Big Data Jobs for Business Analysts - dummies

Big Data Jobs for Business Analysts

By Jason Williamson

Big data projects originate with solving problems with some business objective in mind. Much of the focus today centers around technology implementation, visualization tools, and data products, but it’s important to remember that technology with no end in mind has little business value. Enter the role of the business analyst.

Assessing your interest

If you answer “yes” to many of the following questions, the business analyst role could be for you.

Are you naturally inquisitive?

The best approach to big data analytics is to use the question/hypothesis perspective. Business analysts need the industry expertise to identify the most relevant and most valuable questions to explore.

Can you see beyond the surface issues and go deeper into the problem? Do you know when a good idea has potential? Business analysts are skilled at sticking with a problem until they’ve found a solution.

Can you see through to the end quickly?

Do you know when you’ve uncovered the right area to focus on, and do you pivot quickly to focus your energies on solving that problem?

One of the biggest challenges in big data is that there is way too much data. Business analysts who can quickly see what is just a distraction and what needs focus are very effective.

Can you shift between creative and analytical?

Think of big data analysis in terms of an alternate blend of left-brain and right-brain activities. Creativity, curiosity, and imagination are all needed, as well as logic and rational and critical thinking.

This is perhaps the rarest attribute. People tend to have a bias toward either creativity or logic, but the well-balanced analyst has the ability to see things at an abstract level and then to quickly go deep into the issue.

Do you understand your audience?

One of the biggest opportunity areas right now is the improvement of how information is communicated to decision makers.

Can you talk technology with the CTO and also explain the financial benefits of big data to the CFO? A good big data business analyst understands big data technology and how it works; he also understands the impact to business and can speak the language of business.

Looking at a job posting

The job postings for business analysts vary based on the type of company. These postings tend to be less specific in responsibilities and focus on solving business problems, good communication skills, and a balance of analytical ability and technology. You often see requirements for familiarity with analytics tools and database technologies.

Largely, the analytical skills are focused on problem-solving frameworks. You need to be able to quickly identify the problem or need, find a solution, make recommendations, identify risks and how to avoid them, and describe what the action plan should be.

Consider the following job posting for an analyst with a big data focus. The following posting is for a business intelligence analyst, taken from Carnegie Mellon.

Business Intelligence Analyst

Each Business Intelligence Analyst is aligned with one or more groups, such as marketing, logistics, or customer service, and partners with those teams to help them achieve their goals. Whether you’re measuring site performance, analyzing customer behavior and trends, data mining, or optimizing SQL queries, you’ll be working with cutting-edge technology and multi-terabyte datasets. Working on the Business Intelligence team is a premier opportunity to develop a career in business and big data analytics.

At their core, Business Intelligence Analysts are strong in quantitative analysis. They enjoy coding but also want to balance that with their interest in business. They think critically to tackle complex challenges, thrive in a fast-paced environment, and are seeking a high-growth opportunity where they’ll have an immediate impact on day one. Business Analysts are strong communicators who are eager to learn, are endlessly curious, take pride in hard work, and are committed to rapidly advancing their career.

Responsibilities include:

  • Consulting with internal customers (for example, marketing, logistics, or customer service) to develop analyses that lead to actionable insights that accelerate profitable growth

  • Wrangling data from multiple sources including sales, inventory, product, and customer databases to create integrated views that can be used to drive decision making

  • Working with several large and complex SQL databases

  • Designing and building reports and analyses in Microsoft Excel

Qualifications include:

  • Highly analytical data junkie who enjoys coding but doesn’t want to be a software engineer

  • Positive, people-oriented, and has an energetic attitude

  • Analytical, creative, and employs an innovative approach to solving problems

  • Strong written and verbal communication skills

  • Entrepreneurial spirit

  • Degrees represented on current Business Analyst team include: Economics, Computer Science, Engineering, Physics, and Music

There are a few things worth calling out in this posting that can help you decide if this role is for you. In the list of responsibilities, the positing says, “Consulting with internal customers (for example, marketing, logistics, or customer service) to develop analyses that lead to actionable insights that accelerate profitable growth.”

What does that mean really? Analysts don’t just have to understand information; this person needs to be able to articulate an action plan so that the business can capitalize on those insights.

This role is technical, but you aren’t expected to do heavy programming. Should you be able to code? Yes, but you probably won’t be doing much of that. That’s important for those who build those virtual bridges between business and technology — they need to be able to understand the components of big data solutions like appropriate technologies, software, or hardware needed to fulfill the business requirements.

If the technology team has selected one programming language or model over another, the business analyst needs to be able to understand why that’s a good or bad decision and how that could impact the overall outcome.

Finally, check out the kinds of majors that fall into this role — pretty much everything. Employers are looking for problem solvers who can find creative solutions and have the bias for action to drive real results.