As a business grows, the more its data — sitting in unknown and unseen digital spaces — can reveal about its customers, market share and efficiency. The analysis of internal and external data can give valuable insight to business development. Organizations can use internal information to compare performance with expectations. External information, in the form of market research, can provide insight into consumer satisfaction, trends and competitors. The final product of this analysis, which drives business decisions, is known as business intelligence.
Data doesn’t magically appear; specialists find, mine and analyze it. Business intelligence analysts identify data requirements in different areas, implement tools and techniques to meet those requirements, then communicate the results of their analysis to aid in an organization’s decision-making — a crucial position in the modern world of big data. How to become a business intelligence analyst is a question whose answer involves the right education, training and experience.
As a bridge between the data team and executive-level decision-makers, a business intelligence analyst’s job is to simplify complex data to aid in specific business decisions. Business intelligence analysts work across organizations, not just with a singular department. Their tasks range from establishing projects and creating complex reports to analyzing emerging markets and supporting new products or services through analyzing market testing. Beyond marketing, business intelligence analysts work wherever data can be used to optimize performance and decisions, from operations to human resources. Throughout the process, they seek out areas for improvement within an organization. They also oversee the ethical gathering and use of data.
The wide range of work business intelligence analysts perform comes with a unique set of responsibilities:
- Reviewing collected data
- Analyzing competitors’ use of business intelligence
- Communicating findings to management
- Overseeing the introduction of new data to the data warehouse
- Developing procedures of collecting and analyzing data
- Collaborating with IT in developing software upgrades
- Monitoring the integrity of data collection
The path to becoming a business intelligence analyst includes several key steps.
The first step is earning a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as information science or business administration. A bachelor’s is a required qualification for entry-level positions. It can also be valuable to earn a double degree in information technology and communication due to the duality of the position — both working with data and presenting findings to stakeholders.
Many future analysts then pursue a graduate degree, such as a Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA). In information management programs, students learn how to fuse ethical and social awareness with strategic information knowledge. Courses such as Policy and Ethics in Information Management give students the tools to analyze ethical issues that arise during information gathering in real business settings.
Aspiring business intelligence professionals can receive on-the-job training via internships and in entry-level positions, including learning specific software. Training is an ongoing process for business intelligence analysts. Many seasoned analysts attend conferences such as the Gartner Data & Analytics Summit to learn about trends and new practices. In addition, many business intelligence analysts pursue certification in areas such as SQL, Oracle, or tools such as Tableau and Snowflake.
Entry-level positions such as data analyst or data report writer offer experience modeling and analyzing data, creating dashboards and visualizations, and communicating findings to different stakeholders. Some organizations also require business intelligence analysts to have supervisory experience.
Both technical skills and social skills are key to success as a business intelligence analyst, including:
- Technical knowledge: understanding business intelligence tool sets such as Tableau and Oracle
- Data Structures/Databases: knowledge of relational databases, SQL, and multi-dimensional reporting systems
- Teamwork: ability to work with multiple individuals in various departments
- Communication: articulating business intelligence to other departments and stakeholders
- Problem-solving: identifying weaknesses within an organization and finding solutions through data analysis
The role of big data is growing, and the need for business intelligence analysts is growing alongside it. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which groups business intelligence analysts with management analysts, projects that the field will grow 11% between 2019 and 2029 — much faster than the average for all careers. Business intelligence analysts make a median annual salary of approximately $69,000, according to PayScale data from January 2021.
Start your career as a business intelligence analyst with the Master of Science in Information Management program offered online at the University of Washington Information School. Through courses such as Foundations of Information Management and Foundations of Strategic and Managerial Business Intelligence, students learn how to blend the ethical and social issues of business with the technical knowledge of information systems. Begin your journey toward a role in business intelligence analysis at the University of Washington.