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Business Analytics Career Guide

03/23/2021

Although business intelligence and performance management have long existed as separate fields, big data’s growing role in corporate strategy has caused them to intertwine. Today, business analysts and business intelligence consultants examine company data to improve its efficiency, decision-making, and overall performance.

The Importance of Business Analysts

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of management analysts, who use data to recommend ways to improve organizations, is expected to grow 11% through most of this decade. Demand for operations research analysts, who use math and analytics to solve problems and issues, is predicted to increase 25% over the same period. Both of these figures show job growth prediction that’s much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth hinges on multiple overlapping factors: the availability of data, the adoption of new technologies, and the need to move forward in an economical, cost-effective manner.

Businesses are increasingly turning to data analytics software to streamline their processes and get hard numbers to back up company decisions and goals. According to a 2020 survey by Research and Markets, the number of firms investing more than $50 million in big data and AI rose from 27% in 2018 to 34% in 2019.

However, software makes just one piece of the puzzle. 

Professionals need to understand how to use these tools, including methods for drawing insights. That’s where a business analyst consultant comes in.

Whether working in-house or through a third-party agency, a business analyst—also called a business intelligence consultant—collaborates with a company to establish goals, evaluate existing data, provide business analytics and intelligence software suggestions, establish benchmarks based on the industry, and help develop processes for gathering, analyzing, and using data. In the process, they factor in the growing number of data sources and assist a business with interpreting and utilizing this information.

As a result, business analysts not only need to have a solid mathematical foundation, but they should be well-versed in an industry’s best practices, particularly for information technology, healthcare, and finance. Within this foundation, BI consultants:

  • Use predictive analytics and machine learning
  • Are familiar with SQL and other database languages and data discovery tools
  • Possess the know-how to convincingly present their findings through data visualization methods

Why Companies Need Business Analysts

In past decades, businesses looked at sales and profits to determine if they were achieving financial goals and factored in industry trends for expansion. Some decisions based on these numbers were sound, while others put the business in the red.

Today, however, businesses have access to a multitude of data sources to understand what is and isn’t working. On one hand, such availability enables companies to better plan for the future; on the other, current employees often don’t understand how to interpret and analyze this information or might be using a low-quality, inaccurate, or incomplete data source.

In turn, gut instinct and past trends continue to form business plans, department objectives, and benchmarks. In fact, a 2019 report from Syncsort found that while more businesses are using data analytics technologies throughout their IT efforts, issues with gathering, siloing, and drawing insights have diminished its effect on operational and performance improvements.

In aligning available technologies and data sources with a company’s goals, a business analyst works to close the gaps. 

  • A business analyst discusses the company goals, benchmarks, and tools needed to measure them and works with personnel to implement new software and data collection methods.
  • Because a business might not have data collection and analysis protocols in place, a business analyst will collaborate with management and employees to establish new processes and practices.
  • With the new or larger amount of data available, the analyst helps determine how this information can shape business decisions and improve performance. In the process, the consultant will transform both structured and unstructured data into actionable insights.

What Does a Business Analyst Do?

Too much data can end up being too much of a good thing. Businesses don’t quite know what to do with it, and the numbers themselves are simply that—figures without any clear meaning. Unstructured data, meanwhile, lacks organization and clarity. In turn, this deluge of information needs to be cleaned, organized, and analyzed before experienced professionals draw insights from it. These processes require time and structure. In many cases, effectively using business analytics and intelligence requires a complete organizational overhaul. Otherwise, all the new technologies get lost, seem too novel, and fall by the wayside.

Business analysts serve two purposes: helping companies understand these new technologies and then orchestrating the overhaul, so that the numbers and information influence future performance. Once a consultant is on board:

  • They’ll work with management or department heads to understand the company’s issues and pain points and, in the process, look at past performance and business practices.
  • They’ll factor in the business’s goals and current issues in order to recommend all available technologies for extracting, cleaning, and preparing data and explain how these tools can assist with decision-making.
  • The business analyst will examine performance to further seek out cost-effective methods that will help a business increase its market share.
  • Because the amount and types of data sources continue to increase and industries evolve at an equally rapid pace, the BI consultant’s will consider future events in their plan and will work with the company to plan for and adapt to these occurrences.

Business Analyst Tasks and Duties

In thinking about these big-picture steps, business analysts employ several data management and business analytics methods, including data mining, forecasting, and customer segmentation, and utilize data visualization to produce a dashboard that illustrates their plan. In the process, they:

  • Establish a business’s data structure based on its individual goals or requirements
  • Define data organization and collection policies and methods
  • Process and prepare this data for effective analysis
  • Store and warehouse the data
  • Perform data validation and quality assurance tests to anticipate and react to any errors
  • Report and visualize strategies in relation to key performance indicators (KPIs), business goals, and industry developments
  • Document the strategy to train employees and develop new company processes

Business Analytics vs. Business Intelligence Skills

Business analysts also help synthesize business intelligence and analytics with corporate performance management (CPM). Although management professionals use these terms interchangeably in reporting and other business initiatives, intelligence and analytics are separate functions that work with and influence each other:

  • Business analytics deliver both current and historical data to identify trends that then shape forecasting efforts. “Analytics” encompasses both the tools used to uncover this information and the insights gleaned from them.
  • Business intelligence is the implementation of business analytics, including gathering, analyzing, and visualizing the data, in terms of company and industry initiatives and competitive analysis. Business intelligence assists with forming company strategy, improving its decisions, and supporting these efforts with KPIs, scorecards, and dashboards.
  • Corporate performance management (CPM), sometimes called Enterprise Process Management or Business Process Management, defines how business intelligence is used to measure progress and encompasses BI and data analysis processes, methods, and metrics. CPM ensures you’re capturing the right type of data at precise intervals and appropriately using it to improve various aspects of your business, including customer relationships, supply chain management, finance and budgeting, marketing, and profitability modeling.

Business Analyst Consultant Skills

Neither the role of business analyst or operations analyst is entry-level, and professionals considering a career in business intelligence consulting are advised to have earned a bachelor’s degree in business, operations, management, accounting, analytics, computer science, mathematics, or engineering. From here, positions typically require at least 5 years of relevant experience, if not a Master of Business Administration or a Master of Science in Business Analytics. On top of these requirements, a candidate may want to think about obtaining SAP (Systems, Applications, and Products in Data Processing) or SAS (Statistical Analysis Software) certification.

Beyond education and work experience, business intelligence professionals should:

  • Be familiar with enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications
  • Understand common analysis tools and programs, including R and SPSS
  • Be able to communicate their insights through visualization tools like Tableau and QlikView
  • Be well-versed in SAP Business Intelligence, Oracle BI, QlikSense, Microsoft Power BI, IBM Cognos Analytics, Pentaho, and data mining methods
  • Have a solid foundation in statistics, structured query language (SQL), and industry best practices concerning data collection, storage, and reporting

Prepare with an Online MS in Business Analytics

If you’ve been in a finance or data analysis role and want to take the next step professionally as a business intelligence consultant, increase your knowledge and skill set with a Master of Science in Business Analytics, Wake Forest University’s 100% online degree program. To learn more, request additional information today.