Business analytics is one of the safest career paths of the modern age. All businesses rely on big data – the more people buy and use, the more data emerges, and the more useful this information becomes to help market and shape products and services in the future.
Therefore, companies need to hire analysts who can read and measure the data building up. This is where business analysts come into play – they can help firms move toward a data-driven strategy that can enable them to compete with their rivals and keep up to speed with changing consumer tastes and trends.
However, to become a business analyst, you need more than just experience on the job, or a good head for figures. To succeed in this career, seeking further education is always important. In this guide, we take a close look at what the work of a business analyst entails and why it’s so important to start building up an education in analysis and find your way through your own career path.
What does a business analyst do?
A business analyst is a specialist who helps companies make important decisions based on data. An analyst’s role is more than just making these decisions outright – it is to ensure that the companies they work for have a clear idea of what their data is telling them.
For example, many companies use business analysts to forecast spending and potential consumer behavior. Using precedent data from previous sales periods, for example, an analyst can present a series of reports to show company directors what they’re likely to reach in terms of revenue over a given period. This information, for instance, could be useful in helping marketing departments decide how to promote services over the Christmas period, given buyer behavior from previous years.
However, precedent data isn’t always a firm predictor of behavior that’s yet to occur, so it’s important for a business analyst to read between the lines. Therefore, they will work with different departments within a business to ensure that they understand the ramifications of the data they pull together – and they will suggest several scenarios they can prepare for.
Education is vital for business analysts to succeed in their careers. For example, a budding analyst might choose to enroll in a Master’s in Business Analytics Online with a recognized institution such as St. Bonaventure University. In fact, SBU’s program introduces the two aligning worlds of prescriptive and predictive analytics to students – meaning that they can get a firm foothold in different types of data crunching. To find out more about this course, visit St. Bonaventure’s website, linked to above.
Ultimately, the work of a business analyst is extremely varied. However, it’s a career path that has always been interesting. Analysts get the chance to tap into a world of data and have the power to positively influence how a business performs for years to come.
Let’s take a closer look at how you can progress your business analytics career through further education.
Learning advanced techniques
Although you will learn many different data analysis techniques while studying as part of a university degree, there are certainly benefits to developing knowledge of techniques on your own.
As data grows and the technology used to crunch such information becomes more advanced, it stands to reason that the techniques we use to manage this data will also evolve. Preparing oneself by studying and trailing techniques is a great way to prepare for the workplace.
Some popular techniques you could learn and test include CATWOE. The CATWOE method revolves around obtaining leading stakeholder opinions and collating them into a single platform. Typically, you would focus on ‘customers’ and ‘actors’ as a priority in this model, as they account for the C and the A in the acronym.
Beyond this, there is also PESTLE or PEST analysis. These models go deep into researching environmental factors that potentially alter company directions. For example, this model suggests that you consider political influences, technological advances and environmental expectations.
The way that you use different advanced business analytics strategies will vary from firm to firm. However, it’s good practice to build up a reading list that you can refer to later in your studies for a knowledge top-up.
Make sure that you embellish your studies by learning advanced techniques and reading literature written by seasoned analysts – they will help you hit the ground running when it comes to completing your coursework.
Keep up to date with current trends
As mentioned, technology and tastes change. This means that it’s always a good idea to keep a close eye on the latest trends in business analysis. For example, one of the biggest movements in recent years is the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). AI is helping business analysts to crunch data and create more detailed reports faster and more accurately than ever before.
With this in mind, it would make sense to research popular AI tools used by business analysts, and ensure that you’re up to speed on how to use them for the better. That said, it’s never wise to throw yourself into one particular niche, as you never truly know what’s going to be the ‘next big thing’.
Some trends in business analytics stay around for years and even decades. This is because they tend to work well! When you start a degree in business analytics, you will likely find that there is recommended reading that’s several years old.
This is largely because, while technology may change and analytics may get more convenient over time, some techniques will always be relevant and hold firm amid trends and industrial changes. For example, learning how to read and pull data from SQL databases is a skill you’re going to need for the foreseeable future – so read as much instructional information as you can on this side of analytics.
However, be ready to tap into trends and learn more about what other business analysts are recommending. If you have access to a mentor, for example, ask their advice on movements in analytics that they feel are particularly noteworthy.
Staying ahead of the bigger curve when it comes to business analytics also ensures that you have greater marketability as an analyst once you graduate and enter the workforce. Businesses will hire you because you have a handle on the latest movements – and they don’t have to train you to get you up to speed.
Therefore, keeping tabs on the latest analytics trends is not only going to support your understanding, but it will also ensure that you’re more employable in the long run.
Specialize and differentiate
As with most industries and career paths, there is often a danger of restricting opportunities when you don’t broaden your scope enough. Niching or specializing could open lucrative doors into industries that require a specific amount of experience.
When you specialize in a particular area, domain or interest, you stand out from the crowd. You become much more desirable to highly specific employers. Therefore, it’s worth considering which areas of business analytics appeal to you the most.
Consider, therefore, the types of businesses you want to work with and target. Are there any industries you prefer over others? For example, you might choose to niche into business analysis for financial companies and accountants. Or, you could choose to become a business analyst for a multinational corporation, or stick with small businesses in need of support.
Regardless, learning to niche and specialize is important when you’re approaching the end of your studies and are starting to look for opportunities after graduation. You can start to look into analysis specialties while you study, of course – and this is often a wise idea.
While you study at university or college, try to gain an insight into different use cases for analytics and learn more from your tutors and mentors. Try to broaden your reading lists, build literature reviews around your chosen niche, and explore whether or not it’s a path you would like to pursue.
It’s always a good idea to gain general business analytics skills to keep your field of application as broad as possible. However, differentiating and niching isn’t just likely to appeal to your own interests – it is also going to make you more appealing to very specific businesses and causes.
The biggest obstacle to overcome when considering niches is fear. However, there’s no reason to fear a lack of opportunity – provided, of course, that you research your niche market well and gain the requisite skills to show companies how supportive you can be for their causes.
Network with industry professionals
When you start studying business analytics or choose a master’s degree to top up your knowledge, you will often have the opportunity to meet people in various industries – and in your line of work – who become important networking partners.
In many cases, networking with other professionals is crucial in finding business opportunities. When you network with other business owners, you can find inroads toward business analyst roles that might not otherwise be so obvious on job boards and the open market.
Beyond this, networking is important for further learning about what an analyst’s role entails. Although it’s a great opportunity to find work and to seize upon opportunities, it’s also a vital chance for you to learn more about what future employers are likely to expect of you.
Alongside studying at college and furthering your own reading into analysis techniques and trends, networking can fill in some of the knowledge and culture gaps you might have left over. Experienced analysts and people who work in the industries you would like to break into can give you tips and insights to better prepare you for a working life ahead.
Networking arrives in different shapes, styles and setups. You might find that your chosen degree offers networking sessions as standard. Or, you might discover that there are specialist analyst networking events advertised through LinkedIn or job boards.
In this case, it’s important to seize these opportunities with both hands. Learning from other people who already have experience in your trade is crucial if you want to make a good impression as soon as possible.
You might already have the skills and the interest in business analytics to go far, but it certainly helps to know what it’s like working on the other side. Use networking opportunities to genuinely get to know people, to build relationships and to increase your knowledge.
Find a mentor
Again, colleges and universities often support their students in finding mentors while they learn and practice business analytics. As with networking, it’s a good idea to seize upon mentorship opportunities wherever possible.
A mentor can help guide you through some of the more complex aspects of business analytics that you might need additional support with when heading into a college course. Also, an experienced business analyst willing to mentor you might have some inside knowledge that you can use to help inform your learning or to help you understand some of the more complex techniques commonly used by the most successful analysts.
What’s more, a mentor can help you find connections. Alongside broader networking, you could work with a mentor and find inroads toward conversations with people in industries and businesses you really want to break into after graduation. It’s not always a given that these opportunities will be available, but there are potential links through mentors that you might not be able to access so easily on your own.
It’s sometimes easy to assume that you can get straight into business analytics and find your own way to success without the need for guidance from a mentor. However confident you might feel, always seize upon help that’s offered to you – you never know when you might need extra support.
Capitalize on hands-on experience
Although there is extensive theory work and practice behind learning how to become a business analyst, there will always be a need for you to explore the techniques you learn in practice. Therefore, it’s wise to seek out work experience and opportunities wherever possible.
Again, some colleges and universities offer work experience in specific industries as part of the courses they provide. However, in other circumstances, you might need to reach out to companies in the hope of finding practice in the real world.
Some of the best ways to do this include seeking out internships via job boards, or learning about opportunities through networking and mentoring. Internships are often unpaid, though you are also likely to be compensated for your work and insight in some cases.
Pay shouldn’t be a major driver in this case if you are simply looking to boost your knowledge and practice your skills. You could take on an internship program while studying, or seek out paid work if your course goes on hiatus.
There might also be opportunities for you to practice your new skills while studying – for example, some colleges provide mock-up scenarios where you can use tools and techniques to solve imaginary problems.
The reason for this is that, again, we all learn in different ways. Not everyone learns best through simply reading material and listening to lectures. It’s become increasingly helpful for students to practice physical skills learned through theory sessions as part of their college degrees.
Gaining hands-on experience before you enter the workforce is a great way to learn the ropes and gain confidence. Rather than learning as you work in your first salaried role, you can impress your first employer with analyst skills you’ve perfected before graduation.
The more confident you are heading into your first salaried position, the better an impression you’ll make and the further you’re likely to go in a short space of time. Therefore, always prioritize seeking hands-on experience with the help of people you network with, your mentors, and your course leaders.
Education is the cornerstone of business analytics
Whether you’re looking to get a job at Goldman Sachs or you want to help small businesses make the most of their data, it’s vital to prioritize your business analytics education.
The first big step toward business analytics success is to study at a well-recognized college or university that offers various modules and experiences. From there, you should start looking for networking opportunities, chances to work with mentors, and work experience wherever possible.
What’s more, learning and practicing data analysis under your own steam will always put you ahead of the pack. Start learning about different techniques and trends in your own time, and you will be on the right track to finding your ideal business analyst role sooner.
Also, don’t be afraid to niche down. There will always be a need for business analysis – and the more you niche and differentiate, the more you’ll appeal to unique and lucrative opportunities.