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Business Intelligence Roles and Responsibilities

Originally published diciembre 4, 2007

The business intelligence (BI) team was working long hours. They were frustrated and tired. Tasks had fallen through the cracks, and now they were scrambling to make sure someone picked up the ball. Fingers were pointed back and forth. Whose responsibility was this? Wasn’t this part of your role? Why didn’t they do what they were supposed to do?

Unclear roles and responsibilities are a common issue among BI teams. There are typically three reasons why this confusion exists. First, some of the confusion stems from the fact that team members fulfill multiple roles in a BI initiative. Second, confusion stems from our assumptions about roles and our history of what those roles may have meant in a previous organization. Third, confusion stems from the dynamic nature of BI initiatives.

Business Intelligence Team Members Fulfill Multiple Roles

The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) initiated annual research in this area starting in 2000 and continuing through 2007. Based on the TDWI Salary, Roles, and Teams Report research in 2000, 91% of the BI professionals surveyed indicated that they fulfilled multiple roles on their team. On average, each BI professional filled 4.8 roles. Only 9% performed a single functional role. Although there appears to be somewhat of a trend toward more specialization, 89% of the BI professionals surveyed in 2006 still indicated that they fulfilled multiple roles. However, their average number of roles decreased to 3.27. Those performing a single functional role remained constant at 9%. Here’s the question: With the range of 4.8 to 3.27 roles, how might BI professionals describe their .8 or .27 role? If roles are shared, how do we divide the partial role to create clarity? The answer lies in defining specific responsibilities that are a subset of those roles.

Assumptions About Roles Based on History

Depending on the longevity of the team within the organization, another factor that adds to the confusion is our “historical perspective” of what a particular role “used to be” inside the organization or at a different organization. In fact, based on our experience in working with hundreds of organizations, it is clear that the terms of “title,” “role,” and “responsibility” take on different meanings within different organizations. As one example, take the title of “architect.” Titles are typically related to a human resource approved description that is tied to a salary grade or band. In one organization, the title of architect might include the roles of logical modeler and data designer. In another organization, the title of architect might include the roles of physical database designer and database optimization. In one organization, the role of logical modeler might include responsibilities for developing the third normal form and defining dimensions. In another organization, the role of logical modeler might include responsibilities for defining requirements and maintaining metadata.

Perhaps the best way to depict this issue for data professionals might be to describe the relationship between title, role and responsibility in terms of an entity relationship model. The relationship between title and role could best be depicted as a “many-to-many.” The relationship between role and responsibility could also best be depicted as a many-to-many. In essence, this represents the generic relationships across all organizations. If you want to understand the relationships more specifically, you can resolve the many-to-many’s. That creates a title/role entity and a role/responsibility entity based on that organization’s specific descriptions. If you want to create clarity in the title-role-responsibility area, this is one way to think about it.

My company was once contracted by a very large corporation that was having difficulty recruiting BI professionals for their organization. As part of our analysis, we looked at their job descriptions including titles, roles and responsibilities. Using this approach, it was quickly obvious that the human resource titles they were using to post and advertise for their jobs were not attracting the right people for the role. In their case, the titles were relevant for traditional IT jobs, but not for business intelligence. For example, they wanted to hire professionals for an ETL role, but their descriptions were based on the human resource title of senior programmer. They weren’t getting the right applicants because they hadn’t clearly communicated the associated roles and responsibilities for the titles. Many applicants didn’t connect that title to the type of work that interested them. The situation was pretty quickly resolved once the descriptions more adequately matched the responsibilities of the positions.

Dynamic Roles in Business Intelligence Initiatives

In more traditional projects, roles and responsibilities tend to be more static. Not so in the typical BI initiative. Because of the iterative nature, shorter project life cycle and the frequency of multiple simultaneous projects, resources tend to be stretched across more than one development effort. It’s also not uncommon for team members to be supporting development, production and maintenance. If a role was well-defined last month, it’s not unusual for that role to change based on the current business situation and dynamic project tasks.

My home city of Denver just hosted the World Series last month. Without getting into too much about the unfortunate performance of the Rockies, the dynamic nature of business roles and responsibilities might be compared to the roles and responsibilities of outfielders. When a fly ball is hit between two outfielders, whose responsibility is it to catch the ball? There are several possible outcomes: (1) they might both try to catch the ball, run into each other, fall down and the ball hits the turf; (2) they might both assume the other will catch the ball and the ball falls to the turf between them; (3) they might communicate in terms of “I’ve got it” or “It’s yours,” and one of them makes the play. That’s how it works in BI initiatives: we can both dive for the responsibility and step all over each other, we can make incorrect assumptions that someone else has the responsibility, or we can clearly communicate. Do you have “it” or do I have “it?” Even with the best defined titles, roles and responsibilities, in ever-changing BI initiatives, we have to communicate to make the play. We cannot create enough rules and policies to always define who does what in any given situation. The best teams clearly define responsibilities, but are flexible in determining how to shift and cover each other as the situation changes.

To improve the effectiveness of your BI team, one strategy is to increase the clarity of roles and responsibilities. By focusing on the specific responsibilities related to the specific roles related to the title at your particular organization, you can eliminate most of the assumptions and misunderstandings. This approach will also clarify partial roles since it is common that BI professionals fulfill multiple roles. Lastly, keep in mind the dynamic nature of BI teams and be willing to be flexible so that the team doesn’t drop any “fly balls.”

SOURCE: Business Intelligence Roles and Responsibilities

  • Maureen ClarryMaureen Clarry

    Maureen is the Founder and President/CEO of CONNECT: The Knowledge Network (CONNECT), an Xtivia company. CONNECT specializes in data, technical, and organizational solutions for business intelligence. Maureen has been on the faculty of TDWI since 1998, served on the Board for the Colorado Chapter of TDWI, and participates on the Data Warehousing Advisory Board for the University of Denver. CONNECT has been recognized as the South Metro Denver Small Business of the Year, the Top 25 Women Owned and Top 150 Privately Owned Businesses in Colorado. Maureen can be reached at or 303-730-7171, ext. 102.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Maureen's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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