Posted by  Lance Mercereau  Published on  15 Dec 2014
  • Data Strategy

How many decision-makers are required to produce a dashboard? This question sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it’s not.

Besides curiosity, I am keen to find an answer so I can calculate and compare the total cost of an on premise business intelligence / analytics to a cloud version.

It’s a good exercise to go through, if only to remind ourselves of where technology has come from and where it’s headed. Search online, and you’re likely to quickly find an article or piece of research that predicts the end of traditional BI as we know it.
What interests me is the economics behind this change, and what many should consider in terms of future career paths.

(There is an upside to these changes because when some jobs go away, new ones emerge. In an era of data, professionals that know-how and are comfortable with data will be in high demand. These include, for example, at a senior level, the chief data officer (CDO). My colleague, Hugh Cox, himself a CDO, has written about this emergent role.)

Here are three roles that are under threat from cloud computing and, specifically, business user friendly BI and analytics offerings.

  • The business analyst has strong technical expertise and knows how to work with reporting systems in order to produce dashboards for executives to view. If the executive wants to change the dashboard, or any information in the dashboard, the business analyst will provide the necessary support, which may require turning to the database administrator.
    • Outlook: The future of the business analyst is safe because there will always be a need for him or her to support the decision-maker.
  • The database administrator is someone who understands where the data resides and how it is structured. The database administrator may develop the appropriate ETL tools and liaise with the business to understand how the data needs to be repurposed.
    • Outlook: The future of the database administrator looks less promising because business-user friendly technologies will give the business analyst and decision-maker direct access to the database.
  • The enterprise architect will consider the longer term implications of the changes to systems to accommodate new ways of working and will work between the business and IT to deliver a production solution.
    • Outlook: The future of the enterprise architect will safe but the role will change considerable from focusing on systems to data. The driving force behind this shift, like mainstream IT departments today, is the desire of CIOs to outsource non-core management of information systems delivered as a service via the cloud.

In a large organization running complex ERP and reporting systems, getting data from the source, preparing the data and developing the dashboard for the executive, can takes days, if not weeks. We haven’t even taken into consideration change requests from the top down.

Something has to change when decisions are reliant on a team of many because it’s simply not sustainable. It’s too costly when non-technical employees (95% of an organization’s staff) have no way of creating views or information dashboards that integrate all of their relevant data in a unified business intelligence platform.

So, going back to my question about how many decision-makers are required to produce a dashboard, the answer really comes down to every organization and its comfort level in empowering employees with the right tools to integrate, cleanse and enrich data themselves.

For most, initially, the traditional hierarchy of having one decision-maker supported by numerous technical experts including a business analyst, a database administrator, an enterprise architect and a third-party consultant is acceptable – even if it’s a low decision-maker to technical expert ratio.

For others, the organizations that want to move decision-making closer to the speed of business, the temptation to change is too strong. They look at the traditional hierarchy and explore ways of getting their employees closer to the data as possible – where there is a decision-maker to technical expert ratio.

At the moment, I believe, there is no right or wrong here. There is only competitive advantages. In the future, just like a 50 years ago when it required a few telephone operators and technical experts to support one caller, decision-makers will be self-sufficient.