Hardly a tech conversation goes by without some discussion of data, data flow, and data analysis. As I’ve had more conversations with senior executives, the discussion frequently turns to the topic of what we should look for in a good Business Intelligence Analyst and where we can find them.
To say that we need to look for a “well-rounded person” may be true but it’s also a bit trite. We should talk more precisely about what we mean by that statement. To that end, there’s a metaphor that has served me well in my career — the “Purple Person.”
What is a Purple Person?
Think metaphorically of businesspeople as being “blue.” These are the operators, both leasing and service as well as most department heads and most executives. Then think of analytical people—e.g. financial planning and analysis (FP&A), pricing and revenue management (PRM), and most information technology (IT) folk — as being “red.”
Purple People are those rare boundary-spanners equally comfortable in both worlds. Here are just a few of the skills these folks have and those you should look for when hiring or promoting a purple person.
- Ability to see the business in the numbers and the numbers in the business
- Strong math skills, particularly with respect to statistical processes and performance analysis
- Technical skills, particularly in tools like Excel. However, these days, the ability to design and build visualizations and dashboards is in many ways even more important. That’s why skills in PowerBI, Tableau, or similar tools are crucial
- Strong oral communication skills including an ability to speak effectively to all levels from community management to CEO
- Strong written communication at least for emails but also for things like job aids that will help with BI tool adoption
- Strong desire to collaborate (and a track record of doing so)
Frequently, Purple People lead new technology and process implementations or are key players in doing so. This places an additional premium on
- Experience integrating new software and programs into data services
- Ability to translate business needs into technical requirements
- Capability to prioritize multiple projects while still achieving deadlines
- Extremely organized with great attention to detail
- Understanding of current data protection and privacy law
Finding a Business Intelligence Analyst "Star"
So where do we find such broadly talented future Business Intelligence Analyst “stars?” Often, right under our noses. It could be the FP&A person who handles budgets well because of their great bedside manner with operators. I also frequently find PRM people who are great “Purple People” because the nature of that role attracts associates with both technical/analytical and business/people skills. Then there are roles that are traditionally blue or red yet can be mined for people with purple tendencies. Community/Regional Managers and Asset Managers both come to mind.
The trick is to let people who are naturally blue or red stay in their roles and build deep capabilities rather than force them into a boundary-spanning purple role in which they will struggle to succeed. At the same time, mine those roles to find the small percentage of those associates who are truly purple and will shine in a boundary-spanning role. The good news is that we only need a few of those folks to make a huge difference in our business.
While a deep understanding of the rental housing business is an obvious advantage, the truth is that we are not that complex a business. Thus, any good Purple Person can learn the business reasonably quickly. This opens our search to any industry with analytical needs. I particularly like looking to related industries—hospitality, travel, and really any service industry.
In addition to these tips, I’ve also found it quite useful to have a good job description. Together, this will help your recruiting process for a great Business Intelligence Analyst.