Careers Q&A: Information Builders' Rob Mills

Mills talks sales, business intelligence and analytics in the wider world of IT

Information Builders vice president, Asia Pacific, Rob Mills

Information Builders vice president, Asia Pacific, Rob Mills

Rob Mills isn't your typical techie, but with IT staff increasingly challenged to diversify the range of skills, it is probably apt that Information Builders' Asia Pacific vice president came from a sales background. Of course, starting out in office equipment isn't as auspicious as some might hope, but Mills' experience at start-ups and in the big leagues through Novell have given him a broad view of how sales and IT mix.

Computerworld Australia caught up with Mills about the ever-evolving business intelligence area, and the role business analysts have to play.

How did you get into IT in the first place?

I come from a sales background, and my original entry point into the IT industry was as a sales person. I actually originally came out of the office equipment industry between 1982 and 1986.

I just moved into IT intuitively because I thought that was the real last frontier for making a difference to the way businesses operate. It was obvious to me back then that businesses were still largely very manual, very constrained in the way they could do business, the channels to market and the ability to offer services to market. That was at the birth of computing, almost.

Then I worked for an Australian company that turned into a bit of a success story, Tower Technology, who focussed on developing imaging and workplace solutions that were deployed broadly within banking, finance, insurance and government agencies to automate business processes and make them more efficient and less reliant on paper. I worked there for a number of years, started as a sales person, and ultimately the sales manager in that business. I stayed there for 13 - 14 years, which is very unusual.

The opportunity came up to leave Tower - I had been there long enough to become almost institutionalised - and become managing director of a middleware company (IONA Technologies). It exposed me to a whole range of different technologies.

I also had a brief stint at Novell, where i was the Manging Director for Australia/New Zealand. It was an interesting time and I got some value out of being there, but it wasn't a long term thing.

More recently I've gone into the business I'm in now; I run Asia Pacific for a company called Information Builders, a US company based in New York City.

What do you see as the future of business intelligence?

I think BI is transitioning away from a traditional view - people usually think of reports being used by a small number of analysts to do human analytics, A lot of people have some platforms in there today, a lot of customers use a lot of BI, but I don't know to what extent they'd represent that as being successful.

There's lots of different directions the industry is going to go, is going and is already on the way to be. I think the first thing is an increase in the distribution of business intelligence, so instead of being a back-office technology for analysts, I think we'll see that it is applied across the business at the point of need. Let's make the contents of the intelligence available to the point of need; that might be in a structural business process or ad-hoc.

Data analytics and predictive analytics have been an important part of BI - non-human analytics - that's traditionally been the domain of a small number of vendors. I think that's opening up really quickly, so predictive analytics particularly, we've done some important work in the last couple of years, but we're now embracing open source in that space to make it financially viable to organisations there. Data and predictive analytics has been quite narrow in its focus, this will enable it to be rolled out more effectively across all BI applications.

I also think business intelligence will move more into real-time operation. BI is a terrific tool for telling you what happened the last time you ran the report or the data update, but there's a very strong move to real-time applications.

I think the real underlying message there is that, as a business person, I don't want to know if we did something wrong last week, I want to know when it happens so we can do something about it.

I think many of the established players are gong to struggle with the concept of ubiquitous BI. The masses aren't just inside the firewall - it's about how I make BI available to my business partners or customers, so they can do some analysis on my data sets. It's that distribution of access to the information that's going to challenge a lot of people.

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