What Does A Business Analyst Do?

Industry Advice Analytics

In the past two years, the amount of data generated by the global population has reached an all-time high. Humans now produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day through the use of smartphones, social media, and websites like Google, and 90 percent of that total data worldwide has been created within the last two years alone.

With these increasing numbers has also come an expanding reliance on the use of such quantifiable information in business. Enterprises across a variety of industries are using consumer preferences, habits, and other data insights to help make decisions. In business, 81 percent of organizations have come to rely on the population’s data when trying to “gain greater customer insights” and identify trends.

Breaking Down Analytics

A lot has to happen to those 2.5 quintillion bytes of data before it can be useful to organizations, however. Individuals who work in analytics are responsible for taking the unstructured captured information we generate online and translating it into a format that the human brain can understand.

This process of generating, analyzing, and communicating data is carried out by a variety of individuals within this field, whom each takes ownership of a particular component of the work.

  • Data analysts do more technical work, including sifting through data, drawing conclusions, and effectively communicating that data through practices like data visualization and verbal storytelling with data.
  • Business analysts evaluate past and current business data with a primary goal of improving decision-making processes within organizations. They work closely with stakeholders to identify goals, best practices, and other active methods for gathering and analyzing data as it relates to the needs of the specific organization.
  • Data scientists are similar to business analysts in that their primary focus is on the processes through which data is gathered for business use. However, unlike business analysts, data scientists focus on the technical aspect of these processes. They evaluate the acquisition, storage, and initial analysis of data, then apply data science methods to measure effectiveness.

While each of these roles plays a significant part in the overall use of data analytics in business, it is the work of a business analyst which makes the most direct impact on an organization. Read on to learn more about the responsibilities, necessary skills, and career outlook for the business analyst field.


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Responsibilities of a Business Analyst

Many compare the role of a business analyst to that of a liaison between advanced technology and the goals of stakeholders within an organization. Individuals in this role are responsible for improving the efficiency and impact of certain business operations, including the review of programs or technical processes.

Business analysts may also be in charge of analyzing and communicating data as it relates to business-relevant trends and solutions to a management team. Organizations heavily rely on business analysts’ constant evaluations and recommendations, as the information provided is often used to improve decision-making processes and reconfigure business goals both internally and at a customer-level.

Business Analysis vs. Business Analytics:

The terms “business analysis” and “business analytics” are often used interchangeably, and while both do involve the review of data-based information to benefit a corporation, there are a few unique qualities that help define each practice. Where business analysis focuses on process improvement and solution implementation, business analytics is based on data and involves using that data to formulate conclusions on business performance. The lines between these disciplines only continue to be blurred, however, as industries become reliant on data for all kinds of high-level decision-making.

Although specific role requirements may vary depending on the needs of the organization, there are a few key responsibilities that span most business analyst work.

Key Responsibilities of Business Analysts

  • Understanding what a business does, including most significantly, the processes through which they accomplish their work.
  • Evaluating those processes for efficiency, cost, and results.
  • Compiling recommendations for the company on process adjustments, new potentially impactful technologies, or other areas for improvement.
  • Leading the research, design, and implementation of any technology or processes that require a more substantial technical understanding within the group, including the development of functional specifications.
  • Communicate changes, recommendations, and procedures to business teams.
  • Remain engaged with business leaders to help them understand how changes impact the goals of the organization.

Overall, business analysts bridge the gap in understanding between the management of an organization, and the complex data and technical systems businesses use in hopes of improving processes and helping impact decision-making. Businesses place substantial value in analysts who can successfully provide this support, especially in today’s increasingly data and technology-reliant world.

Business Analyst Career Outlook

The data industry, in general, is experiencing a very positive career outlook; IBM predicts that by 2020, there will be 2,720,000 jobs in America for data professionals, and the overall demand for these roles is higher than ever.

Business analysts, sometimes referred to as management analysts, are falling right in line with this trend. The average salary for individuals in these roles is $83,610 per year, and those numbers can increase depending on a declared specialty—such as IT or system operations—within the general business analyst field.

Salaries for business analysts may also vary depending on where the individual is located. For example, PayScale reports that compensation for business analysts in San Francisco exceeds the national average by 21 percent, followed by Seattle at nine percent, and Boston at eight percent, among others.

Did You Know: Northeastern University offers a Master of Professional Studies in Analytics program on-ground in Boston, Charlotte, Seattle, and the San Francisco Bay Area? Learn how you can take advantage of experiential learning opportunities in the business analyst field within each of these cities on our programs page.

The general job outlook for business analysts is increasing at a faster-than-average rate of 14 percent, and the popularity of many other big data careers is on the rise, as well. These factors together have led to an increased interest in data careers across a variety of industries.

Other Common Business Analyst Job Titles and Salaries

Positions are defined in workplaces today not by the titles, but by the skill sets that the role requires. Many job titles correlate with the work of a business analyst, for example. Browse through the top named roles, salaries, and the job specifications that make them unique below.

 

Operations Research Analyst

Average Salary: $83,390/year

Job Outlook by 2026: Up by 27 percent (Much faster than average)

Responsibilities: Operations research analysts assist organizations in investigating complex issues, solving problems, and improving decision-making practices base on mathematical and analytical investigations.

 

Computer Systems Analyst

Average Salary: $88,740/year

Job Outlook by 2026: Up by nine percent (As fast as average)

Responsibilities: Also known as a system architect, individuals in these roles focus on optimizing an organization’s efficiencies through the evaluation of a company’s technical systems and procedures. This analysis is also typically followed by a proposal for improved practices moving forward.

 

Information Security Analyst

Average Salary: $98,350/year

Job Outlook by 2026: Up by 28 percent (Much faster than average)

Responsibilities: Individuals in this position focus on keeping computer and technology systems safe within an organization. Their work relates closely to the protection of corporations from cyberattacks.

 

Business Data Analyst

Average Salary: $69,252/year

Responsibilities: Business data analysts gather and interpret an organization’s data on their behalf. They often present this data to stakeholders in an effort to identify trends and areas for improvement.

High-Level Business Analyst Roles

Business analyst roles are often considered entry-level within an organization’s infrastructure, meaning there is ample opportunity for growth.

What makes this role even more unique is the additional opportunities for business analysts to further define their path depending on the aspect of their work on which they wish to focus. Business analysts who want to focus on IT, for instance, have the opportunity to advance in that direction, while those who want to be more client-focused, may proceed to a management consulting position.

The following graphic from PayScale illustrates the various paths that business analysts may take, including the step in which they define their specialty. Click through the different roles to learn more, and drag around the various connections between each job to help determine the best route to your next position.

Business Analyst Skills

There are a few general skills that span across any business analysts’ specialty. These skills include:

  • Problem Solving—Identifying what practices or procedures are not operating to their highest functionality and being able to formulate and implement relevant solutions.
  • Process Improvement—Uncovering inconsistencies or inefficiencies in business processes and making actionable suggestions for enhancement.
  • Communication—Translating data, findings, and suggestions from a high-level technical language into information that stakeholders can understand.
  • Critical Thinking—Due to the need to process large volumes of highly complex information regularly, well-developed critical thinking skills are imperative for successful business analysts.
  • Project Management—At times, a business analyst’s role will take on the qualities of a project manager’s. This happens most frequently during the planning and implementation of change, and involves connecting business and technical team members, keeping everyone working towards a singular goal, and overseeing timelines, budgets, and priorities.

Although the need for high-level skills in technology is much more prevalent in data analytics and data science work than a business analyst’s, most have at least a working understanding of technology, considering the majority of their work is rooted in the interpretation of data. For this reason, skills in mathematics, computer science, and data analytics, are also beneficial for aspiring business analysts.

Breaking into the Industry

Due to their involvement in high-level decision-making, companies often prefer to hire business analysts with a solid educational background and at least some experience in the industry. Most business analysts hold at least a bachelor’s degree in business administration, economics, finance, or other similar areas of study. However, as the need for experts in data continues to grow, organizations are turning toward employees with an advanced degree in analytics to fill these roles.

Relevant Master’s Programs at Northeastern

Northeastern offers an array of analytics programs for students at all levels of their careers.

  • The Align Master of Science in Computer Science program, for example, is built to allow students without a computer science background a chance to learn about the technology of business and work toward a career in data.
  • The Master of Professional Studies in Analytics program, on the other hand, has been designed for professionals with a background in business or data to expand their knowledge and advance their career.
  • The Master of Science in Business Analytics program is the most tailored to the work of future business analysts and focuses on developing professionals with the capacity to build effective business strategies based off of collected data.

Earning a Degree from Northeastern

No matter which of these relevant Northeastern master’s programs aspiring business analysts choose, they will be granted unparalleled exposure to the field through Northeastern’s focus on experiential learning. Northeastern offers opportunities for all of its students to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-life scenarios through hands-on work within one of the hundreds of Northeastern-partnered companies across America. For business analysts especially, having this kind of opportunity to practice their work and hone their skills will go a long way in helping land a role in this growing industry.

 

Learn more about how a degree in analytics from Northeastern can set business analyst up to succeed in this growing field, then explore our data analytics e-book to uncover more about the industry.

 

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