The number of challenges facing any given business today are staggering. It is a rare niche that does not host dozens – if not hundreds or thousands – of competitors, with new ones springing up all the time. Marketing is a many-headed hydra, with newer technologies such as social media and mobile advertising competing with still-relevant analog option such as print and radio.
Human resources continues to be a bugbear, with hiring and firing the right people comprising one of the main challenges for any organization. Add product development, operations and management, finances and budgeting, and the many other prongs of business, and you have a perfect storm for confusion and negative outcomes.
The root of the problem is the sheer amount of data available today. The flood of facts and figures represents a golden opportunity, but more often is a well of despair for businesspeople and executives who simply have no idea what to do with it. How, goes the question, can you turn this amazing source of information into meaningful insights that will grow a business – rather than drown it in the flood?
That is exactly the question that business analysts seek to answer. Their job is to turn that deluge into sharp, incisive, targeted and actionable information that businesses can use to make better decisions, compete more effectively and participate in a global marketplace.
Think a business analyst job might be the right one for you? It could well be, so let’s take a closer look.
What Is a Business Analyst?
To the uninitiated, data is often synonymous with information. In other words, if you have data, you have the insights you need to make decisions. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for a number of reasons:
- Data does not arrive at your doorstep perfectly groomed and ready for use. Rather, it is often clouded with background noise, tainted with confounded factors, recorded in the wrong metrics and otherwise corrupted. Someone needs to turn that data into usable information before it becomes meaningful.
- There usually exists more data than can be used at any given time. Because of this, someone needs to sort through the data to pull out that which is actually useful. Understanding what is helpful and what is just more noise is a deep skill.
- Data can be misleading. Sometimes you think data is saying one thing, but once you account for other factors (time, marketing, optimization), you discover it is saying another. Companies need people who are practiced at telling the difference between the two, and without them, can make wrong decisions based on misleading data.
Without business analysts, many companies will find themselves unable to respond to daily demands effectively. They are likelier to miscalculate, make poor financial decisions, hire the wrong people, promote the wrong products and services, waste marketing funds, enlist the wrong business partners or donors, expand in the wrong territories, and otherwise make mistakes.
A business analyst helps ensure that doesn’t happen. According to CIO, “Business analysts help guide businesses in improving processes, products, services and software through data analysis. These agile workers straddle the line between IT and the business to help bridge the gap and improve efficiency.”
It’s not an easy role, especially given the number of stakeholders with whom they must engage daily. “BAs engage with business leaders and users to understand how data-driven changes to process, products, services, software and hardware can improve efficiencies and add value,” adds the business-forward publication. “They must articulate those ideas but also balance them against what’s technologically feasible and financially and functionally reasonable.”
That’s why they make the big bucks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the closely related field of management analytics can command an average salary of $83,610 per year or $40.20 per hour. At a job growth rate of 14 percent between 2016 and 2026, graduates with a related degree are likely to find the job they’re looking for. First, though, you’ve got to go back to school – and here are our favorite master’s degrees to get when you do.
Master of Business Analytics
As stated, business analysis is a difficult and deep subject. The best master’s degree for understanding and applying it is, therefore, one that is devoted entirely to its pursuit. A master of business analytics gives you the tools to source, prepare and analyze data related to business processes. Whether you help your organization make everyday decisions or step in as a consultant on moves of big magnitude, this degree can help you get there. With it:
- You will become an expert in business analytics. Again, this is the most targeted degree for business analysis. Employers who are looking for someone to fill this very specific role will look to you first. See what it takes to become a business analyst.
- You will have skills that apply to a wide range of organizations and fields. No need to worry that you’ll pigeonhole yourself with this degree; you can use it to get hired in a wide range of settings.
- It doesn’t require a lot from you. Considering how useful this degree is, it’s rather impressive that you can finish it within a year. For those who can’t go full-time, you can take 18 or 24 months instead, while continuing to work or take care of your family responsibilities.
Master of Data Analytics
Also knowns as a master’s degree in “applied data analytics,” data analytics is closely related to business analytics, but has broader applications. It isn’t necessarily restricted to the realm of commerce the way a business degree is, which is perfect for people who want a broader range of opportunities upon graduation. If you like the field of business but aren’t sure that you want to rule out nonprofit, government or education jobs, then you might want to choose a data analytics master’s instead. Benefits of this degree include:
- You will gain a deep understanding of data and its uses. Data is big business, from the smallest company to the largest organization. No matter what a business sells or whom they serve, today’s commercial climate dictates that they use data. If you therefore know how to do so, you’ll have all the job opportunity you could ever need.
- You can build your own work environment. Data analysts have a high degree of work-life balance, if they choose to make that a focus area. Whether you want to work for a business organization, join a consulting firm or start your own enterprise, this degree will give you the know-how.
- It is a short program. Like the master of business analytics, you can expect to earn this degree in 12-24 months. That’s a relatively limited amount of time, considering how much it can change your work experience and life.
Master of Business Administration
The MBA has an excellent reputation across industries for good reason. It is the gold standard when it comes to graduate-level business degrees, providing both a solid overview of commerce as well as deep focus in a chosen area. This makes it the perfect degree for anyone who is interested in business analytics. Such a degree brings benefits such as:
- You can focus on data analysis. Business is too large a category to cover in one program, which is why people getting their MBA have to choose a focus area. If you want to be a business analyst, all you have to do is choose data analysis as your main interest.
- It is useful anywhere. Whether or not you end up being a business analyst, your MBA will still prove useful. It makes your resume look amazing, imparts priceless business skills, and is recognized across the world as signifying your expertise.
- It pairs well with an analytics undergrad. If you received your degree in a data-related field like computer programming, software engineering or data science, this is the perfect master’s to get. Together, they provide the solid business + data mix you need to be an effective business analyst.
Master of Computer Programming
Are you more interested in the data side than the business side? Don’t worry, you can still find good work as a business analyst. If this is you, though, you might focus more on writing programs that help you locate, prepare and analyze data. Computer programming courses focus on computer languages, hardware and software, networks and other communications-focused subjects. You can look forward to perks such as:
- With a master’s degree, you can lead a team. Even if you yourself aren’t very interested in the business side, you can lead a team that helps turn data-driven insight into meaningful change and innovation. A master’s degree will give you many of the critical thinking and leadership skills that are so necessary in management.
- You can combine it with a business undergrad. In contrast to the MBA, a computer programming master’s goes well with an undergraduate degree in business. Again, the combination of the two will provide you with the understanding, insight and education needed to make good business analysis decisions.