Paul Schuliger, Business Intelligence Consultant, Key2 Consulting
By: Paul Schuliger

What makes someone a great Business Intelligence consultant?

Is it the fact that they know Business? Or are they bringing a vast amount of Intelligence to the job that no one else has? Or is it that they are a leading expert in a field that allows them to be a Consultant and showcase their skillset?

Here’s why I’m asking these questions.

I have been in and around BI projects for the better part of 20 years.  And as I look back on the projects that were successful, they were not the ones that had the “smartest” BI consultants.

Through my experience, it’s become clear to me that the most successful projects are those that combine the business knowledge of the customer with the collective experience and skills of the BI consultants. And the outcome of these two factors working together is a BI solution that will last for years to come.

Defining Success In The Business Intelligence Consulting World

A common mistake many BI consultants make is believing that utilizing the so-called “cutting-edge” tools and technologies of today’s BI landscape will empower them to deliver a top-notch solution that their client will be raving about for years.

Unfortunately this strategy rarely works. While the latest data visualization tools offer pretty dashboards for users and the newest database tools provide “unmatched performance”, these “results” are usually only exciting novelties to end users that dissipate over time. Eventually, the end users are left with a shiny new toy that doesn’t truly get the job done.

We both know that’s not success.

Success instead happens when end-users choose to use the resulting database and reports you delivered because they trust that the information coming out of those systems is what they expect. That’s success because that means you’ve accomplished the real goal of any BI project – to get data correctly organized and available for reporting so that users can take full advantage of the information.

So back to you as a Business Intelligence Consultant. Here’s what you need to bring to the table….

✓ Business Intelligence Expertise

Regardless of what industry (i.e. banking, pharma, manufacturing)  you may be working in as a BI professional, you most likely will not start out as the industry expert at your client. What you can and should do, however, is become the “data” expert. You should strive to know all that  you can about the best practices in database design, ETL and report development. You should ensure you know your client’s data in and out – where it comes from, what you think it means, what patterns are evident, and so on.

And be sure to know the structured query language (SQL) because your career depends on it.

Furthermore, always remember that you are not an expert in your customer’s business –  they are the expert.  Become a good learner and an even better listener to understand your customer’s business in order to provide the best solution possible. Those who don’t listen and actively seek to understand fail.

✓ Consultant Expertise

As a consultant, you are brought into a project to provide your expertise in certain areas.  Be ready to do so.  Read what you can on the subject, spend additional time truly understanding the subject, and be prepared to be the expert.  As you put more time into learning the technical aspects of Business Intelligence, you will become more and more confident in handling new and unexpected situations that inevitably arise on projects.

✓ Soft Skills

Being technically proficient is just half of the recipe for success as a consultant.  The other half is your soft skills.  You need to be able to properly communicate and successfully interact with the technical people and the non-technical people inside your customer’s organization.  Possessing these skills will make you stand out among your peers in the IT world.

Often times soft skills aren’t prioritized in the search for technical expertise, but when you’re communicating with the client’s VP of Merchandising, she does not want to know how you have architected the best dimensional model ever built. What she really cares about are your plans for getting her the results of her company’s top 10 products sold in every category across every store.

So what are some specific examples of soft skills? According to Case Preparation, the “#1 online community for Management Consulting”, the top three soft skills for consultants are:

  1. Thinking critically and strategically and asking questions
  2. Being able to properly set expectations for your customer
  3. Being very organized and concise in your communications with the customer (e-mail, in-person conversations)

To be frank, the skills above will make or break your career as a consultant. You must hone these skills while also improving your technical capabilties each and every day.

You Can Have Success

Simply put, if you improve your business intelligence technical skills, grow your industry knowledge, and ensure your soft skills are top-notch, you will likely see tremendous success as a Business Intelligence consultant.

And if all of this sounds hard to accomplish, it may well be! But if you truly enjoy this line of work, then the time and effort it takes to reach your potential as a BI consultant will be totally worth it.

Retired 4-star U.S. Army General Colin Powell puts it best: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”


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Key2 Consulting is a data warehousing and business intelligence company located in Atlanta, Georgia. We create and deliver custom data warehouse solutions, business intelligence solutions, and custom applications.