Securing Your Business Intelligence Career in Insecure Times

With all the headlines about recession, depression, bailouts, global slowdown, oil prices, layoffs, Wall Street, unemployment, cancelled projects and budget cuts, what is your reaction? What can we do to prepare for the year(s) to come?

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This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.

On November 7, 2008, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the following:

“The unemployment rate rose by 0.4 percentage point to 6.5 percent in October, and the number of unemployed persons increased by 603,000 to 10.1 million. Over the past 12 months, the number of unemployed persons has increased by 2.8 million, and the unemployment rate has risen by 1.7 percentage points.

 Among the unemployed, the number of persons who lost their job and did not expect to be recalled to work rose by 615,000 to 4.4 million in October. Over the past 12 months, the size of this group has increased by 1.7 million.

In October, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) rose by 249,000 to 2.3 million. The long-term unemployed accounted for 22.3 percent of total unemployment. The newly unemployed – those who were jobless fewer than 5 weeks – -increased by 212,000 to 3.1 million in October.”

The September 2008 Forrester Research report, Forrester: Impact Of Economic Downturn On Tech Spending Varies By Region And Sector, indicates that 2009 IT spending will likely be adversely impacted. The economy's affect on IT spending is evident in some specific data points contained in the report: Forty-three percent of firms have already cut their overall IT budgets in 2008 in reaction to the slow down in the global economy, while 24 percent of firms have put discretionary spending on hold. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said the economy has had no impact on their IT budgets.

If you are like many business intelligence (BI) professionals, your “BI brain” inherently collects data, integrates it, and then reports logical information that you can use in making decisions. What does your BI brain do with all this data we are currently being bombarded with? We see headlines about recession, depression, bailouts, the global slowdown, oil prices, decreasing home values, layoffs, Wall Street, unemployment, cancelled projects, and budget cuts. What is your reaction to all this information: Anxiety? Fear? Panic? Paralysis? Productivity?

None of us are immune to the impact of these events. Even if our own position seems secure, our family, friends, and colleagues may be affected. What can we do to prepare ourselves for the year(s) to come? Here are some actions to consider.  

Seek Solutions

It has always been important to maximize the value of your business intelligence/data warehousing (BI/DW) projects, and this is even more critical now. Think like a business owner. What are the critical tasks that need to be done? What can you provide from your BI initiative that will help the business survive and/or thrive? Rather than bemoan the potential budget cuts, staff shortages, challenges, and things that cannot be done, focus on what you can do. Think systemically: most of the issues facing the economy right now are not just about an individual business. They are global challenges and not necessarily just local challenges. If our problems are systemic, then our solutions need to be systemic. The BI initiative can provide those solutions. Are you showing up as a proactive problem-solver or as a reactive complainer?

Invest in Yourself

When times are tight, discretionary spending generally declines. Travel and training are commonly two of the first areas to suffer. Sometimes those cuts are penny-wise and pound foolish. You may want to even consider paying for your own training and not relying on corporate budgets. Regardless, a tight budget does not mean you cannot invest in expanding your knowledge. Read a book, sign up for a webinar, search the web, review a whitepaper, or facilitate a brown bag discussion on a particular topic. Sometimes we confuse training with learning. Though training budgets may be tight, you have unlimited opportunities to learn. Expand the skills required for your current position and/or prepare yourself for your next position. What skills might help you and your BI initiative become more successful?

Manage Your Attitude

Stephen Covey described it well when he said we cannot control events, but we can control our reaction to events. In the space between all the events that are happening around us and our actions, we have a choice. We can choose to be pessimistic, fearful, angry, and entitled – OR – optimistic, proactive, grateful, and creative. There are things you cannot control (i.e., the stock market) and things you can control (yourself). Expand your indirect control by choosing to influence the things you can change and letting go of the things you cannot change.

Tony Robbins is a well-known motivational speaker. In a recent interview, he used a phrase that intrigued me: the “Power of Crisis.” He suggested that there is much to be learned from people who have experienced significant challenges like life-threatening disease, financial loss, family tragedies, the Great Depression, etc. When he interviewed people that had survived those types of challenges, they described the good that came from their crisis: closer family relationships, simplicity in lifestyle, new knowledge of kind neighbors, or different perspectives on life.

It is worthwhile to find ways to choose your attitude. Turn off the TV and tune out the constant bad news. Exercise, meditate, read, pray, listen to music, or laugh. Discover gratitude. Surround yourself with people who are optimistic, positive, upbeat, funny, and proactive. Remove yourself from discussions that perpetuate negative, victim type behavior. Neither your business nor your BI initiative will benefit from time spent lamenting “ain’t-it-awful.”

Control Your Own Destiny

When I worked at General Electric, Jack Welch promoted ten principles that have become popular with the publication of his book. The one that has stuck with me over the last twenty years is “control your own destiny or someone else will.” It has always been interesting to me that many people rely on their boss or their company to ensure their well-being and future. Certainly, the company plays a role in providing opportunities for our advancement. However, ultimately, you are responsible for yourself, your opportunities, your well-being, and your future. I’m not suggesting that you become self-centered; rather, that you actively manage your self interest and not become passive and complacent, waiting for someone else to take care of you. Ask not what your company can do for you, but what you can do for yourself and your company.

What If?

The issues of the economy are real, and the possibility exists that you may be impacted. So what! Rather than worry, lose sleep, and panic, ask yourself: what if? What if my job is downsized? What if my job is outsourced? What if my company does not survive? Ultimately, the sun will rise tomorrow and you will deal with it. Maybe it won’t happen and maybe it will, but if it does, have a plan. Leverage your network and stay connected with people that can help you. Set realistic expectations about your budget and income. Develop a game plan for finding a new position. Using your “BI brain,” what are the positive possibilities that could result from a perceived “negative” event?

There are events and conditions that are outside of our control. It is wise to be aware of these factors, but not to let them control us. Prepare yourself by suggesting solutions, learning, remaining positive, and proactively planning for the worst-case scenario.

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