What is a Business Analyst?
Last Reviewed/Updated: October 17, 2019
A business analyst gathers and examines data with the ultimate goal of improving the company or organization they work for. A Bachelor's degree is a requirement for most job opportunities, and it is worthwhile to get advanced education for specialized areas in the industry or to move on to a senior position.
Business Analytics Careers
Business analysts oversee the processes of the workplace, bringing in data and evaluating the operations behind it. This can include looking into the business' needs, identifying improvement areas, and making sure that the process adheres to rules and standards. Essentially, they are the architect of the computer systems and work between the information technology department and stakeholders in the company.
Data science can be looked at as the evolution of business intelligence. Both categories involve gathering data and analyzing it, but the focus of BI is to look at past and present information to improve in the future and make better decisions. Jobs more geared toward data science have a focus toward the future, creating predictive models and experimenting with them.
A Bachelor's degree, geared toward finance, accounting, or economics, is necessary for most business analyst positions. Coursework should center around these categories along with supply chain management, quantitative analysis, data-driven marketing, and programming. Technical skills are important as potential candidates will gain a significant advantage with computer proficiency.
Advanced courses and graduate degrees are helpful for those that want to specialize in certain job categories or obtain a senior position, with a Master of Business Administration being one of the most popular. Employment opportunities will generously improve as companies are eager to higher those that have higher skills in making correct financial decisions and are able to make the company run more efficiently and effectively.
Communication skills are a must in order to thrive as a business analyst, both with maintaining the IT department's operations and demonstrates that to management and stakeholders. Critical thinking skills and an understanding of the entire business operation is key to understanding issues that appear and how to develop solutions to rectify those situations. It is very important for business analysts to keep on top of technological improvements and evaluate their potential.
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- Investigate and determine systematic company issues and process limitations by looking through information and openly communicating with others.
- Document findings and present information through reports and data visualization to other departments and/or upper management.
- Analyze problems and figure out how to optimize operations while clearly determining what the solution should be.
- Evaluate changes made to systems and process and determine that everything operates at company standards, training employees on newly upgraded features when needed.
Being a "business analyst" is a broad job position, meaning various duties can be assigned. In general, the bigger the company is, the more times they will specialize job roles in business intelligence and data science.
Degrees and Certifications
Bachelor of Science in Business Analytics, Southern New Hampshire University
Receiving a Bachelor's at SNHU can take as little as three years without having to take additional courses outside of weekday periods as an undergrad. Completing all four years can also net students a Master in Business Administration. Numerous areas of studies with a BA major include Business Intelligence, Data Analytics, Management Consulting, Predictive Analysis, and Statistical Analysis. The curriculum is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Master of Science in Analytics, Villanova University
Available fully online, the MSA curriculum consists of 36 credit hours that can be completed in five semesters, or two years. All but three of those credits go toward traditional courses -- those are reserved for the capstone project at the conclusion of the degree. Villanova's School of Business is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). There is no on-campus version of this Master's degree and no residency is required.
Harvard Business Analytics Program
This unique hybrid program is offered by the Business, Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Faculty of Arts and Sciences schools at Harvard. It features new courses designed to cover traditional data analysis and management education, along with new technology such as blockchain. Coursework includes lectures, projects, and case studies completed online, along with one live virtual classroom meetup, on a weekly basis.
Two three-day residencies are hosted at the Harvard Business School in Boston, where students have an opportunity to meet with other classmates and faculty, and the entire curriculum can be completed in as little as nine months. While not a traditional degree, the education from three different schools provides a valuable certification into the field.
Certified Management Consultant (CMC)
Given out by the Institute of Management Consultants, the CMC distinguishes consultants that have completed rigorous standards and has shown competency, ethics, and professionalism in their practices. This is geared toward those looking for a more senior position in consulting firms and related work areas. In order to obtain the certification, candidates must have completed three years of related work experience, obtained at least a Bachelor’s degree, five references from reputable organizations, and showcase skills in written exams, oral reviews, and various presentations. Fees are based on membership and what was all accomplished in obtaining the certification, and it must be renewed every three years. Less than one percent of all consultant employees have achieved this high standard.
Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)
The International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA) administer the CBAP, which is a group of certifications for analysts looking for senior positions in their field. Specifically, those with at least five years of experience in business analysis and hold titles such as product managers, trainers, and consultants. Over 7,500 hours of experience needs to be completed in the past 10 years, along with over 21 hours of educational hours and completing an exam. For those that do not have as much work experience, the IIBA offers two lower levels for business analyst certifications.
The Certificate of Capability in Business Analysis (CCBA) is geared to those with two to three years of work experience, and need to have completed 3,750 hours in the last seven years. The Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA) only looks at educational hours. Recertification for the highest two levels (CBAP and CCBA) requires at least 60 hours of continuing development credit every three years.
On a nationwide scale, the average base pay hovers at just over $69,000 according to Glassdoor. Considering the “business analyst” title is very broad, range can vary wildly based on the industry, size of business, and location. Senior levels of business analysts, or those focused on technology (systems and IT), fall on the higher end (between $76,000 and $88,000). Those completing a Master’s with at least a few years of work experience can easily see that salary go up an extra $5,000, and an additional $5,000 with benefits and incentives.
Amazon, The Boeing Company, and Deloitte Consulting are three companies that pay very well for this position. Opportunities in San Francisco generally are 25 percent higher than the national average, with New York City coming in next at 13 percent.
Listed as a 2019 Glassdoor Best Place to Work, Cisco frequently has business analysts positions open across the country. At their location in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, they utilize the “Six Sigma” method for improving their manufacturing methods, meaning that it seeks out defects throughout the entire supply chain, including the end result to stores and the consumer. It attempts to achieve near-perfect results, with no more than 3.4 defects per one million chances. In order for employees to achieve this result, they must have a solid understanding of the entire business’ process and systems used, especially when it comes to how one part impacts the other.
An opportunity like this requires strong analytical skills while also still being able to explain complicated details to other members in the workplace. For this particular job, Cisco looks for candidates with a Bachelor’s degree and at least four years of related experience with a preference of a financial background.
Working as part of Apple’s Strategic Data Solutions in Austin, Texas, quantitative business analysts utilize data science and machine learning in order to improve their process and minimize costs. They work directly with data scientists to evaluate problems and implement solutions, so maintaining good relationships with other employees is a significant key to success. A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, prior similar work experience, and being able to utilize software like SQL and Python is recommended for this position.
With so much responsibility given to business analysts and how big of a role they have between working with the IT department and stakeholders, these are positions with strong job growth. The health care industry is on the cusp of being refreshed as costs are continuing to rise with an older population and the ongoing problems with a large portion of the population not being enrolled in health insurance.
Consultants in the IT industry are not only high paying, but there will be ongoing demand in that position as big data grows. Receiving a Master’s in Business Management will net even more job security in the future, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting 14 percent growth in the position between 2016-26 with 921,600 total jobs.
Operations Research Analyst
One specialized role in business analysis is strictly looking at the operations of a company and maintaining it using advanced analytics. This is also known as a process analyst. For example, they will observe the entire supply chain and identify any issues or problems that arise, and they will receive feedback and retrieve data from multiple sources to determine the solution. Also with the data, they can make overall operations more efficient. They can be responsible for shifting workers from one segment of a large corporation to the other. While it is not their responsibility to set a price for a final product, their research of finding out how many people will buy it and the levels of sales in specific locations can be their responsibility.
While similar to business analysts in trying to find solutions for the company, this role, also known as business consultants, gears toward general research and retrieving information. They typically work with various departments, identifies issues and problems, and they develop a plan with the information they get. The difference between this and an analyst is the latter hold developed skills to take action — consultants are responsible for setting things up. It is popular for workers in the field to hold a Master of Business Administration for higher employment.
These assistants work alongside executive positions and other high-level employees for administrative support. Duties include managing busy schedules, answering phone calls, running errands, and completing other office duties. Typically, executive assistants will have command of staff if the high-level employee has a staff. This includes overseeing their specific duties and hiring others to work alongside them.