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Job Security: Application Developers Should Take a Cue from BI Professionals

(Posted by Guest Blogger, Gib Bassett)

I recently had one of the worst car service experiences of my career, where upon returning from our InterAct conference on a four hour flight my driver waited almost an hour for another fare that never showed up. The wait had me jawing at the guy a bit, which led us to have a decidedly one sided discussion (him, not me). This gentleman (I have since let the frustration go) had to tell me his life story. In his 50s, he surprised me by explaining that he had been a COBOL programmer for a life insurance company, but was fired a few years ago, could not get hired at another company, got divorced, etc. He never envisioned having to be a car service driver. Needless to say this was not the most uplifting discussion but I was a captive audience. In the end, I was glad I could not escape. He told me that he never saw innovations in computing coming, had trouble learning new programming languages and was thus exposed to no longer being needed.

You are probably wondering what this has anything to do with this posting’s headline, but I promise I have a point and will make it soon. A key tenet of Enterprise Decision Management (EDM) is the concept of empowering business users to maintain the business rules underpinning operational systems. The reason being that subject matter experts with the process know how should have this capability at their fingertips, and thus being empowered can rapidly implement changes. For most organizations, implementing changes quickly is a good thing.

For business intelligence (BI) professionals this is old and well known news. For years, the move has been on to transfer as much information and decision making capabilities to business users as possible, as the technologies available have gotten better (zero footprint interactive web applications, browser based reporting, OLAP, data warehouses/marts, etc.). Before the technology was there, IT was often tasked with generating reports for the business, usually not in a very timely fashion and at the expense of potentially other important IT priorities. As business users saw the advantages of taking greater ownership of the analysis pertinent to their area of the organization, adoption increased. Any IT professional holding onto the query, reporting and analysis reigns was likely left behind while peers began focusing again on the strategic role of IT. This brings me back to my driver.

Although I did not ask him specifically, I have little doubt the concept of empowering business users was a foreign one to my driver. He certainly didn’t see advances coming in distributed computing that ultimately led to his firing. Programmers like my new friend no doubt are often consumed with implementing changes in hard coded systems that could otherwise be off loaded to business users. If not consumed, then certainly it’s a big part of the job. Tunnel vision like this must blind all but the most visionary programmers from seeing trends that could impact their careers -- trends that typically shift what used to be a critical role on an IT team to one no longer needed.

For any IT professional evaluating an EDM solution or Business Rules Management System, please remember this story. Business rules can increase developer productivity but unless taken to the next logical step (business user involvement) the potential benefits may be lost – to say nothing of one’s job.

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