Data rules our world, and nowhere is this truer than in the realm of business. Without a steady influx of accurate and useful data, it is difficult (if not impossible) for businesses to stay competitive and relevant today. That data flows in from a thousand different sources each and every day, such as:
- Customer and client orders
- Survey results and customer feedback
- Email, social media and marketing reports
- Profits, losses, budgets and other financial documents
- Operational efficiency
- Manufacturing efficiency
- Employee statistics, such as sales figures or hiring-and-firing numbers
… and so much more. Depending on the type of industry in which you work, and the products and services with which your company is concerned, the sources of data will vary. What doesn’t vary is the fact that your organization can’t succeed without paying attention to all that data.
The truth is, data is only useful if it’s in the right format. That means data must be:
- Clean, without competing or interfering factors or “background noise”
- Organized across departments for a full picture
- In standardized metrics that are useful to all departments
- Recent and relevant
Those aren’t the only requirements for good data, of course, but they’re a good place to start. Again, though, this isn’t the form in which data arrives. Rather, it pours in raw and unedited in a great deluge. Without the right people to manage it, a business can’t hope to make good use of it. In response, an entire industry has sprung up to help: business data analytics.
But what is this industry, and how does it pertain to your career path? Let’s take a look at some of the most pertinent questions today.
What’s the Difference Between Business Analysis and Business Data Analysis?
As Harvard Business School points out, the two fields are not the same. “Business analysis has less to do with data and instead focuses on analyzing and optimizing the processes and functions that make up a business,” explains the Ivy League institution. “They analyze what a business needs to function optimally and what it needs to improve, and then work to implement solutions. This may include improving processes, changing policies or introducing new technology.”
Business data analytics, on the other hand, “focuses on data, statistical analysis and reporting to help investigate and analyze business performance, provide insights, and drive recommendations to improve performance. They may also work with internal or external clients, but their focus is to improve the product, marketing or customer experience by using insights from data, rather than analyzing processes and functions.”
Essentially, the role combines two of the most lucrative and interesting career paths available today: business and analysis. That said, what exactly does a business data analyst do?
What Does a Business Data Analyst Do?
A business data analyst’s job is to take the massive influx of data that arrives at a given company’s doorstep every day and turn it into meaningful insight. In order to transform that raw data into actionable recommendations that can improve a business’s bottom line, they must:
- Collect and mine data from the right sources. Collecting data is easier, because some of it comes in ready to be processed. Other data must be extracted, or mined, from mountains of existing data. For instance, if you need a single metric from social media data (such as conversions to the sale of a particular product), you will need to create methods for hunting through all the rest of the data to find it.
- Sort the data. Once your data is extracted from amongst extraneous factors and figures, you need to sort it to do what you want. Maybe you sort by product, by department, by day of the week, or any other category.
- Clean the data. Then the task becomes to turn the data you have into readable intelligence. That means cleaning the data to remove competing factors that might create false impressions (for instance, to account for the fact that a product sold really well during a certain week, when in fact that week was Black Friday). You need to remove any confounding factors that might alter the nature of the data, which would in turn alter the answers you need to the questions you’re asking.
- Transform the data into the right metrics. If you want to compare sales dollar to dollar, you obviously need all those figures in dollars. If you sell overseas, though, many of your figures will come in listed in pounds, yen, pesos or other forms of currency – all of which need to be recalculated using exchange rates on the day of the sale. This is just one example showing how much data needs to be put into a new metric before it’s usable.
- Create and run algorithms to extract meaning. For the most part, humans don’t have the speed or insight to extract intelligence from the vast quantities of data generated by businesses every day. Instead, they need to create programs that can do it for them.
- Turn insight into actionable recommendations. Once business data analysts have the insights they need to answer questions they’ve been given, they must prepare reports or presentations to hand that intelligence off to superiors or stakeholders.
It’s a lot of work, and the field is both complex and challenging. However, those who are interested in gleaning insight from numbers will find it fascinating and ever-changing – a rich and complex career for life. They need the right aptitudes, however.
What Skills Does Business Data Analytics Require?
Those who want to succeed in the field of business data analytics need a wide array of skills. These include:
- Expert management of computer systems, software and programs
- Understanding of artificial intelligence and machine learning, both of which play an increasingly significant role in data analysis
- The ability to think outside the box, spotting confounding variables and creating new approaches to solving problems
- The ability to turn figure-based conclusions into visual and verbal reports
- Good communication, which will enable business data analysts to transmit the information they find to those who need it
- People skills, since the job entails working with others to take action based on the meaning created through data analysis
- A love of lifelong learning, since the technologies used in this field will never stop changing
If that sounds like you, chances are good you will do well in a career as a business data analyst. Of course, you’ll need a degree in order to begin, which you can get through either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in business analytics program. If you’d like to learn more about your options, get in touch today.