Friday, September 25, 2009

SELECT SUM(blessings) FROM working_in_bi

If you’re working in the business intelligence industry, you should really count your blessings.  Mind you, you can do that if you’re employed anywhere these days.  But there’s something special about what I call the “BI Family”.  I’m not referring to a specific segment of BI, and I am not focusing on any particular job function. I’m talking about working in the BI industry as a whole.

I feel somewhat qualified to comment on this because, in the past twenty years, I’ve worked in numerous industries.  To name a few: life sciences, research, semi-conductor, telecom, payroll, accounting, systems integration, consulting, audio-visual, online media, financials, accounting, and insurance.  So I have a lot of background to compare from.  And believe me, there are worse adoption outcomes than membership in the “BI Family”.  Here’s my subjective top ten list of why working in this industry is really cool (no specific order).

#1. Brains
People are really smart. I’m not suggesting other industries spawn dummies, but the proportion of high IQs in the BI world always amazes me.  It’s often humbling and always stimulating.

#2. Strength
As we all know, the BI market is not only huge, but getting larger and growing yearly to the tune of 8-10% a pop. Other industries are not so healthy to say the least.   Simply put, BI is clearly not a fad, and no one questions its future.  It’s one of the fuels of our free-market system by protecting businesses and providing them with competitive tools.

 #3. Meaning
Guy Kawasaki says: “make meaning”.  He’s right.  Life’s too short to be in a meaningless industry.  And if BI isn’t about making meaning then I don’t know what is.  The whole purpose of the industry is to make meaning and support critical decision making.  This industry yields real-life significant solutions to crucial sectors like health, research, medicine, and defense (to name a very few).  

#4. Quality of life
In light of ominous HR predictions, news of recurring layoffs, and current employment trends in the IT industry, the BI sector has been relatively spared. Clearly I haven’t done any formal polling but I get the “vibe” that people are generally pretty happy to be in this game.  And why not. Compensation is generally good.  And location-wise, BI companies are clustered around national funding clusters namely Northern California and the New York/Boston areas.  These comprise some of the most magnificent (and most expensive, granted) landscapes and vibrant urban areas in the country.  Other industries have centers in, shall we say, less compelling geographic areas.

#5. Funding
I lamented the VC situation in my previous post, and clearly this doesn’t apply to all segments of BI, but if you have any sort of compelling BI proposition with the word “cloud” in your business plan, trust me you will get a VC’s attention.  Maybe not an official invite to pitch in person, but most likely a phone call.  In other industries, that opportunity is long gone.

#6. Gratification
BI projects used to take many months (sometimes years) to implement (when they even got completed).  But nowadays the industry is in “agile” mode.  And those who don’t embrace that won’t likely be in this business much longer.  This means you get to build solutions and see results quickly.  That’s gratifying. 

#7. Globalism
BI is world-wide.  True, so are most other industries, but from my experience, there is less of an “us versus them” attitude.  It has a fraternal feel to it.  Hands and minds seamlessly reach across continents in ways I have not experienced elsewhere. (I’ll go hug a tree now).

#8. Bozos
Most people are genuinely nice and unassuming.  I know this sounds naïve at best but it’s true.  I have not seen the level of ego, axe grinding, or personal animosity frequent in other industries.  Every contact I’ve initiated from top analysts to CEOs in this industry has been followed up promptly with courteous, genuine and insightful discussion. I’ve found most people to be more generous with their time and advice than in many other industries. Maybe they fear less for their jobs or fancy titles. In either case, the BI industry is fairly low on the bozo scale.

#9. Passion
People in BI are passionate about their field.  I’m not saying they get out of bed every morning to go save the world (onward BI soldiers), but overall they value their work and their contribution.  Most people I’ve met in this business are workaholics.  They know their stuff inside-out and boy do they love to talk about it.  Passion signals a great, vibrant industry.  Additionally (and this key), there seems to be better customer advocacy in this industry than others.  It’s not perfect, but vendors often do listen and react accordingly.

#10. Innovation
I hate to reveal this well-kept secret (don’t tell anyone!), but there isn’t a lot of desire to innovate in the financial, accounting or insurance fields, for example.  I’d be preaching to the choir by pointing out the myriad of new-breed ADBMS players out there, but also the multitude of new OLAP, data mining and analysis products, approaches and new (non-relational) ways of looking at data, cloud BI, EC2, etc.  We’ve seen orders of magnitude of both hardware and software innovation in the BI world.  It is a rich intellectual field teaming with innovation levels typical of a “new frontier” because it is.

So what’s the point of this apologist diatribe?  Just to remind people in this field to count their blessings. There are many worse places and industries to be in.  And it’s easy to take things for granted in the heat and excitement of daily business life.     

In the past eighteen months I’ve met many challenges in this business.  From coding to QA, to technical writing, from sales engineering to evangelism, from product management to market analysis. You name it.  So I’ve seen a lot of the facets in a very intense, very short amount of time.  

And I’ve also been lucky to interact with numerous players in the industry, many of which have generously spent time and resources supporting my self-education efforts with their insight, connections, and advice.  You guys (and gals) know who you are and I thank you for the help. There are many mensches in this business.

For the first time in my life, I think I can say I’ve found a home here in the BI industry.  I’ve never felt this way in the past twenty years, and I’m not exactly sure how to explain it, but like the old pair of shoes my wife keeps insisting I ditch, it just feels right and I’d like to keep it that way.

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