Business analytics is a hot career right now. Here’s why I’m smiling and nodding as it goes whizzing past:
Analytics projects start as short term experiments. This sounds awesome at first for consultants because you can parachute in, jump on the data, and give the business actionable information. You can use whatever tools you want right now – and boy, do you have choices.
There’s an analytics gold rush, which means many competing tools. To make money during a gold rush, you don’t mine gold – you sell mining supplies. Companies see the rush to analytics, so they’re slinging all kinds of tools out there to see what sticks. Think back through the last several PASS keynotes, and every one of them had a wildly different strategy for what data consumption meant. I don’t see the market settling on a winner this year or next year.
The real work in any analytics project: ETL. When the company points you at the data, you have to figure out how to make sense of it. 99% of all data is garbage. (See, I just made that statistic up, and it’s garbage too.) The big problem with big data is big cleansing – even the most basic tutorials devolve into data cleansing. I hate dealing with letters where I’m supposed to find numbers, or trying to figure out what Combo #3 meant four years ago.
ETL means boring meetings. Be prepared to spend hours around conference room tables clarifying the options for a particular field over time, what a birthdate of 00/00/1900 means in someone’s medical record, or why Mrs. Jones’ orders don’t really map up to Mrs. Jones. Booooring.
Bottom line: that’s not for me. Short-lived ETL projects with disposable, immature tools run by easily replaceable staff – that’s where I click unsubscribe. Most of you probably aren’t interested in it either – if you’re reading this, odds are you’ve already got a decently paying job in databases or development or systems administration. Be careful what bets you place in your career – catch a ride going up the salary ladder, not going down.
So who’s doing it? People who love helping businesses get that “Eureka!” moment, and can afford to place some risky short-term bets. There’s a lot of money in this at the moment, and if you do it right, you can build a consulting business around it. Once the money’s coming in, you can subcontract out the boring parts like ETL and meetings, and spend your time learning about The Next Great Thing. That way, when today’s expensive analytics project becomes yesterday’s commoditized business intelligence project, you’re ready to surf the next high-value wave.