Why Tomorrow’s Best Business Intelligence Analyst / Specialist is Currently Wearing Camouflage, Covered in Sand and Toting a Rifle

When I talk to employers about the business benefit of hiring military veterans as part of their talent acquisition strategy, it’s a pretty easy sell, especially when I describe service members who have engineering, management, technician, human resources, healthcare, IT or security skills.  The one group that most employers think has little relevance to what they need to hire is veterans with combat arms (infantry, armor, artillery, etc.) skills.  You know – the guys you see on the nightly news blowing things up, shooting things and running things over with tanks.  So the employer is often surprised when I suggest that a person with a combat arms background would make a great business intelligence specialist or analyst.

Let’s examine why.  I’ll describe their skills using military terms with the related business terms in parentheses.

Combat arms professionals are highly trained and have deep experience in:

1. Understanding the situation

    • What is the (business/industry) environment?
    • Who are our enemies (competitors)?  What are their strengths and weaknesses?  Where have they been spending their time, money and resources?
    • Analyzing raw data and looking for patterns
    • Identifying possible enemy (competitor) courses of action based on the patterns

    2.  Visualizing the end state, the nature and the design of the operation (business strategy)

    • Offense (What steps we must actively take to reach our goals and objectives)
    • Defense (What steps we can take to respond to all the potential counter moves by the competition)
    • Stability (How we can capitalize on the positive responses we’ve achieved or minimize/mitigate the negative responses)
    • Civil Support (What things we need to do to build good will with the customers/clients)

    3.  Identifying time, space, resources, purpose and actions required to achieve the end state (project management)

    4.  Directing forces (assets – people, equipment, technology, partnerships, etc.)

    “OK, so, they have all these great analytical skills – but the industry the military guy knows best is the defense industry.  I am a retailer.”  Should an employer be concerned that the combat arms veteran won’t be able to develop knowledge of another industry, such as energy, finance, telecommunications, etc.?

    If you are thinking that trying to teach an infantry guy about a new industry is going to be a challenge, keep in mind that the way the military operates today presents service members with many different types of “business environments” and “competitors” to analyze.  One year the service member is focused on providing humanitarian assistance for natural disasters in Haiti or Chile; the next year he is training Iraqi military; a year later he may be developing national terrorism response plans for a major headquarters.  Today’s service members are quite flexible in moving from one environment to the other and learning what they need to know in order to accomplish the mission.

    The last concern employers have is usually about how much experience veterans have with business intelligence applications.  Likely they want someone who already has Cognos or Business Objects experience.  Admittedly, this is where the veteran may fall short.  The service member is most likely going to have experience with BI applications, but it will be with the customized BI products that were developed for the unique needs of the military.  However, since service members as a group are highly trainable and very used to working with new technologies and getting up to speed quickly, employers who are willing to provide some training time on the desired commercial application will soon appreciate that they have hired a highly proficient analyst from the military.  And as a bonus – many combat arms service members come with security clearances or are clearable.

    Computerworld selected Business Intelligence Specialists as one of the “9 Hottest Skills for ’09”.   A recent search on CareerBuilder identified over 3,600 job openings for Business Intelligence Analysts across the US.  The smart company (or BI application seller/training provider *HINT *) is going to figure out that they should develop an on-the-job training program and market it towards the transitioning military member and use that as a means to build a robust pipeline of trained analysts to fill their workforce for years to come.