July 27, 2022
Without great insights, a business cannot succeed. Period. That’s where business analysis comes in.
Business analysts help organizations determine which strategies do and don’t work. The BA is responsible for assessing business needs and making recommendations to improve operations. Although the purpose of this job is quite clear, it can be tricky to pin down the job’s day-to-day activities, the job’s necessary skills, and the tools the job calls for.
In this article, we’ll cover exactly what a business analyst does — and what skills and tools they need to succeed.
What Is a Business Analyst?
A business analyst is part investigator and part strategist — with a dash each of presenter and taskmaster. The varied demands of the job are part of what makes it enticing.
Every day in the life of a business analyst can be different than the last, involving new challenges that put your skills and knowledge to the test. Whether it’s collecting data, presenting to executives, or planning with stakeholders, the day-to-day requirements of the job won’t be boring.
If the promise of novelty and challenge sounds enticing, you won’t be disappointed. However, there’s a diverse set of skills to learn, so you’ll want to narrow down your interests and strengths. After all, you need to know what you’re getting into before you commit to pursuing a career in business analysis.
The Primary Responsibilities of a Business Analyst
The primary responsibilities of the business analyst consist of the following:
- Identifying problem areas of operation
- Developing creative, data-backed solutions
- Presenting insights to high-level decision-makers
The actual day-to-day experience of a business analyst varies depending on the job or department. However, all business analysts share specific set of techniques, such as the following:
- Proficiency in data management software
- Ability to distill large datasets into actionable strategies
- Creating visual aids to improve presentations
And that’s just a high-level business analyst job description. While the tools you choose to master make you better at some aspects of business analysis than others, it’s important to understand everything from project management to communication skills.
Business Analyst Expectations
As we’ve established, business analyst roles and responsibilities are limitless, but it all comes down to three things:
- Analyzing data
- Finding problems
- Recommending solutions
To do all of this, you need to start by collecting and sorting large datasets. Data-backed business analyst duties are the beating heart of the job.
Whether you’re optimizing management processes, uncovering wasteful practices, or finding ways to increase revenue, you’ll first need to gather all the relevant data. That could entail the following:
- Sending quantitative surveys
- Conducting qualitative interviews
- Meeting key stakeholders
- Collecting website data
- Gathering platform behavioral data
It’s not easy to gather so much data, but proficiency in database management software makes it much easier to store and organize that data.
You can then analyze the data and connect the dots. This is how you determine whether operations are functioning or not. If your data points out that employees who work from home get more done than in-office employees, you now have hard data to back up any work-from-home recommendations. These moments of discovery require a lot of hard work, but your findings could bring about company-wide changes.
Finding data and presenting data are two different skills. When speaking to a group of stakeholders that includes managers and executives, you shouldn’t assume that they all understand the same data as you. You can’t simply throw up a spreadsheet and say, “This is what I found, and this is what we should do.”
Instead, you will be presenting information in a compelling way and seeking agreement (or, at least, a strong understanding). You’ll need to synthetize your data into visual aids that communicate your ideas at a glance. This means that you need to select the correct charts so that you can convey your story in a way that everyone in the room can understand.
Once a recommendation gets approval, a business analyst’s duties pivot to the management and monitoring of the project, which may include doing tasks like the following:
- Creating and implementing a project plan
- Managing the budget
- Managing a cross-functional team
- Setting key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Using data and KPIs to track a project’s effectiveness
- Reporting to stakeholders
- Solving unexpected problems
The Tools of the Trade
Dataquest’s Business Analyst Career Path teaches you how to manage a database. Additionally, you’ll become proficient with popular business analyst applications, and you’ll learn how to manipulate data using coding languages like SQL and Python. The skills you learn throughout this course are highly sought after by employers.
A typical business analyst job description includes the following skill requirements:
- Microsoft Excel — Mastery of Excel is common. You can’t carry out the duties of a business analyst without knowing how to use a spreadsheet.
- Microsoft Access — Access is arguably the least understood of all Microsoft Office applications due to its many complicated uses. Most people aren’t likely to learn Access in school or use it in daily life, but it’s one of the biggest tools in a business analyst’s kit. Access is a database application used to create software and manage databases. One can input and sort data in Access, or use it as a front-end for other databases.
- Microsoft Power BI — Power BI is an application that turns numbers and data into visuals such as graphs and charts. One of the biggest features of Power BI is its ability to create dashboards with many different widgets that keep track of various datasets. It’s a one-stop shop of information, where one can get a high-level view of a project.
- Tableau — Similar to Power BI, it’s a very popular visualization application known for its ease of use.
- SiSense — SiSense is another data visualization application.
- Qlik Sense — This is another data visualization application.
- SQL — (Structured Query Language) SQL is a programming language used to manage databases. With proficiency in SQL, a user can create custom scripts that combine multiple database commands to initiate complex actions.
Soft Skills Are Important
In addition to knowing all the necessary applications, a business analyst depends on various soft skills. Examples of soft skills a business analyst may need include the following:
- Clear and concise communication
- Effective listening
- Keen observation
The business analyst has to speak with many people, so they need to be comfortable with social interaction. In some ways, a business analyst is a quiet observer who studies the inner operations of the company until they uncover something actionable. Talking over people in meetings or taking poor notes makes collecting data (and reporting on it) much more difficult.
Public Speaking Skills Will Set You Apart
As we mentioned before, presenting is a big part of the job. Getting people on board with your idea is much easier when you have good public speaking skills. Standing there with lackluster aids and speaking at a barely perceptible volume won’t convince anyone. You have to get up and, essentially, preach. You don’t need to be exceptional at it (no one is expecting you to be as comfortable as a TV host), but you have to believe in your idea and make it sound interesting.
In addition to people skills, business analysts need a sharp eye. It helps identify weaknesses and problem areas in a company that others may not notice. Having an outsider’s perspective while looking at company practices allows you to question why something is done a certain way. Why does your company use a certain supplier, or how much is marketing spending on swag?
Observations alone won’t solve problems, but they show you where to focus your attention and how to use company resources to isolate problem areas.
There are even more hard and soft skills you’ll pick up on the job, but if you take anything away from this article, it should be that business analyst roles and responsibilities are expansive. The job is tailor-made for people who enjoy a generalist skill-set. While data and analysis are where your main skills will lie as a business analyst, experience in areas such as project management and programming will round out your expertise.
Prepare to Learn on the Job
No degree, certification, or course can teach you everything you need to know. Whether it’s workplace etiquette, new best practices, or how to use a certain application, there are always new skills you can only learn on the job.
Before you land that job and begin learning those specialized skills, you need to understand the basic tools, processes, and languages that allow you to expand your skill-set.
Dataquest’s Business Analyst Path is completely online and asynchronous, meaning you can learn at your own pace. This 15-part course is split into three sections: each section focuses on a key aspect of the job and the software it requires. With an emphasis on the IT side of business analysis, Dataquest’s course guides you through concepts like database management, data analysis, and data visualization.
Along the way, you’ll learn industry-leading applications and programming languages such as the following:
- Microsoft Excel
- Microsoft Power BI
After completing projects that will test your mettle, you’ll emerge job-ready. And although your education will continue as you pick up new skills in your new role, you’ll always have these fundamental business analysis skills to fall back on.