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What Does a Business Analyst Do? Telling Stories With Data

It’s no secret that businesses today generate an astounding amount of data. But according to McKinsey, up to 40% of the reports that businesses generate daily add little to no value, wasting costly resources. 

layer "There's a lot of data being generated in many different organizations, and they're struggling with how to govern that data."

“There's a lot of data being generated in many different organizations, and they're struggling with how to govern that data,” said Gwen Britton, Associate Vice President of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Global Campus STEM & Business Programs.

One key piece of effectively using this data, Britton says, is using data to tell the right story. Businesses are increasingly seeking the skill sets of data scientists and business analysts to do just that, driving actionable insights from vast amounts of data. 

Read on to learn more about the business analyst job role from two business and data analytics subject matter experts and discover three critical skills for kickstarting or advancing your own business analyst career.

Business Analyst vs Data Analyst: What’s the Difference? 

The job titles of business analysts and data analysts might seem interchangeable because both jobs utilize data to make informed business decisions. However, data analysts are primarily focused on analyzing and processing datasets to identify trends and discover insights. Data analysts also often have a stronger competency in programming and data processing than business analysts. 

The role of a business analyst is to use data to solve existing business problems. Business analysts typically work under the business intelligence team, which is responsible for providing past and current views of business operations. Think streamlining processes or optimizing the performance of a business segment. 

layer "Business analysts will tell the story of what's happening in the business today."

“Business analysts will tell the story of what's happening in the business today,” Britton said. “They'll say, okay, this is what's happening, this is how, and this is why we're doing this.”

Business Analyst Career Path

The career path of a business analyst is highly flexible. Like data analysts, who can choose to become data scientists or branch out into management or consulting roles, functional business analysts can transition into other careers such as project management, business operations, or information technology. Business analysts can also choose to deepen their domain knowledge and become data driven managers.

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What Are A Business Analyst’s Job Responsibilities?

The job description of a business analyst is not always clearly defined, because every enterprise has different business needs. But for the most part, the primary responsibilities of a business analyst can be broken down into the following parts: 

  1. Evaluation: The core of a business analyst's job is to take on initiatives to improve the business. A business analyst should evaluate ways to improve an organization’s efficiency and profitability. 

  2. Business Analysis: Business analysts should be comfortable analyzing and reviewing all of the collected data and information using statistical software languages such as Python or R. Business analysts will also heavily use Excel.

  3. Reporting: Once a business analyst has thoroughly identified and analyzed an existing business problem, the next step is documenting findings and providing deliverables.

  4. Project Management: After identifying and proposing a solution, business analysts must work with key stakeholders, project managers, and team members to implement and oversee the project. 

  5. Problem Solving: Problem solving involves understanding a business problem and figuring out effective techniques to solve it.

How To Become a Business Analyst: 3 Ways To Build Your Analytics Skill Set

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that employment for business analysts will rise by 11% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average job outlook growth rate. And according to Salary.com, the average salary of a business analyst is $77,009.

If you’re interested in landing an entry-level business analyst role, a bachelor's degree in business administration or finance can help, but skills are the real requirement. You’ll also have to learn core business analyst skills, which include:

1. Gathering the Pieces: Learn How to Script Data 

Knowing computer science programming languages, or scripting, is an essential skill for business analysts. Scripting is important for data visualization, organizing data, and automating data manipulation. The most important programming languages for business analysts are Python and R. 

If you’re new to programming, try learning one scripting language at a time. Python is generally considered easier to learn first, especially if you don’t have any statistics knowledge. 

“Take whatever programming language you're comfortable with and then learn a new language that you're not that comfortable with,” said Ben Tasker, Technical Program Facilitator of Data Science and Data Analytics at SNHU. “I was pretty horrible at Python when I started my career. So I switched over to R, even though a lot of people say that R is harder to learn. I learned it much more quickly and then I switched back over to Python and became more comfortable with it.”

2. Developing Your Storyboard: Understand Applied Statistics 

Business analysts may not need to know multivariable calculus or linear algebra, but they need to know applied statistics. Applied statistics uses statistical methods and tools such as R and Python to interpret data and solve real-world data analysis questions.

“When we talk about business analytics, there has to be an understanding of what math you need in order to represent the data most appropriately,” Britton said. “So, it doesn't mean you need to have high-level math skills, but you at least need a fundamental understanding, you know how to tell the right story with the right data in the right way.”

TIP: Key core applied statistics topics include: 

  • Statistical frameworks
  • Calculating and applying general and normal distribution properties
  • Constructing linear regression models 
  • Constructing hypothesis tests and confidence interval models

Learning applied statistics might seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Britton, an instructor for the SNHUx's Business Analytics Foundations MicroBachelors® program, says that learning applied statistics is critical for telling stories with data. 

layer "Statistics tells this story of how to describe what the data looks like or how these two things relate to each other."

“Statistics tells this story of how to describe what the data looks like or how these two things relate to each other or this is the trend and this is what we can anticipate in the future,” said Britton. “Each of those different things really has an underlying story behind it that is really based on statistics."

3. Landing the Narrative: Bolster Your Communication Skills 

Business analysts need to tell data stories to a variety of stakeholders, so effective communication is very important. Great business analysts leverage and cultivate emotional intelligence and active listening skills. According to TalentSmart, emotional intelligence (also called “EQ”) accounts for 58% of a person’s job performance and is a key leadership skill that involves empathy, conflict management, influence, and self-awareness. 

Did you know?

One simple method of becoming a better communicator is by utilizing active listening skills, which are linked to EQ. To be an active listener, pay full attention to the speaker, give informed responses, and allow the speaker enough time to give a response.

Pick Your Passion

To recap, a business analyst uses data to improve existing business processes, efficiency, and productivity. Virtually every industry needs business analysts, which is why it’s a highly in-demand career. If you want to earn a business analyst position or advance your career as a business analyst, it’s vital that you work on your core skill set.

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