Image: Sainsbury's CDO Andrew Day
Image: Sainsbury's CDO Andrew Day

Gartner predicts that by 2020, 80% of organisations will train staff in data literacy and the same percentage will show data as an asset on the balance sheet. Data is the lifeblood of businesses today but without being able to parse it into actionable insights and outcomes, it's as good as useless.

A business intelligence analyst draws important insights from data that can then be used to inform strategy - everything from boosting sales to increasing employee satisfaction.

Important data can be trapped in a number of different ways - some of your most useful information could be held on siloed or archaic databases, for example. And sometimes the data that's considered most important for companies today could change tomorrow, whether that is related to the collection of the data or prioritising different business needs.

"When I joined the business the most obvious things were around customers, customer-based analytics and CRM sort of stuff,” says Sainsbury's Chief Data Officer Andrew Day. “But actually, the bigger opportunity is in product-based analytics and the fusing together of data from the product world and the customer world to create something that is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Gathering data on business activities is a must for any company, but should you have a dedicated business intelligence analyst? And how would you go about hiring one?

Here, we run through all of the issues surrounding this topic.

Does your enterprise need a business intelligence analyst?  

Business intelligence tools are vital to companies, but increasingly, there is a plethora of online, DIY data capture and analysis tools that are available.

For more ideas on which business intelligence tools to use, see here.  

With this in mind, should companies still be looking to hire a full time role based on business intelligence analysis? It depends on a number of factors.

Firstly, it's important to consider how much and what types of data the company is collecting. The scale of the data is an important factor in whether or not you need a business intelligence analyst. For example, for startups or newly established companies that are not collecting a huge wealth of data, it's probably not necessary to hire someone for this particular role. To create meaningful inferences and advice based on data, most business intelligence analysts will require many data points - we're talking in the tens of thousands at the minimum.

Defining clear business objectives will help your organisation determine the data points that it needs to examine: which insights are important and why?

You also need to construct a clearly defined outline of the tasks involved in this role - what will they be doing and how will they carry out this role successfully? You need to be able to give the business intelligence analyst a comprehensive understanding of what they are hoping to achieve when they start to work with you.

Also to consider is whether instead of hiring outside of the organisation, you could simply extend the role of a current staff member's job to include analysis of business intelligence data. An appropriate employee for this role could be the person currently tasked with gathering the data and selecting which data to collect. This approach of course avoids the necessity of sourcing external talent on the highly competitive job market.

For more information on how CIOs are developing the skills of their workforce, see here 

How do you hire the best business intelligence analyst?

If, after making these considerations, your company is still eager to hire a business intelligence analyst for this position, there still remains a lot of decision making. Firstly, the company must clearly define the role, which particular data sets they are interested in, as well as how these insights will inform actionable outcomes.  

If aiming to hire a junior business intelligence analyst, it's important to consider the resources and mentors available to them within the company. Analysing real data sets with business objectives in mind is a lot more difficult and messy than the data the candidate was likely tasked with handling at university. Therefore, it's essential to have more senior staff members acting in a guidance role if you wish to get the best from your new employee.

Even if hiring a senior staff member, the channels of communication and management structure needs to be fully considered, to ensure that there is enough support for the new staff member to complete their objectives.

Besides this, advice on how to hire the best business intelligence analyst can focus on best hiring practices for any other position. For example, projecting a strong image of the company's brand and work culture, offering a generous employment package, and conducting an efficient hiring process.

For more information about how CIOs retain the best staff, see here.