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MIS/BI explained.

Introduction

I’m adding a note here about what this area means (with a slant from me, as what I see it as); it is an area I get quite a lot of questions about. I’m going to use language as plain as I can, and very broad concepts to try and give an insight into this, so it’s not a comprehensive description.

For the purposes of recruitment, MIS (Management Information Systems) and BI (Business Intelligence) are somewhat interchangeable terms used in industry to describe the process of (amongst other things) gathering and analysing data from sources available.

Example

The easiest way to explain this is with an example. So, say David is a manager in a fizzy drinks organisation. 20 or 30 years ago if David wanted to know how much stock to order to maximise profit for the month of August; he would have probably have to go through a lot of old paperwork and use a lot of guesswork to decide on an amount.

Nowadays, he has quite a considerable amount of information theoretically available at his disposal via the databases he and his suppliers keep on related information (stocks in warehouses, space in warehouses, customers and their sales history etc). David may be a strong businessman, but if he is not IT literate, he may have to employ the services of an MIS or BI consultant/developer. (Again, as a very basic description), this person will have the technical ability to connect to all these sources and gather all the relevant data to give David some very valuable information, such as:
~ how much space is available in his warehouses,
~ how many units his customers have been selling so far this year,
~ how many units his customers have sold over previous years,
~ the ability of his employees to deliver stock to his customers and therefore;
~ does he need to hire additional temporary staff if seasonal sales,
~ what the normal increase/decrease in sales in this season over the last year.

Technology

Technology wise, the MIS/BI consultant most likely gathers this information with either database scripting languages such as PL/SQL, SQL etc, or by using a purpose built tool such as Business Objects, Cognos, Crystal Reports and so on (or a combination of both). Some database suppliers are focusing more on their MIS/BI capabilities (for example, I attended the Microsoft SQL 2005 launch a couple of years ago, and there was a very heavy emphasis on the enhancement to SQL Reporting Services).

Skills required/Roles

The MIS/BA person may also be an industry expert or Analyst and be able to advise David on the data they produce (although this is not a necessary skill to have as an MIS/BI consultant, it is a useful one). The distinction between a consultant, a developer and an analyst (in my opinion) happens at this juncture as follows:

A developer is someone who will produce the MIS/BI data, but may have no specific knowledge/expertise in making observations on it.

A consultant is someone who will produce the MIS/BI data, and will also have specific knowledge/expertise in making observations on it (either through industry knowledge or experience, or via another route, a particular mathematical aptitude or qualification for example).

An analyst will more than likely have the latter skill, but not the former; he or she will have specific knowledge/expertise in making observations on data and to some degree obtaining it or manipulating it, but will probably not consider themselves a developer, and may have to rely on the skills of a developer to obtain (or assist them in obtaining) the data in the first instance.

The Industry

This is a huge growth area of IT, and touches virtually every other industry. To the companies who supply these tools, their MIS/BI revenue alone in 2005 was worth $5.7 billion. (Source, Microsoft and IDC) This is especially impressive when one considers that, as an industry, it did not exist a number of years ago (although the earliest reference I can find to it is in 1958 from IBM, it really has only come to the fore over the last few years as computers and the data held on them has become more sophisticated).

In my opinion, it looks likely to continue on this path of expansion and growth, as more people like David from our example come to realise that such powerful tools are available to them at a relatively low cost. As a career choice, it looks like an area that will present plenty of opportunity.

If you found this note helpful, please let me know.

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