Career roadmap: Business Intelligence Analyst

Data is often described as the 'new oil'. But while most understand the importance of data, it is the business intelligence analysts who are able to extract the value from data. As business intelligence technologies continue to grow in popularity, here’s a look at what it takes to become a business intelligence analyst.

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Chances are good that any skill set or title including the word “cloud” will open doors for new job opportunities these days. That’s because the cloud has become a key component of digital transformation—something many organizations are striving to achieve.

To that end, enterprises continue to migrate data, workloads, development, and other components of their technology environments from on premises to cloud services at a brisk pace, and they need people who possess relevant skills and experience.

Among the cloud-related positions that are in particularly high demand today are cloud architects. These are the professionals responsible for overseeing the cloud computing architecture within an organization. They’ve become especially important as cloud technologies and environments continue to grow more complex.

Cloud architects should have a good knowledge about the concepts and moving parts involved in continuous integration and continuous delivery, according to recruitment platform provider FE. “They must offer expert guidance to development teams regarding infrastructure,” the company says. “There is a need for the architects to take responsibility for the IT environments throughout their lifecycles.”

Cloud architects must be able to articulate where cloud services fit in best within an organization, and put in place a process to assess which applications will access cloud services. They should also be able to identify any risks with the cloud and come up with risk-mitigation plans, FE says. The job will likely require working in conjunction with the IT, cyber security, risk management, finance, and other departments.

Business and technology executives at organizations in every industry understand the importance of being able to gain value from data, by analyzing the information for trends and then using the insights gleaned to help enhance processes, increase sales, improve customer experience, or reap other benefits.

Business intelligence analysts are at the center of those efforts. And they will likely play an increasingly important role at enterprises as business intelligence (BI) technologies continue to grow in popularity.

Research firm Markets and Markets estimates that the global BI market will grow from $23.1 billion in 2020 to $33.3 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate of 8 percent during the forecast period. A number of factors are helping to drive expansion of the market, including the growing focus on digital transformation, greater investments in analytics, increasing demand for dashboards for data visualization, rising adoption of cloud services, and increase in data generation.

The technology has particularly value during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many businesses are facing high-level challenges, the report says. The crisis has expedited the need for all companies to put their data to work to speed up the decision-making process, it says, and a comprehensive BI practice can help organizations define proper metrics to survive a crisis.

BI enables companies to take a closer look at how they're operating by taking inventory of where they are doing well and where they can improve, the report says.

BI analysts leverage data analytics, visualization, and modeling tools and techniques to identify trends that can help business executives make more informed decisions. The role has become vital to any organization looking to gain the most value from their ever-increasing data volumes. These professionals can help find out where and how companies can reach new customers and markets and stem losses.

Discover Data Science, which provides online learning programs, has noted that BI analysts "are a necessary part of making the vast amount of data now available to companies useful. Business intelligence analysts straddle the worlds of business and [IT], having a firm grasp of each, and are able to mine and analyze data to recommend growth strategies for a company."

BI analysts evaluate their organization's data as well as that of competitors and the industry at large to discover ways to improve their own organizations' market position, Discover Data Science says. That includes looking into systems, procedures, and functions to find areas in which to increase efficiency and profit margins.

These professionals also consider ways in which the organization can create new policies regarding data collection and analysis, including ensuring the integrity of data use. Among their regular responsibilities are meeting with business users to identify their needs; collecting data and extracting it from warehouses; analyzing data; creating summary reports; presenting recommendations to managers; overseeing the implementation of data analytics technologies; and developing new analytical models and techniques.

BI analysts need to possess a variety of business and technology skills, according to Discover Data Science. These include communication and presentation skills; leadership abilities and capability of working with team members on projects; problem-solving and critical thinking; ability to work within a diverse, global workforce; database design and data architecture; data mining and analytics; data security and privacy; data visualization; cloud computing; and data storage.

What does it take to become a business intelligence analyst? To find out, we spoke with Aaron Zuckerman, senior business intelligence analyst at ServiceSource, a provider of outsourced business services.

Education

Zuckerman earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Yeshiva University in 2016, majoring in finance with a minor in information systems. Since then he has been working toward a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charter, now taking the second of three levels in the program.

CFA is a postgraduate professional certification offered by the CFA Institute to investment and financial professionals. It has the highest level of global legal and regulatory recognition of finance-related qualifications. The program covers a range of topics relating to statistics, probability theory, advanced investment analysis, security analysis, financial analysis, and other areas.

Job history

Immediately after graduating from college Zuckerman went to work as a business analyst at F3EA Holdings, a private equity firm that's a subsidiary of 777 Partners. "Getting into technology was not on my trajectory," he says. "My father runs a systems integrations firm in the [Washington] D.C. area, and I didn't think it interested me."

The firm was a holding company of businesses focused on consumer finance. Zuckerman was placed in the call center, putting together a Microsoft Excel reporting system that measured operational efficiency.

"After around 18 months, the company was looking to streamline their reporting stack, [and] our team started using SQL, Python, and SAS for manipulating and reporting our data," Zuckerman says. "After another six months, we rolled out SAS VA, which is a visualization tool." The team needed to implement visualizations tools in order to garner deeper insights into the data, he says.

Then six months after that, Zuckerman's team was moved to the parent company and started building visualization tools for companies in the firm's portfolio, with a focus on operations and investment management.

Although he didn't gravitate toward technology early on, Zuckerman was intrigued about how different tools work together. "My father brought me along to see his projects and even asked me to help him with some of his jobs," he says. "This really showed me how different technologies can work in unison within an integration tool."

And the experience at the private equity firm reinforced the idea that technology can play a vital role in enhancing processes. "I watched the business go from being operationally inefficient to a well-oiled machine with an extensive automated reporting deck," Zuckerman says. "I saw the ability technology can have and the ways software and systems can be used to better run businesses."

In November 2019, Zuckerman left the firm to work as an analyst at FM Capital, a boutique real estate investment firm. He left that position after just six months, due in part to the coronavirus pandemic, and moved on to his current position at ServiceSource.

As a senior BI analyst at the company Zuckerman is working to convert a reporting technology stack from Excel to Power BI. Since he joined ServiceNow in June 2020 he has been focused on setting up reliable extract, transform, load (ETL), the procedure of copying data from one or more sources into a destination system that represents the data differently from the sources or in a different context.

"The issue is that because we are a third-party servicer, we are not the owners of the data, so there is some creativity that comes into play ensuring data quality," Zuckerman says. "In my experiences, seeing the business from a before-and-after [scenario] made me realize how much this technology can help a business" in terms of bottom-line success.

Memorable moment

"Moving to the parent company at my first job," Zuckerman says. "Our team had done such a great job streamlining and automating processes for the consumer finance businesses that the parent company tasked us to implement the same deck across their portfolios. It was gratifying to see the appreciation the parent company had for our work. Many times it's hard for more corporate firms to invest in business intelligence, and I remember thinking how useful BI would be."

Skills and certifications

At every stage of his career thus far Zuckerman has had to learn new skills. "I went from Excel reporting to SQL to emailing out of SAS to SAS VA to Power BI and Tableau," he says. "While I haven't needed any certifications to [be proficient] in these tools, I spent a lot of time ensuring I had a deep enough understanding to be considered a resource."

Biggest inspirations

"I enjoy the use of concrete logic in the expression of thought," Zuckerman says. "I think the two figures that shaped my views are [financial historian and economist] Peter Bernstein and [investor and business tycoon] Warren Buffet. Their use of statistics to shape opinion is something I admire, especially during times of misinformation."

 

Best career advice received

"You never know where an opportunity will take you," Zuckerman says. "There is a good deal of creativity that's needed" to be an effective BI analyst. "In most cases, the data isn't given to you on a silver platter, and there is some bending required to ensure accurate and effective reporting," he says. "That's where Python, SQL, R, and other languages come into play."

 

Short-term and long-term goals

"Right now I am trying to automate reporting and working with the company we service to have greater access to the data," Zuckerman says. "For the future, my goal is to become a wealth of knowledge that can translate into creatively and effectively implementing BI solutions across various business use cases. There is so much BI can accomplish, and I'm excited to be in this field now."

 

Advice for others seeking a similar path

"Ask questions on how things work," Zuckerman says. "By doing that, you'll have a better understanding of the capabilities and limitations of different systems, and [it] will force you to use creativity to solve problems that arise. If you're looking to get into this space, then start by asking questions on devices and apps you use. Technology is so prevalent in our lives that we can use our daily interactions as steppingstones to learning more about technological capabilities."

In addition, and on a more granular level, Zuckerman recommends that aspiring business intelligence analysts learn SQL and Python. "They're the backbone languages that most companies look for in candidates," he says.

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