9 Skills Every Business Analytics Professional Needs

Through great strides in technology and an increase in available data, harnessing the power of analytics in business is easier than ever. And as more companies look to data for solutions, business analytics professionals fill the growing need for data expertise. But there are particular hard and soft skills you need to have a successful analytics career and thrive in the world of big data.

We’ll explore the top technical and non-technical skills for a business analytics professional. But first, let’s address what a business analytics professional actually does.

What is the difference between business analysts and business analytics professionals?

The difference between a business analyst and business analytics professional is their focus and approach when it comes to problem solving. Job hunters and recruiters alike tend to confuse these two different, but similar-sounding professions. Let’s break down the differences:

Business analyst

Business analysis has less to do with data and instead focuses on analyzing and optimizing the processes and functions that make up a business. 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.

For example, a business analyst may work with both the client, who has a particular requirement in their business, and the development team, which either builds a product or delivers a service to fulfill that requirement.

Typically, they will coordinate between these two parties to make sure the solutions created by development meet the client's requirements, and that they are adapting solutions as these needs change. They may also act as a technical project manager and collaborate with stakeholders to design and implement the service or product and ensure it’s solving the client’s problem.

Business analytics professional

Business analytics 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.

Core business analytics skills

The big data landscape has changed drastically, making it tough for professionals to know where to focus their growth. However, despite this changing field, there are a number of core business analytics skills that form the foundation of any solid business analytics career. 

A great business analytics professional could be described as:

A good communicator

Being able to present findings in a clear and concise manner is fundamental to making sure that all players understand insights and can put recommendations into practice. People working in analysis must be able to tell a story with data through strong writing and presentation skills. 

Inquisitive

People in this field should have natural curiosity and drive to continue learning and figuring out how things fit together. Even as analysts become managers, it’s important to stay in touch with the industry and its changes.

A problem solver

Professionals in analytics use a combination of logical thinking, predictive analytics and statistics to make recommendations that will solve problems and propel a business forward. In a profession that seeks to turn data into solutions, being a natural problem solver helps connect the dots.

A critical thinker

Business analytics professionals need to think critically about not only the implications of the data they collect, but about what data they should be collecting in the first place. They are expected to analyze and highlight only the data that can be helpful in making decisions. 

A visualizer

Disorganized data doesn’t help anyone. To create worth from data, analytics professionals need to be able to translate and visualize data in a concise and accurate way that’s easy to digest.

Both detail-oriented and a big picture thinker

While business analytics professionals have to be able to handle complex data, they also need to understand how their recommendations will affect the bottom line of a business. There’s no point in having access to large quantities of information without knowing how it can be harnessed to analyze and improve tactics, processes and strategies.  

Technical skills for business analytics

In a business landscape quickly becoming governed by big data, great analytics professionals are fulfilling the demand for technical expertise by wearing the hats of both developer and analyst. 

Having both a conceptual and working understanding of tools and programming languages is important to translate data sources into tangible solutions.

Below are some of the top tools for business analytics professionals:

SQL 

SQL  is the coding language of databases and one of the most important tools in an analytics professional’s toolkit. Professionals write SQL queries to extract and analyze data from the transactions database and develop visualizations to present to stakeholders.

Statistical languages 

The two most common programming languages in analytics are R, for statistical analysis, and Python, for general programming. Knowledge in either of these languages can be beneficial when analyzing big data sets, but is not vital.

Statistical software

While the ability to program is helpful for a career in analytics, being able to write code isn’t necessarily required to work as an analytics professional. Apart from the above languages, statistical software such as SPSS, SAS, Sage, Mathematica, and even Excel can be used when managing and analyzing data.

The four types of analytics

These soft and hard business analytics skills can be utilized across different facets of business analytics, including:

Descriptive Analytics

What’s happening to my business right now?

By mining and aggregating raw data through a real-time dashboard, analytics professionals are able to gain comprehensive, accurate, in-the-moment analytics. While the practice of data mining is considered the least useful part of the big data value chain, it can still be helpful in identifying patterns of behavior that might influence future outcomes.

Diagnostic analytics

Why is it happening?

Diagnostic analytics look at the past performance of campaigns and processes to determine what happened and why. It isolates all confounding information to identify an accurate cause-and-effect relationship.

Predictive analytics

What’s likely to happen in the future?

Statistical models and forecasting techniques can be used to predict likely scenarios of what might happen based on insights from big data. This form of analytics can be used to support complex forecasts.

Prescriptive analytics

What do I need to do to succeed?

Prescriptive analytics focuses on what actions should be taken. Where big data analytics can shed light on an area of business, prescriptive analytics gives you a much more focused answer to a specific question. 

Regardless of which type of analytics you’re working in, being able to offer the above hard and soft skills makes a business analytics professional an invaluable part of any business. 

As company leaders come to realize the potential impact of data on business strategy, so the number of jobs involving data analytics grows, creating strong demand for people with these talents. Business analytics professionals’ mix of technical and non-technical skills makes them uniquely qualified to provide businesses with the competitive edge so badly needed in a big data world.

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