As with many buzzwords emerging from the intersection of business and technology, the phrase “business intelligence” (BI) is often misunderstood. In a nutshell, it refers to the skill and practice of extracting insights from data to realize new goals, strategies, trends, and values. A business intelligence analyst, working with a network of other knowledge workers (such as data stewards and data governance specialists), helps an enterprise thrive.
Business Intelligence Explained
Business intelligence refers to the perspectives gained from analyzing the business information that companies hold. Since that data may be spread across many locations and departments, business intelligence is an amalgam of analytics and mining that can empower management with the tools needed to make informed decisions that may not otherwise be apparent.
Today’s data-driven businesses are growing at an unprecedented pace, often along unpredictable paths. Because of this, you might think that business intelligence should largely be an automated affair – even the domain of AI. However, algorithms and automation alone cannot harness the creative connections and nuanced insights required within the field. Although IT is obviously a major part of the equation, business intelligence requires human intelligence.
Curious about what it takes to become a business intelligence analyst? Read on for the skills and education you’ll need and the responsibilities you’ll have if you follow this career path.
What Is a Business Intelligence Analyst?
As is common among data-centric professions, a business intelligence analyst (BIA) must wear many hats and have skills that fall across various areas. Still, the core of the job boils down to creating regular reports that summarize a company’s current data holdings in relation to parallel financial reports and current market intelligence.
Typically, these reports cogently present salient trends in an identified market that could impact the goals and actionable items on a company’s agenda, plotted as a function of the various data assets at the organization’s disposal.
Although a business intelligence analyst is much more than a glorified office assistant, the job is best understood as a support role for executive decision-makers. A BIA must provide meticulously supported analytical insights that reflect the current realities of both the enterprise and markets in question. At the end of the day, the key outcomes of the analyst’s work are to bolster the company’s place in the market, streamline the efficiency of the staff, amplify overall productivity, and even upgrade performance at the level of customer experience.
The business intelligence analyst is a relatively new vocation but growing fast: Forbes recently tapped the BIA as one of the most sought-after positions in the greater STEM marketplace.
Since there’s a demand for BI expertise across so many industries – healthcare and medicine, insurance, finance, e-commerce – professionals working in the U.S. can expect to command a salary of roughly $80,000 per year (with even higher figures in especially tech-heavy states).
What Skills Do Business Intelligence Analysts Need?
Just as one would expect from the job title, the lion’s share of a business intelligence analyst’s skill set involves crunching data. They need to have a strong command of data at every level, including organization, storage, mining big data, and analysis – all with a keen and responsive eye for spotting key performance indicators and business-critical priorities in a company’s data troves.
Beyond data, a top-tier BIA will have some proficiency in tools tailored specifically for BI, programming languages, and systems analysis.
Data and tech know-how may anchor the position, but it’s nothing without a raft of communications skills to translate data insights into actionable steps. This entails critical thinking and the ability to make presentations that speak to the needs of stakeholders in easy-to-understand language and data visualizations.
Typical skills required for business intelligence analysts:
- Extensive knowledge of software in user interface, database management, enterprise resource management (proficiency in Python, R, C#, Hadoop, and SQL)
- Presentation and reporting in a timely and cogent manner (mastery of PowerPoint and business functions of Zoom are obvious assets)
- Upper-level background in integrating software and programs into multiple tiers of data services
- A knack for problem-solving in both technical and interpersonal contexts; at least five years of engagement in analytical and critical thinking skills in a professional setting
- Ability to build rapport with both individuals in management and interdepartmental teams (especially in cases of implementing new software and tech that may result from BI recommendations)
BI Roles and Responsibilities
As much as business intelligence can be about interpersonal action, much of an analyst’s duties are solitary ones, chief among these authoring procedures for data processing and collection. From there on, expect reporting and more reporting, including analytical reports that can be personalized for the needs of stakeholders, highlighting the most departmentally relevant findings.
A business intelligence analyst also needs to maintain an active role in the various life cycles of data as it moves throughout the organization. After all, data reports are built upon regularly monitoring the way data is collected, looking at field reports, product summaries from third parties, and even through public record.
As a function of this, a BIA may want to continually track burgeoning trends in tech or emerging markets that could potentially offer efficiency or value within the industry and their specific enterprise.
Working in concert with specialists in data governance and stewardship, a BIA must oversee the integrity, security, and location of data storage. This should be performed in the organization’s computer database and may be done in conjunction with new operational protocols that make the most of the database as it evolves in tandem with updates and unique program features. Finally, BIAs benefit from taking a step back for meta-analysis, forging new methodologies that improve analysis at every step outlined above.
Required Education and Training
There are several routes you may follow to prepare for a career in business intelligence. Most obviously, you can earn a bachelor’s degree directly in business intelligence, which incorporates a study of analytics with elements of marketing, tech, and management.
Alternatively, a beginner in the field may want to proceed more obliquely, garnering a B.A. in a related field, such as computer science, accounting, finance, management, or business.
A bachelor’s is enough to open the door for most entry-level positions in business intelligence, but a master’s in a more comprehensive discipline such as business analytics can make the difference in landing more competitive, elite jobs.
Image used under license from Shutterstock.com