Business Analyst versus Data Analyst


There are a lot of “Analyst” careers out there. Some people analyze information for national security or criminal purposes (Intelligence Analysts.) Some people are Help Desk Analysts, where their job involves understanding a person’s computer or technical issues so they can help. Financial Analysts help companies understand financial information in order to make decisions. And two other popular positions in companies today are Data Analysts and Business Analysts. These positions have many transferrable skills but they are not the same. Understanding the difference will be key in making the most of your career trajectory.

What is a Data Analyst?

Data Analyst is perhaps the easier of these two roles to understand. A Data Analyst analyzes information in order to exact insights. They may use computer programming, mathematical and statistical analysis, and visualization tools like Tableau, PowerBI and Excel to produce charts, tables and infographics. These visual representations of the data help senior leaders and other stakeholders understand what’s happening in their company and to make decisions more easily.

Data Analysts often have a Bachelor’s degree in a quantitative or scientific field such as Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science or Engineering, but it is also common for people with “domain knowledge”, who have worked in a field like Healthcare, Oil and Gas or Retail Management to move into a Data Analyst role. By learning the tools used in Data Analysis they can make the most of their deep understanding of the decisions senior leaders need to make.

What is a Business Analyst?

A Business Analyst is someone who analyzes a company or business unit in order to determine how best to improve or implement processes or other changes. Business Analysts may be internal to a company, such as the Business Analysts that help you implement a new piece of software in your organization, or external consultants. McKinsey and other large-scale consulting companies hire Business Analysts in order to examine organizations and recommend process changes that will be effective.

There are no specific degrees in this field – Business Analysts most frequently have an undergraduate degree in Business, Finance, or Technology. This makes sense because Business Analysts are frequently working to improve the integration of technology or the processes used in an organization, and they need to be able to understand how the various pieces fit together.

Skills Required

There are many overlaps in the skills required for a Data Analyst and a Business Analyst. Some of these include:

  • Strong communication skills
  • Ability to problem-solve
  • Creativity and critical thinking
  • Teaching and training experience
  • MS Office skills, especially Excel

Some skills are unique to Data Analysts by virtue of their more mathematical and statistical focus:

  • Knowledge of programming and query languages like Python, R, SQL
  • Understanding of statistics including hypothesis testing and exploratory data analysis
  • Knowledge of visualization or Business Intelligence tools like Tableau and PowerBI

Some skills are unique to Business Analysts by virtue of their focus on business processes:

  • Writing use cases and activity diagrams to model processes
  • Conducting Pareto and Root Cause Analyses
  • Facilitating Requirements, Risk Analysis and other meetings

Being a Successful Data or Business Analyst

It’s clear that the skills required to be a good data or business analyst are a deep understanding of the domain you’re working in – in order to conduct the data analysis or build the process flows that will accurately model the environment you’re working in. Beyond that, your technical skills will ensure that you can recommend improvements that truly make a difference while strong communication skills will make sure you can craft a narrative to your stakeholders that is both true and compelling for the changes that are necessary for the best results.


Are you a Data or Business Analyst? I’d love to hear your experiences in these fields.

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