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What is a business analyst?

Colleagues discuss business analytics

By Michael Feder

Business analytics involves using statistics and data to gain insights about operations and strategies. Business analysts are experts who gather, organize and interpret data. The overall goal of this analysis is to improve business operations and decision-making.

Business analysts can use four different approaches to their work. If you are interested in this field, it is important to understand these IT terms and the methods they describe.

  • Descriptive analysis involves looking at past data to find trends and patterns that provide insight into performance and define areas for improvement.
  • Diagnostic analysis looks at the same data as descriptive analysis, but the goal is to discover why something happened.
  • Predictive analysis uses historical patterns and statistics to make forecasts about trends and events.
  • Prescriptive analysis uses mathematical models to test different methods and practices to see which one is most likely to bring the best results.

A career in business analytics is an attractive option for someone with math and computer skills, or for people who are interested in business and are pursuing a degree in IT. Business analytics is currently a growing field and qualified IT professionals are in high demand

What does a business analyst do?

A business analyst works with data related to their employer’s industry, operations and finances. In this career, your duties may vary from employer to employer. Some professionals focus on one area, while others have a broader focus. Here are some typical tasks of a business analyst:

  • Establish data mining and organization applications with the help of other IT staff
  • Analyze data and visualize it or create reports for company decision-makers
  • Apply statistical analysis or mathematical models to data sets to help predict trends, manage risk or forecast performance
  • Analyze price data to help come up with accurate pricing for products and services
  • Assess the structure of a business and its operations to improve efficiency and cut costs
  • Create simulations to test different methods and find which are most effective or efficient
  • Analyze budgets to find ways to optimize spending
  • Present findings to company executives and stakeholders

Business analysts in senior positions also usually manage other analysts and IT employees and delegate tasks.

Where do business analysts work?

Business analysts can work in a variety of industries. Many professionals in this field work in-house as part of the data analytics or IT department, but there are other positions available, as well. 

  • Large corporations typically hire in-house business analysts regardless of their industry.
  • Consulting firms hire business analysts to work with companies of all sizes on a per-project or contract basis.
  • E-commerce companies and online services, such as video streaming firms, often favor data-driven decision-making and rely heavily on business analysts.
  • Tech industry companies rely on business analysts to streamline operations and make predictions.
  • Insurance companies rely on business analysts to focus on pricing and risk management.
  • Retail companies and other businesses with tight profit margins work with business analysts to streamline all aspects of their operation to increase revenue.
  • Finance companies, lenders and banks rely heavily on data analytics and mathematical modeling to manage investments, mitigate risk, define financial trends and make forecasts.

Because data-driven decision-making is becoming more common, more and more companies are looking for qualified business analysts to work in-house. 

Begin your business analytics career with a Bachelor of Science in Management degree from University of Phoenix! It's a great way to prepare for your career. 

Skills business analytics professionals need

Business analysts need both technical and soft skills to succeed. If this is your chosen career path, you can develop your abilities during your undergraduate studies and hone them during internships or in an entry-level analytics position.

Here is a closer look at the skills that business analysts need.

  • Communication skills are essential for this career. You will need to work on projects alongside other IT professionals. Furthermore, business analysts need to present findings to executives and stakeholders in an easy-to-understand, non-technical way.
  • Problem-solving abilities are also essential because you need to come up with ways to find, organize and analyze data to solve specific issues or answer particular questions.
  • Critical-thinking skills can help you look at data and mathematical models and develop insights that solve specific problems or provide answers.
  • Goal-visualizing is an important ability in the field of business analytics. It helps you think creatively and persistently to find ways to reach the end goal of each analytics project, whether that is solving a complex problem, finding ways to improve operations, or making accurate forecasts about pricing and budgetary needs.
  • Technical skills are necessary to run business analytics software, such as SAP BusinessObjects, datapine and IBM® Cognos®. You also need to be familiar with statistical analysis and mathematical modeling. Though many business analysts will work with statisticians, they still need to understand the basics to correctly plan projects.

Depending on your duties and where you work, you may need industry-specific knowledge to help interpret data in a useful way. 

How to become a business analyst

Business analysts need technical skills and the ability to apply them to solve real-world problems. You need a solid foundation and, in some cases, professional certification to qualify for entry-level jobs. 


You can start on the career path of a business analyst by earning an undergraduate degree. Several options can enhance your preparation for this career. One of the most common is a Bachelor of Science in Business. You can also earn a Bachelor of Science in Management. Both these options will give you a strong base for developing your analytical skills.

In general, business-related bachelor’s degrees provide the basic knowledge necessary to move into a variety of business careers, including analytics.

You can start specializing during your undergraduate studies by taking courses in project management. At some universities, you can even earn a professional certificate in project management.

Finally, success in exams can help you advance your studies and qualify for important internships or analytics-related master’s degree programs. Therefore, preparing for tests is essential regardless of your chosen degree program. 

Should you join professional business organizations as a business student? Read our blog for the top business organizations to join!

Certifications and licensure

Certifications and licenses are not necessary to get an entry-level position in business analytics. However, getting a certification can help you show your expertise in a specific area or show a general commitment to this career path.

Here are some common certifications for business analysts.

Some employers may offer you a chance at certifications as part of their career development offerings. 

Business analyst salaries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects data on several professions related to business analytics. According to data from May 2020, operations research analysts earned between $48,050 and $144,330 annually, and management analysts, between $50,990 and $156,840.

The salary of a business analyst depends on professional experience, degree level, knowledge of specific analysis methods, and other technical skills. Location and the size of the company may also affect salary. 

Business analyst job outlook

Business analysts are in high demand in many fields. The BLS projects that demand for operations research analysts may grow by 25% between 2020 and 2030. Management analysts might see 14% growth over the same period.

As more companies rely on data-driven decision-making and data collection in online commerce becomes more commonplace, analysts who can interpret and organize this data will be in very high demand. 

Is becoming a business analyst right for you?

If you have an analytical mind and enjoy working with data, mathematics and numbers, a business analyst could be a good career for you. It would also help if you had an interest in business and knowledge of the industry in which your company operates.

If your interests match with this career, you can start the process by selecting the right college for your educational needs. Choosing the best program is essential because it will provide you with the basic skills you need to successfully launch your career in business analytics.

Interested in pursuing your degree online, but not sure if you can do it? Read 8 ways to succeed in online college classes, where we cover some helpful tips, so you can learn successfully online!

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