BI Strategy help wanted: should you hire or contract?

By Jim Van de Water

Recently I was talking with a services sales employee of a large data warehouse product company. He lamented that many of his clients are no longer willing to pay consultants for BI strategy services. Despite the difficulties and complexities of foundational BI strategy work, and a high risk of failure, many organizations are willing to go it alone.

Are you seeing the same sentiment in your organization? Do you think strategy work has become commoditized, like the hardware and tools used to process and deliver the data? Is the talent required to drive strategy work harder – or easier – to hire or procure?

Creating a BI strategy requires resources with proven track records. The folks that can do this work are typically hard to find and don’t work cheaply. The strategy sets the direction of efforts for dozens of people, and tens if not hundreds of thousands of hours of work, for two to five years. This is probably the wrong place to try to cut corners.

So if you’re about to make the decision to hire – or contract – talent for BI strategy work, you might want to carefully weigh your options to hire – or contract – the effort. Bring the right resources with the right knowledge to do the work.

The Right People

Survey says…

Many companies pride themselves on the longevity of their staff. Your trusted resources may have five, ten or more years of tenure. They may have a comprehensive understanding of company systems, but do they also have a fixed view of the processes and technology that surround them?  Survey internal resources to vet their qualifications. Do you have resident BI strategy experts? Do you have a high degree of confidence in available talent to step up to the challenge? Identify gaps in capabilities before finalizing strategy assignments.

What in it for me?

A strategy can end up with winners and losers on the departmental staff. A minor change in strategy is likely to mean some org chart tweaks and retraining. A major change in strategy might require new hardware, new management, perhaps even selective hiring – and layoffs.  Every resource that manages, distributes or uses the data will have a stake in the outcome of a significant strategy effort.  Will internal resources have a bias in the direction the strategy will take their department – or their careers? Will corporate objectives trump individual values?

Competition for talent

BI has been around a long time.  There are many practitioners with over 20 years of experience.  With the market for BI products and services growing 15-20% yearly, the majority of those practitioners are gainfully employed, either in corporate jobs, or – you guessed it – working for consultancies.  The competition for the right talent, at the right place and time, is intense. This is one area where short-changing can have high-cost, long-term repercussions. Does your budget permit hiring the level of talent needed to be successful?

Buyer’s remorse

The resources capable of crafting and driving your strategy will not come cheaply.  Frankly, they are at the top of the BI food chain. A full-time resource may be less expensive at the onset, but if you have to continue paying that full-time resource for the next five years at that rate, it might not look like such a bargain. A full-time hire will be paid a much higher rate relative to the market for the required level of talent needed long-term to drive the work. Later, when the work is more about execution than strategy, you won’t need someone that high up the pay scale. What is the long-term cost of the proposed staffing?

The Right Knowledge

Leverage

The cost of an actionable BI strategy is a small but critical fraction of the total project lifecycle. Leverage applied properly can help your organization prioritize development efforts, build confidence in the fledgling future state, and compete in the marketplace sooner.  Will your program have the leverage required to sustain the program and meet, if not exceed, expectations?

Specialized knowledge and accelerators

Accelerators based on legacy intellectual property are used to build out the strategy.  This includes a strategy methodology and standards, resources trained in the same, templates, project plans, and more.  What accelerators do you have available?

When is a strategy a strategy?

It’s fairly easy to think that work positioned as a ‘strategy’, a ‘blueprint’, or a ‘roadmap’ is comprehensive and actionable.  An effort labeled ‘strategy’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a strategy.  A genuine strategy will provide a clear mapping of business needs to technical outputs.  Here are some of the outputs the strategy should produce: current state assessment, defined portfolio of applications, desired future state, mapping of current to future state, and high-level project plan. What outputs are planned from your strategy effort?

Timing

Consider timing issues with proposed staff. A solid BI strategy should take no more than a couple months. How long will it take to identify the resource with the right talents and bring her or him up to speed?  Will other resources be available when needed? What are the risks these resources will be able to complete the strategy in the available timeframe? What other resources procured for the work may be standing by waiting for the results of the strategy before work starts?

Staff selection for a BI strategy project is an inflection point, a critical exercise that can make or break all your efforts. Weigh options thoroughly. Leverage the right combination of internal and external talent to deliver your strategy work.

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