In recent 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.
The Need for Data Professionals
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 various individuals in the field, each of whom 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 the 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 that 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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Business Analyst Job Description
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.
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.
- Managing projects, developing project plans, monitoring performance, and ensuring timely turnover of deliverables.
- 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 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.
Business Analyst Salary & Career Outlook
The data industry, in general, is experiencing a very positive career outlook; IBM predicted that by 2020, there would 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 $85,260 annually, 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 27 percent, followed by Seattle at 12 percent, and Boston at seven percent, among others.
Did You Know: Northeastern University offers a Master of Professional Studies in Analytics program on-ground in Boston, 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 11 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. Below are some of the most common.
Information Security Analyst
Average Salary: $99,730/year
Job Outlook by 2029: Up by 31 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.
Computer Systems Analyst
Average Salary: $90,920/year
Job Outlook by 2029: Up by seven 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.
Operations Research Analyst
Average Salary: $84,810/year
Job Outlook by 2029: Up by 25 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.
Business Data Analyst
Average Salary: $68,346/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.
Business analyst roles are often considered entry-level within an organization’s infrastructure, meaning there is ample opportunity for growth. What makes these roles 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.
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.
Beginning Your Career as a Business Analyst
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 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 on collected 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 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.
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.
To learn more about how a degree in analytics from Northeastern can set business analysts up to succeed, explore our program details below.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2019. It has since been updated for accuracy and recency.