How a business analytics course could future-proof your career
Business analysts are all about the future. Whether focusing on a specific project or taking a ‘bigger picture’ approach, these savvy professionals use a range of technologies and data analytics to help manage, change, and plan for the future in line with the goals of their organization. There are many specific roles and functions related to or contained within the umbrella of business analytics, including those of the systems analyst, process analyst, product manager, business architect, and data scientist.
Business analysts are also in demand across every sector, with their core skills and industry-specific knowledge combining to create unique but recognizable roles. Many of their skills are also highly transferable. In an online MBA business analytics course, for example, you will learn many hard and soft skills that can be used in specific circumstances or easily transferred to other settings. Technical skills could include proficiency in systems such as MS Excel, MS Access, SQL, ERP system, Data Warehouse, SPSS, Tableau, and SAP Lumira, allowing you to manage, visualize and analyze data, design databases, address security concerns, and carry out other specialized tasks. You will also have the opportunity to develop other skills including communication, problem-solving, and strategizing, which can be carried into even more potential jobs and career paths.
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The growing importance of data in modern business
You’ve no doubt heard of big data, but did you know how much data we currently produce? It’s actually impossible to give a precise figure due to the sheer volume and breadth, but according to the World Economic Forum, the amount of data generated daily is estimated to reach 463 exabytes globally by 2025. An exabyte is 1,000 bytes to the sixth power and, for context, all the words ever spoken by human beings could be contained in just five exabytes of data!
Not all of this data is pertinent to your business of course, but part of the data analytics and business intelligence role is to sift, identify, collect, and analyze the parts of this almost unimaginably vast datasphere that are both relevant and valuable. There’s no doubting that effective leverage of data is becoming increasingly important to businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Data helps businesses and other organizations to predict trends, identify opportunities, and avoid threats by providing them with insights into consumer behavior and market conditions before they actually happen. Good data analysis and business intelligence can also assist you to avoid past mistakes and improve current and future processes by looking at historical data and analyzing what went right and what didn’t. Big business beasts who claim to rely largely on ‘gut instinct’ enjoy a sort of mythical status but less highly publicized are the ‘ordinary’ businesses that suffer — sometimes catastrophically — due to decisions that are not informed by the data. There is certainly a place for intuition, but in the interconnected, data-driven modern business landscape, it needs to be backed up by diligent research and analysis.
None of this looks set to change any time soon. As the world itself becomes ever more connected and data-driven, so does the demand for skilled people who can turn that data into valuable insights. Whether working directly as a business analyst or transferring your skills into another role, those skills are also likely to be in demand for the foreseeable future.
Business intelligence and business analytics
There are many ways in which these vast reams of data can be used to improve business performance. Business intelligence (BI), business analytics (BA), and other terms such as data analytics are sometimes used interchangeably and are all data-management solutions or approaches that use historical and current data to create actionable insights. There are some subtle differences between the disciplines, however.
By some definitions, business intelligence focuses on descriptive analytics, looking at a combination of historical and contemporary data to provide an explanation of what has happened and is currently happening. It does give you a route to the future, however, by allowing you to keep or refine the approaches that have worked while rejecting or changing the ones that haven’t.
Business analytics is perhaps even more focused on future events, utilizing predictive analytics techniques including data mining, modeling, and machine learning. Here’s a simplified way this difference could be applied in a real-world SME setting. Say the data shows that the sales of a particular product have spiked in a particular territory over the past month. BI might tell you to increase the production of that product to keep up with demand. By mining your website data, you might find out that the spike was preceded by a positive post from a popular blogger. BA might suggest that you send your products out to more bloggers to see if you can replicate that success. This is a very simplified example of course, and both disciplines tend to cover much more complex scenarios and datasets.
In some ways, business intelligence and business analytics are very closely related. In fact, BA is sometimes considered to be a subset of BI, and the responsibilities and skills needed for each can be very transferable. This is good news for anyone with the relevant skills, qualifications, and experience, as it broadens the career potential of a business analytics course even further.
What does a career in business analytics entail?
Even though the core of the job remains the same — leveraging data to improve the overall efficiency and workings of your organization — the details of roles within business analytics or business analysis can vary widely depending on the sector, the organization, and several other factors. Employers including multinational businesses, many SMEs, non-profit organizations, public sector organizations, and others all have an increasing demand for business analysts. Many will be employed in-house, but there are also plenty of opportunities for outside or freelance consultancy work.
It’s also worth noting that, while business intelligence and business analytics roles involve the usage of data and statistical analysis, there are also business analysis roles that primarily focus on the processes, functions, and techniques of a business without necessarily delving too deeply into data. These business analysts will typically provide solutions and improve efficiency by defining and standardizing different processes across the business.
A business intelligence specialist, meanwhile, will focus largely on data-led solutions and analysis of past and current performance. A business analytics specialist will also focus on data and statistics but will use their analysis to predict future states and drive business decisions accordingly. This typically requires not only a lot of technical skills but also in-depth knowledge of business practices (both specific to their sector and in more general terms), as well as communication and other skills. You will have to understand the way the business works to identify ways it can improve functions, products, and services to meet the needs and goals of stakeholders. You might also act as a ‘go-between’, situated somewhere between those stakeholders, senior management, and IT departments. Business analysts need to be excellent communicators to convey the value of their predictions and suggestions to people who may not be technically minded.
The day-to-day responsibilities of a business analyst specializing in data and business analytics can vary widely but might include the following:
- Gain an understanding of the needs of different departments and the organization as a whole
- Identify the sources of data that may be relevant to the individual project or ongoing business analysis
- Analyze the data using a variety of tools, techniques, and technology
- Use data modeling to make predictions based on your analysis — in some cases, this may involve advanced technology like AI and machine learning algorithms
- Identify the processes and technology required to implement any recommendations
- Communicate your analysis and recommendations to different departments and stakeholders
- Support teams in the implementation of any changes
- Help formulate plans and processes to evaluate the impact of any changes made
What skills does a business analytics specialist need?
A business analyst working within the field of business and data analytics will generally need numerous technical skills, which could include:
- SQL — As the main coding language used for communicating with databases, SQL (Structured Query Language) is one of the main tools in any analytics professional’s toolkit. SQL statements are used to perform tasks such as updating data on, or retrieving data from, a database. Common database management systems that use SQL include Oracle, Sybase, and Microsoft Access.
- Statistical languages — Programming languages commonly used in analytics include R (for statistical analysis) and Python (for more general programming). They are not essential for business analysis but could be helpful.
- Statistical software usage — There are plenty of statistical tools that can be used without coding knowledge, including SPSS, SAS, Sage, Mathematica, and even Excel.
You may also need several other personal or ‘soft’ skills, including:
- Communication — As mentioned, you will frequently need to communicate findings and recommendations to different departments and internal and external stakeholders. This may involve creating easy-to-understand data visualizations but also written and in-person presentations.
- Problem-solving — Business analytics professionals do not simply process the data and get a solution or answer out of thin air. They will frequently have to identify problems or issues and utilize predictive analytics to make suggestions that will solve a problem or improve a process going forward.
- Critical thinking — A big part of the role involves identifying the datasets that will be relevant to the project or task at hand.
- Visualizing — To take the value from data, the analyst needs to be able to translate and visualize it in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand.
Other potential roles and jobs
There are plenty of roles and variations between data and business analytics positions across different sectors, but many of these skills are also very versatile and transferable. These may help experienced analytics professionals to easily transition into middle or senior management. There are also plenty of related roles that require some or all of the same skills, including:
- Business analyst
- Business intelligence consultant
- Data analyst
- Data scientist
- Business consultant
- Business application developer
- Project manager
- Market research analyst
There are many more instances where the transferable skills learned in a business analytics course could be useful, allowing you to future-proof your entire career!