Analytics is taking center stage in the business world. More than eight years ago there was chatter and speculation about an inevitable market shift from traditional business intelligence to analytics. In 2014, those predictions have indeed become a reality altering business decision making. Significant changes in modern, rapid, actionable information delivery needs have been driving forces behind new approaches and tools that are disrupting the market like Microsoft Power BI's Power Query, Power Pivot, Power View, and Q&A.

Related: Building Real-World Microsoft BI Dashboards Today

According to the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms, "the BI and analytics platform market is in the middle of an accelerated transformation from BI systems used primarily for measurement and reporting to those that also support analysis, prediction, forecasting and optimization." Although we all still see customers struggling to get business intelligence basics in place, build a SQL Server data mart, or create an operational report with SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), many more groups have already matured beyond those necessities. Today, we commonly see organizations taking analytics further with modern, simple point-and-click predictive or prescriptive capabilities—no data science or PhD degree needed. This is a trend that we'll continue to see happening.

What is Analytics?

What is analytics and how is it different from business intelligence? Analytics means interacting with information at the speed of business, continuous iterative data exploration, and fact-based decision making using statistical and quantitative analysis, explanatory,  predictive and prescriptive modeling. Analytics is closely related to operational management science. Where traditional business intelligence was historically focused on measuring past performance with querying, reporting, OLAP, and dashboards answering what happened, how many, how often and where type questions. Analytics strives to answer why, and forward looking questions such as what if these trends continue, what will happen next, and what is the best that can happen?

Career Outlook

What does this market shift mean for Microsoft SQL Server business intelligence professionals? In the near future, the career outlook is bright, though there is a higher demand for analytics versus classic business intelligence roles. A recent query of Indeed.com illustrates the rapid growth in demand for analytics. Also notable, analytics skills are in higher demand when economic conditions worsen.

Career outlook for business intelligence professionals from Indeed.com

With excessive demand comes intense competition for a limited supply of qualified talent. In just one year, there have been jumps of $10K to $20K plus in annual base salaries for the same business intelligence and analytic roles posted in 2013. If you have big data skills, you are worth big bucks. I'm seeing annual business intelligence technical salary ranges from $80K to $120K or higher. Analytics and cloud software sales representatives are seeing the biggest paychecks of all, hauling in $200K to $300K or more per year. Yes, those sales income figures are up to date and accurate. Now you know why that friendly vendor representative is always so cheerful and insistent you sign up for cloud services.

Keeping Skills Sharp and Relevant

If you enjoy being a technical business intelligence professional, you'll want to minimally expand your skill sets to include cloud (Azure), big data (HD Insight), data mining (new Azure ML), and even statistics to supplement SQL Server dimensional data warehousing, Integration Services (SSIS) ETL, Analysis Services (SSAS), and SSRS skills. As business intelligence tools continue to be simplified, automated, and forced moves are made to cloud models, it will become more important to understand what the data means versus administering the infrastructure. Analytics roles do involve a heavier emphasis on business data-related domain knowledge than historical technical business intelligences roles.

To increase your skills, you don’t need to look very far. Training is everywhere—free training, for-fee training, YouTube videos, blogs, vendor training, professional organizations such as PASS, SQL Saturday Pre-Cons, subscription sites like ACM, Pluralsight, Dataversity, Coursera, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), and so on. There is no shortage of material—most likely there is a shortage of your available training time.

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