Register now for - "Analytics for Power Users: Practices and Products You Need to Know" - Wednesday, December 13, 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

What Makes a Good BI Director?

What Makes a Good BI Director?

It goes without saying that a director of business intelligence (BI) leads the BI program. But what isn’t said enough—or at all –is the kinds of leadership skills a BI director must possess to succeed in the role. 

The BI director is the proverbial “purple person”—not “blue” in the business or “red” in information technology (IT), but a perfect blend of each—or purple. As such, the BI director sits between the business sponsors, division heads and business analysts on one side and the IT department with its data architects, ETL developers, database administrators, systems analysts and product support personnel on the other. (See figure 1.) 

Figure 1. BI Director Role

Image title

To bridge the perennial gulf between the business and IT groups, the BI director must have a foot in both worlds, serving as an intermediary who translates business desires into technical solutions and, conversely, technical constraints into business reality. As such, it is critical for a BI director to possess strong communication and interpersonal skills. 

On the business side, the BI director must understand the goals, drivers and processes in a business unit or department and suggest technology solutions that solve business problems in terms business people can understand. On the technology side, the BI director must have the technical background to gain the confidence of the architecture and development teams, which need to know that the director isn’t going to overpromise results and shortchange project time or product quality. 

Figure 1 above depicts six tasks a BI director must manage and the people who report to him. The acronym SCAGGS is a handy reference to describe these tasks:

  1. Sell.  Above all things, the BI director must sell and evangelize the value of BI, analytics, and data management to all who will listen, especially executive sponsors who fund the program, but also business users of the solutions and IT managers who support the program. Selling is a perpetual endeavor since people come and go and new hires must be reminded or convinced about the value of BI and analytics if they are going to lend their support.
  2. Coordinate. A BI director doesn’t just manage a corporate team; the director manages a federated team with matrixed reporting responsibilities. Thus, the first task of a BI director is to identify everyone in the organization who creates BI, data, or analytical solutions of any type and align them with the BI Center of Excellence. The director then needs to coordinate this diverse set of distributed individuals, ensure they interact appropriately, and align their output so the entire organization, not just a department or division, benefits from their work. Ultimately, the BI director needs to balance enterprise standards with speed and agility.
  3. Agree. Once the BI director identifies all “BI doers” in the organization, she needs to bring them together on a regular basis so they can interact, collaborate, and align their activities and approaches. Ideally, the individuals within the Center of Excellence share best practices and agree on the tools, processes, and approaches for building and managing projects. The goal is to set standards that make everyone more productive and effective, not less. Standards reduce the number of decisions people need to make, allowing them to focus on what really matters—building good solutions quickly.  Standards also increase organizational flexibility by allowing people to move into new positions with minimal ramp up time.
  4. Govern. The BI director must also govern data and reports. Ideally, there is a separate, but aligned, data governance organization that sets definitions for key data elements and manages the processes for changing definitions, adding new data elements to the dictionary, and implementing the rules. But in the absence, of such a committee, the BI director must bridge the gap and establish standards that will be used in corporate reports and dashboards. On the reporting side, the BI director must maintain a catalog of existing reports and their embedded data objects that developers can use to accelerate development, foster reuse and minimize report chaos.
  5. Gather. The BI director also runs a development shop and thus is in charge of gathering requirements and building applications. However, there is a caveat here. The director is responsible for SOME analytical applications—specifically, those complex or cross-functional applications that require corporate expertise to develop. All the rest, are built by business analysts and report specialists in the business units who are closer to the people, processes, data and problems that the application is designed to address. These business unit applications are not silos, however. Since the individuals are part of the BI Center of Excellence, they build applications using standard processes, tools, and data to ensure enterprise alignment.
  6. Standardize. As mentioned above, the BI director is in charge of developing and maintaining standard tools, processes, and data. But not in the traditional heavy-handed way. As already discussed, The BI director uses a collaborative approach to define standards and implement them. In this way, the BI director resolves the dialectic tension between business and IT, speed and standards, enterprise and divisions, casual users and power users, and reporting and analytics.

Relationship Managers. Obviously, being the “Boz SCAGGS” of BI is a lot of work. So the BI director needs a team of BI specialists to help with all the tasks listed above. I call these people BI relationship managers. They are senior requirements analysts or business analysts that the BI director recruited to work on the BI team. (Add “recruiter” to the list of tasks of a BI director.) BI relationship managers aren’t your average BI order takers—they are purple people who bridge the worlds of business and technology and serve in a consultative role to the business.

Embedded BI Staff. On the other end of the spectrum are the embedded BI professionals—report writers, data architects, and perhaps even an ETL developer or two—who work side by side with business analysts in the business units and convert ad hoc reports into repeatable production reports with certified data.  They report directly to the business unit head and indirectly to the BI director who oversees their professional development and aligns their work so it’s reusable by other business units.

Data Scientists. Finally, there are statisticians and data scientists who sit at corporate but are aligned with individual business units and report directly to the BI director (or more likely, a director of analytics, who is a peer of the BI director with whom he works closely.) These skills analytical professionals tend to be more academic and collegial and focus more on projects than the embedded BI staff who focus more on business issues.

Without the right person in the position of BI director, the BI program will not fulfill its promise. The role of BI director requires a senior person with significant business and technical experience and strong interpersonal and communication skills

Wayne Eckerson

Wayne Eckerson is an internationally recognized thought leader in the business intelligence and analytics field. He is a sought-after consultant and noted speaker who thinks critically, writes clearly and presents...

More About Wayne Eckerson