Interview Sarah Burnett BI Analyst,Ovum group

Here is an interview with the terrific Sarah Burnett, well known BI analyst at Ovum Group.


Ajay- Describe your career in science. How do you think science careers can be made more popular to young students.

Other than a little time in electronics engineering, I have spent all my career in the computer industry. Science degrees give you the kind of training and credentials that you need for a good start in the world of work. There are many jobs in the applied sciences domain e.g. electronics and computer science, but science graduates get into a number of other fields e.g. the financial markets. We are having a crisis in science education here in the UK where a number of good universities have had to close some of their science departments. This is primarily due to the lack of students. The trouble is that science is not considered to be “cool” amongst the would be students. I believe the way to tackle this is by making science more interesting at school to inspire young people to take it up in tertiary education. Without science and innovation we will be on a slippery slope to economic decline. TV and the media in general do not help with their constant portrayal of scientists as geeks. Perhaps we should find a couple of good looking scientists to promote in the media to compete for the attention of young people against celebrities. Do you know any Brad Pitt look alike scientists?

Ajay- I feel the Business Intelligence world is overwhelming male in terms of statistics. Do you agree- what makes BI and data mining a not so attractive career traditionally for women.

Sarah- I agree. I think it reflects the general trends in the take up of science and mathematics by girls at university and also the number of women in management positions. Whatever we do to increase the number of women in those areas is likely to have an effect on the number of women in BI. My view is that we need to make subjects such as statistics more appealing and relevant to girls at school. I believe we can do that by teaching analysis of trends in some weird and wonderful topics with some funny facts thrown in to make it fun. I also think that women tend to be less confident than men in trying technical or scientific subjects. Again, I do not think that the culture of celebrity helps. It puts pressure on girls for the wrong reasons and discourages them from pusuing some worthwhile careers.

Ajay- What are your views on Government spending to be measured by Business Intelligence tools the same way as corporate spending is measured by it. Do you think that some of the stimulus package to shore up failing banks was big enough to educate every high school graduate through college ( in both UK and the US)

Sarah- I am a proponent of BI in public sector and have written articles and blogged about it. There are many examples of Government bodies getting into financial or capacity difficulties due to the lack of good data and actionable information. BI can be applied at departmental level to improve departmental outcomes and services. BI at multi-agency level can help make the customer/citizen’s journey a positive experience through the maze of public services and help with efficiency targets. The trouble is bringing data together from multiple-agencies within legal frameworks such as the Data Protection Act in the UK and also without losing the trust of voters that the data is not being shared amongst Government bodies for some sinister reason.

Ajay- If you can not measure it, you cannot manage it. Do you think measuring carbon footprint of organizations is the first step to managing environmental fallout. How can IT help make the world greener?

Sarah- Yes, it is a start but like any other performance measure, it has to be linked to strategic objectives and the findings have to be acted upon in order to reduce the environmental fall out and towards achieving objectives. IT can play a number of different parts in this: automate the necessary processes, capture data and then enable the measuring, monitoring and reporting part of the initiative. IT of course has to put its own house in order to become a sustainable service that helps with the overall green objectives.

Ajay- Increasing number of personal data is now available on the web about consumers, just as financial records are available from credit bureaus. How long do you think will it take for software to catch up in text mining for propensity to buy, or risk behaviour by adding this social media data to traditional data sources.

Sarah- I do not believe it will take long at all. Text analytics solutions can be trained and put to analyse the sort of information that you are interested in. Of course where personal information is concerned legal requirements have to be complied with.

Ajay- What are your views on social network analysis and how it can help BI measurement and predictive analytics.

Sarah- It is an interesting and developing area that can augment BI. From an analysis point of view, I think it is important to validate the source and the accuracy of information and to give it some kind of relevance and quality mark. The information must then be treated in accordance to its mark so that pointless hype can be eliminated. Although, in some cases hype might matter e.g. we need to understand if it is likely to affect our business. For that, we need to predict when hype or word of mouth can rapidly spread through a social network. The network itself can provide some information revealing its influencer/follower relationships so that hype can be predicted by what the influencers are saying.

Ajay- What are the biggest, most common mistakes you see in implementation of Information technology strategy.

My answer to that question could take several pages and I speak from bitter experience. For now lets just mention a few examples: Trying to do things too fast, not gaining end-user buy-in or input, lack of communication, failing to appreciate the extent of skills requirements and supposedly cutting costs by avoiding consultants, not enough hand-holding of end-users on roll out and so on.

Ajay- What do you do while not working or writing to relax. How important is the work-life balance for analysts.

Sarah- Pilates keeps me sane during the week. Other times I enjoy playing sports and doing leisure activities with my family and friends. Work/life balance is very important to me – so much so that I took a break from corporate life during a peak in my career to raise a family and have never regretted it. Many years ago I read a poem by Nadine Stair called “Afterwords: If I could live it over….”. The best line says “If I had to live my life over again I would eat more ice cream”. Joking apart, I do not want to be old and regretting all the things that I have not done.

Sarah Burnett is a Senior Analyst with Ovum. An experienced analyst and consultant, Sarah has worked in a variety of IT roles over the last twenty years including software development, programme management and project management. She provides analysis and thought leadership on Business Intelligence software and market; she also provides expert analysis of public sector IT developments and trends. Sarah is a regular contributor to the company’s monthly journals providing articles as well as writing a monthly column on public sector IT. She is a regular speaker at conferences and provides personalised advice and consultancy to Ovum clients.


Since joining the Ovum-Butler organisation three years ago, Sarah has co-authored a number of in-depth reports and recently led the research and production of the Business Intelligence (Corporate Performance Management) report.

Sarah holds a BSc in Physics and Electronics as well as an MSc in Applied Optics. She has Prince2 practitioner qualifications and is a member of the British Computer Society. Sarah can be found on-line on Twitter -sarahburnett- and on her own blog, Sarah Burnett’s Web Musings.

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