Aussie business intelligence lacks enough brains

Business intelligence is the fastest growing software category but skills shortages in the area are hampering deployments and universities are failing to address the problem, according to experts.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Business intelligence (BI) is the fastest growing software category but local skills shortages and inadequate tertiary training are hampering deployments, say industry experts.

Business intelligence vendors have touted BI software as an apt technology for a tight labour market, however customers are finding themselves bereft of staff with BI platform-specific knowledge. The lack of BI-skilled employees is causing businesses to invest in alternative technologies where skills do exist.

"Business intelligence is being undervalued by customers because the IT department is not equipped to deal with it. They're wasting huge amounts of money on ERP systems when a lot of the functionality can be done with [business intelligence] tools but better," Neill Haine, director of business intelligence consultancy the BMA Group, told ZDNet Australia.

"This has the fastest growth in the market, yet CIOs haven't got a clue and there's an incredible shortage of skills in the area," said Haine.

"The same problem exists in the US. And I spoke to a colleague in Hong Kong who said the same thing applies there but they're doing something about it there," he said.

Gartner estimates an average compound annual growth rate of 15.5 percent for spending on business intelligence software in the Asia Pacific region over the next five years. Spending in Australia will reach US$210 million per annum by 2011, Gartner predicts -- over a third of the US$624 million spent in the region and US$20 million more than China, the next biggest spender on business intelligence in APAC.

Dan Pontefract, Business Object's senior director of the company's eduction program, the University of Business Intelligence, said China and India have leapt on "high tech" education while Western Europe, the US, Australia and Japan have lagged after being stung by the dotcom bust.

"China is eons ahead of where Australia and New Zealand are. They have taken it upon themselves to proactively address the high tech skills shortage. The number of institutions they have magically created to ensure a stream of high tech professionals is mind boggling," he said.

"It's taken a while for the Western world to wake up from dotcom bust. India and China -- which were not so much hit by dotcom -- have plugged along and are now going in for the kill," he told ZDNet Australia.

Earlier this year, Sydney University of Technology's deputy vice chancellor, Patrick Woods, called for vendors to come forward and offer assistance developing skills -- even in the form of "platform-specific" training.

But Australian universities may be sceptical of such offers -- so far only the University of Victoria has expressed interest in BO's platform-specific education programs, said Pontefract. In contrast, nine technical universities have adopted the program in China.

Professor Paul Bailes, head of the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at the University of Queensland, recently told ZDNet Australia that platform-specific training should be offered by the vocational sector, not universities.

But the problem with non-platform specific education, according to the BMA Group's Haine, is that current platform-agnostic university training is inadequate for current skills needs.

"Universities offer no real training in this area at all. They need to offer training in one or more of the tools which includes the philosophy and functionality of these tools," he said.

The frenzy of acquisitions and consolidation of vendors in business intelligence may make platform-specific training more relevant also since the technologies are now being brought into the folds of three heavyweights in the space: IBM, Oracle and SAP.

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