Businesses today are relying more and more on data and statistics to make hard business decisions. How do you answer questions like "For our summer sale, what optional features are most attractive to our new car customers and how do we compare to our competitor's model?" or "Would having an exclusive members only subscription be a good thing to have and do we have the resources to make it possible?" All the answers are really predictions.
Data analysts are the fortune tellers of the business world. They should not be confused with data administrators. Administrators tend to the hardware and software used for data storage and structure like Oracle. A data analyst is concerned with the meaning and interpretation of data not the storage of it. In short, a database administrator builds the crystal ball and the analyst gazes into.
What Do Data Analysts Do?
Analysts are not strictly seen as an IT resource. Data analysts can be found in nearly all departments - marketing, accounting, human resources, sales, for example. The one trait they all have in common is a high level of proficiency in using a computer to collect, dissect and assemble data. They then study the data to produce reports on their findings.
Data analysts can have a variety of titles but their essential data analysis responsibilities remain the same.
• Market Research Analyst
• Data Miner
• Financial Analyst
• Operations Analyst
• Digital Marketing Analyst
• Analytics Manager
• Business Analyst
• Customer Care Analyst
• Inventory Analyst
Becoming a Data Analyst
Given that an analyst's findings are used by managers, directors and executives to make their decisions, a data analyst must:
• Possess a thorough understanding of the business, its products or services and its customers and competitors. To be useful data must have context. That context is business knowledge.
• Be precise in his or her analysis to ensure accuracy and data integrity. It is the analyst's responsibility to provide a response that has a high probability of being correct. This means that the answer may not be what was expected or what the manager may want to hear.
• Be a clear communicator able to translate his or her findings to all levels of the business. An analysts may be called upon to present their work to an audience or to create a document for publication. It is essential that an analyst be comfortable with the written and spoken word.
• Possess a logical, mathematical mindset in order to create data models and sift through enormous amounts of data and statistics.
• Be patient and diligent as analysis can be time-consuming and complex. Very often an analyst must construct a structure like a spreadsheet to collect the data and then use other spreadsheets or tools to assemble the data into other forms that will help the analyst visualize the data.
• All data analysts must be proficient in Microsoft Excel and Structured Query Language (SQL).
A Bachelors degree in business, marketing or information systems is desirable. However, data analyst is a position that a person can switch to. Unlike other professions, a data analyst benefits greatly by having a wide range of professional knowledge. An employee who has been in the company for ten years will have institutional knowledge that a one year employee would not possess. Both employees may look at the same set of data but have different interpretations. Many employers choose to train existing employees as data analysts.
It's a good time to consider data analysis as a future occupation. Demand in all industries is up as companies begin to view data as more than statistics and figures. A data analyst turns information into insight, patterns into predictions. It can be a lucrative and satisfying career for the right person.