Three Skills To Hone on the Journey to Becoming a Business Analyst
A few months ago I found myself navigating Dallas, Texas for a meeting. So like most people in my position I called an Uber to take me from the airport to my hotel. My driver was a pleasant young college student who was quite a talker and we found ourselves into a deep conversation about his schooling and future career.
"I started in engineering, but found that it didn't really feel applied enough. So I moved into computer science but I feel like that route will just put me in a cubicle and not let me actually see the impact of my work. So I'm somewhat stuck. I love working with numbers and I love working with business, I wish there was something aside from accounting that would let me do that," he told me.
I asked if he had ever heard of Data Analytics as a business field, he had, but confided in me "I don't think I could do the Data science career. I'm not a scientist, and I am not even sure where to start. I see the value of data, but as a career, it's honestly kind of intimidating".
Today's business world is awash with data, and the demand for highly skilled professionals who can work with, analyze, and interpret this data is increasing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies business analysts under the “management analyst" umbrella, and predicts this category will increase by about 14 percent year-over-year through 2026.
To put this trend in perspective, the growth in business analysts will be greater than that of most other careers for the foreseeable future. According to the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBI), "the practice of business analysis is focused on enabling change in the context of an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders."
While business analysts often vary from industry to industry, there is a common trajectory that anyone considering a career as a business analyst can use as a guideline, and technology tools like artificial intelligence (AI) that can help shorten the learning curve. If you're just beginning your career or pivoting into a new role, three key skills that will help you progress include honing your skills, developing your analytical abilities, and adding to your knowledge base.
1. Develop Both Hard and Soft Skills
Becoming a business analyst requires a mix of both hard and soft skills. On the technical side, even if you're just starting out, you will at least need a basic understanding of both business and numbers. The ability to use Microsoft Excel or Numbers for Apple is also a key requirement at the beginning stages, and is a core skill that good analysts will improve over time. You should also know how to assess reports, analyze trends, and interpret how results or recommendations can be applied to business strategy.
In addition to these "hard" technical skills, you also need to have good communication skills in order to articulate key findings to stakeholders at multiple levels across an organization.
“Being able to present findings in a clear and concise manner is fundamental to making sure that all players understand insights and can put recommendations into practice," advises a story in the Harvard Business Review. “People working in [business] analysis must be able to tell a story with data through strong writing and presentation skills."
2. Fine-tune Analytical Abilities
As you progress as a business analyst, you will graduate to working with more advanced technologies, such as data visualization software. That means working with more complex data sets and databases to gain a deeper understanding of specific aspects of a business, like sales, marketing, or operations. Thankfully, the process of acquiring the analytical capabilities necessary to become a business analyst can now be streamlined with the help of new technologies, helping you make the leap from basic spreadsheets and data visualization to advanced analytics.
Once you have experience with spreadsheet and data visualization tools, you should begin to develop a basic familiarity with artificial intelligence (AI). Many new business analysts are intimidated by AI, but there are many tools available to help bridge the knowledge gap. Keyence's advanced data analytics platform called KI is just one such example. The most important thing for a business analyst is to have an understanding of how machine learning can be used to provide insight into the ways various business activities interact with each other. Veteran analysts know how to use these tools to gain deep organizational insights into a company's operations, such as how sales are impacting production or which marketing channels are most effective at increasing sales.
A successful business analyst's technology stack includes the following tools or something similar: Microsoft Excel (spreadsheet), Microsoft Access (database), SQL (programming language), Google Analytics (web traffic analysis), and Tableau (data visualization).
“You don't need to understand technology at a software engineer level, but understanding technology will allow you to find new ways of working and new capabilities for your organization," explains Ken Fulmer, president of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). “You need to be able to work with business leaders and help them understand what's possible."
3. Cultivate a Hunger for New Knowledge
Becoming a top-notch business analyst requires technological resourcefulness and a willingness to continually add to your toolbox. But you should also be able to clarify the strategic business problems you are trying to address, and to identify who should own various parts of the solution. Moreover, you need strong public speaking, presentation, and Microsoft PowerPoint skills in order to effectively present stakeholders with your findings and recommendations for actionable next steps.
In order to become a great business analyst, you also should have experience in the industries you are working in, as well as some basic project management skills. One part of being a great business analyst is knowing how to organize people so that your solution is effectively implemented across every department. Your skills as a business analyst also need to continuously evolve, so you'll need to have a mindset that craves learning and embraces new tools.
Great business analysts don't just have the technical skills to work with data, they think in broad strokes, and have an innate curiosity about experimenting with new ideas. In order to stand out with prospective employers or clients, you need to be meticulous about organization, but also possess the entrepreneurial spirit necessary to solve big problems.
You don't become a business analyst overnight. Success as an analyst is a journey that requires technical, analytical, and strategic capabilities developed over time. And by adding AI to your technology stack, you'll become more effective at analyzing and interpreting complex data sets to make accurate and insightful recommendations.
Finally, throughout your entire career as a business analyst, you'll be challenged to adapt, adjust, and pivot based on constantly changing internal and external business factors.
“Business analysis is one of those roles that will never be static," explains Michelle Shakesheff, head business analyst manager at Zurich Insurance. “It will always be changing as organizations and technology changes."
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