”, I sometimes want to hug them. Probably inappropriate but if you know, you know.
  • “How long?!”
    • This is a commonly asked question/argument in any business, by any customer and especially on the wait time at A&E. Managing expectations is something that can be difficult because we live in a culture of NOW! Well established businesses that don’t even know they had a server (“oh that thing over there in the corner?”) with multiple systems and data issues galore, can still be surprised that you can’t solve problems they’ve had for 15 years, in a day. The answer is just making sure that everyone’s expectations are managed. We’re amazing, you probably know that by now but we only have two arms like everyone else. Evolution may be kind and gift consultants with a 3rd arm soon, but it should probably go to surgeons and nurses first. I’ll get it added to the company roadmap though.

 

Well, maybe it turns out I do have an idea of what a BI Consultant does after all.

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