Free Agent Christian Frands Hansen on BI

In the age of technological progression, digital advancements have completely revolutionized our everyday lives. The business world has really felt this impact, and companies now have access to data-driven tools and strategies that allow them to learn about customers, clients, and themselves. Business Intelligence is often crucial to the success and longevity of an organization.

Christian Frands Hansen is a freelancer and Senior Business Intelligence Specialist, and also one of the freelancers who have signed up on Free Agents™ to get matched with exciting freelance jobs. Christian is a highly experienced Business Intelligence Manager with an impressive track record, a solid BI implementation consultant/partner background, and a very good business understanding. He loves to work with data and bridge the gap between business and IT.

We had a chat with Christian about the relevance of BI, why it’s important to learn how to take advantage of the data and tools out there, and the future of the freelance market within the area.

How do you define Business Intelligence?

Firstly, I believe it’s worth pointing out that Business Intelligence is an area highly influenced by ”hypes” and buzzwords. When I started by BI career a little more than 20 years ago you spoke about EIS (Executive Information Systems) or OLAP (Online Analytical processing). Later, focus went to KPI (Key Performance Indicators), Performance Management, Big Data, and Hadoop. At the moment, it seems like everyone is talking about AI, Predictive Analytics, Data Lakes, Modern Datawarehouse, and words like Data Lakehouse has also started showing up.

Sometimes it’s about maintaining coolness in the stream of terms and news coming in from especially the large software suppliers and consultancies. Sometimes I think about what my old professor told me at Aarhus University: “Remember that it’s not always the good that is new – and it’s not always new that’s good. Apart from being a funny saying, I actually believe it’s good to keep in mind when navigating the BI “jungle”.

When you set aside all the new technologies, tools, and buzzwords, the BI basics are getting as much knowledge and insight out of all the data the company possesses or has access to. Then, getting that knowledge easily accessible for employees at all levels so that they can make better and faster choices for the benefits of the company and its clients.

What characterizes a good BI initiative and are there any pitfalls?

keep in mind in your BI initiative. For example, I have often seen companies wrongly thinking that they need to buy new standard BI tools who can solve all their problems – it rarely succeeds. Often, the problems you face related to your existing BI solutions is because of something else. For example, bad data quality as a consequence of unsuitable work processes or wrong usage of operational IT systems. An old BI-proverb says “garbage in – garbage out”. That still stands despite the many technological advancements.

As it is also about people and processes, it is naturally also important to have a strong organization for your BI initiative. And maybe even more importantly, that BI is an on-going initiative. I often see companies seeing BI as a limited or bound project with a start-date and end-date. Maybe more than anything else, BI demands continuous adjustments for the business and a continuous focus on the anchoring and usage of BI in the organization.

The companies that succeed with BI are the ones with a strong core of one or more fully allocated permanent employees with good technical interest and insight – and with support from the top management who can make the process all the way from source data to dashboard. But, as needed, draw on external freelancers and adds specific key competencies like strategy, architecture, and design, or function as an extra set of hands in periods.
I’ve seen many outsourcings their BI function to external consultancies. That works for some, but I’ve seen many lose control and many not taking full advantage of their BI solution. I often see these insourcing their BI back to the organization later on.

Another success criterion for BI initiatives is those who use some form of agile development and deliverance model. BI does not work well with traditional project models where the business often waits for months or years while the solution is developed and tested before they gain access to it.  Meanwhile, the business might have changed enough to the solution not being relevant anymore. Therefore, I strongly recommend working agile by e.g. working in sprints of 1-2 weeks with a focus on functionality creating value for the company. That also provides the opportunity to adjust the development of the BI solution to the needs of the company on a running basis.

In light of the current COVID-19 crisis, what do you determine as the trend of time in BI?

After the last financial crisis, we experienced an increasing demand for BI. Suddenly, focus was on the costs, and therefore companies needed to transform data into knowledge, in order to make the right decisions about where to cut the costs. It seems like when things are going well, focus is on how to earn even more money. When it’s not going so good, focus is on where to save money. In that way, BI is equally important in times of crisis.

Likewise, many will probably experience pressure on the costs of the BI function itself. You have to deliver the same or more – for less. I believe that will strengthen some of the tendencies we’re seeing at the moment where many are migrating to the existing on-premise BI setups to a cloud solution. A lot of money can be saved in the “control room” and by getting rid of expensive software licenses etc.

Where do you find professional inspiration about purpose marketing?

After more than 20 years in the industry, I’ve built up a strong network which we’re using a lot. On a running basis, we’re speaking about e.g. all the new opportunities and experiences with Cloud platforms and the Big Data technology moving into the traditional BI area. Otherwise, I find a lot of information via LinkedIn, networks, and to some degree conferences and seminars.

What is your biggest professional success?

Generally, I’ve been pretty privileged to be part of many exciting projects which have made a difference and helped me develop. I am very proud of being a part of starting and growing a pure Microsoft BI consultancy in a time where Microsoft was not even on the radar when discussing BI – this was before Power BI.

Another thing I am happy about is being part of creating a complete “turn-around” of a BI department, both organizational and technical. In a short time, we succeeded in in-sourcing everything from an external contractor and build an internal BI department. I was able to transform it from a dusty BI-solution to a modern platform with the roll-out and anchoring of Power BI dashboards and reporting in the whole company. Further, with periodical support from some of the best external BI consultants.

What would your dream project at the moment be if you could choose?

As with so many other things, it’s always important to be in the right place at the right time. However, I believe that a strong personal network is important and further, that you’ve built trust and proven that you can deliver good BI solutions creating value for a company. Also, it’s important to choose the right collaborators who know the BI-area, have a big network, and are effective in speaking with the decision-makers in the companies.

How do you see the future of the freelance market for you and Scandinavian companies?

I am very optimistic in terms of the freelance market. I think we’re seeing a growing tendency for companies to work on getting in control with their BI solutions by finding a good balance between internal permanent staff and competent freelancers. As I previously sat “on the other side of the table” through many years as BI responsible in a company, I believe this is the most attractive model – to be able to call some of the best freelancers when a need is wanted in periods with a heavy workload. Or just as valuable sparring in relation to e.g. strategy formulation or larger architectural decisions. In that way, companies can be in control and at the same time build a best practiced BI solution and more easily adjust, scale, upgrade, support, and hand over when e.g. new employees come in the door.