MVP Series: Business Intelligence Grows Up

For the month of October and November we are thrilled to have special guest authors from the Canadian MVP Award Program contributing posts around their favourite tips, tricks & features of SQL 2014. For the next few weeks, we will be posting a different article from one of our Canadian SQL Server MVPs each week. We hope you enjoy them, please feel free to leave a comment!



sqlbelleDonabel Santos (@sqlbelle) is a 4-time SQL MVP and an instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) School of Computing and Academic Studies, where she teaches database courses – SQL Server Administration/Development/Business Intelligence, and MySQL. In her career, she has worn many different hats – trainer (been teaching/training since 2003!), developer (design, scripts, stored procedures, functions, tuning, troubleshooting, SQLCLR, SQLXML, integration with ERPs, CRMs and PowerShell), DBA (installing, configuring, tuning, maintenance, transaction log shipping, replication, database mirroring, partitioning etc), BI developer (SSRS, SSIS, ETL, SSAS, OLAP, Cubes, MDX) – but one thing remains she still finds working with SQL Server a lot of fun!

Business Intelligence Grows Up _________________________________________________________________

We are in the era of data explosion. Individuals and companies now capture more data than ever. Data now streams from many different sources – smartphones, tablets, cloud services, sensors, TVs. With the vastness of data now comes the challenge of how to use that data, and how to make sense of it.

Businesses are now starting to realize how much data they have, and how much more other data they can probably tap into. The struggle is no longer how to look for an answer, but how to look for the right answer to a question. Companies now look into specialists who can help take the data and extract meaningful insights from it.

Business Intelligence has grown up. Usually companies would have looked for “data analysts” or “business intelligence analysts”, but in the recent years companies have started demanding more specializedspecialists. Some would require vertical-specific analysts – for verticals like Insurance, Real Estate or Healthcare, while others might require function-specific analysts – for departments HR, Finance, Marketing.

It’s no longer just a “BI” world. Business Intelligence has evolved, and so has analytics.

Marketing Intelligence (Marketing Analytics). As a company, you’re always “selling” something. Be it an actual product, or professional services, or ad clicks. Folks in marketing need to decide the best way to market the company, to increase customer base, and to retain customers. Marketing is about understanding your market, your customers and the potential for capturing new customer bases. Marketing intelligence is all about these – but using data to make the decisions. Instead of gambling and relying on gut choices, data can be analyzed and mined to understand who would buy and who would click.

Marketing intelligence is becoming part of the mainstream. Courses are even offered specifically for this field at reputable schools like University of California, Berkeley (

Gaming Intelligence (Gaming Analytics). The gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, especially in the advent of high end sophisticated gaming consoles, the introduction of games for mobile devices, and the invention of the word “freemium”.

Online games are a goldmine for data. Your online activity would be captured over time – as well as all the thousands or millions who play with you. The gaming industry needs to know what tickles you, and people like you. What games would you buy? How much would you buy? How long will you play the game? What aspects of the game keep you interested? What other games would you play?

This area has become pretty big that it has its own conference. Did you know there is a Game Analytics Summit? The goal of the Gaming Analytics Summit is to Reshape the Industry with Data Insight.

Talent Intelligence (Talent Analytics). Many companies know that employee turnover can be quite costly and sometimes catastrophic, depending on whom the company will lose. In today’s market especially with demand for skilled workers that cannot be filled, employee retention could spell great success for your company, especially if you retain your top employees. But how do you keep them from looking and jumping ship? Is it all about the salary? And if they stay, how long would they stay? How do you keep them motivated? How do you keep them productive?

Enter talent intelligence. Many companies sit on top of a pile of data about applicants, current employees, former employees, career progression etc. Talent intelligence is all about understanding your company and your company culture – understanding what works, what doesn’t and what can be changed to get to your goal. This goal has probably been around ever since HR departments were born. However, the landscape changes now because of the data that has been, and can still be, collected to better analyze what types of employees your company needs, and what it takes to retain your high performance employees.

Health Intelligence (Health Analytics). I first became exposed to the term Health Intelligence when I met Ramon Martinez ( – first through Twitter, and later on in person, although very brief. Ramon maintains an impressive personal blog about Health Analytics. He has covered topics like causes of the death in the last century, prevalence of diseases like diabetes, infant mortality rate around the world, and forecasts on the Ebola outbreak.

For me, Ramon’s website demonstrates what can be done with health data and analytics together. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many sources of health data that are open to the public, and there are people like Ramon who can look at the data and correlate with other sources to discover patterns that may not have been seen before.

Can you imagine if we can anticipate when the next flu outbreak is, what factors lead to these outbreaks, and what can be done to prevent it? And then let’s extrapolate that to other diseases or epidemics. What we do with this knowledge is ultimately up to us, but having this knowledge around gives us the option to do something bigger for the world.

Current workforce grows with it

These new areas of specialization are opening up new niches in the workforce. New business intelligence/analytics roles that have not existed in the past years are posted every day that try to attract professionals with skills in business intelligence with another domain expertise. Below are a few of what I found in a job search engine today:

Indeed, BI has grown up, and the workforce is growing with it. This opens up a myriad of possibilities for current BI and analytics professionals. But with these opportunities come responsibilities. As BI professionals, we have to evolve too. We have to keep up with the available and upcoming technologies, tools, skills and knowledge that help us help these companies make sense of their data, and really use it to make smart business decisions.