Even as big data and analytics technology and platform have matured, there has been an increasing recognition that people and skills are just as important in winning with big data. And the essential human resource in big data just might be the business analyst.

The Role of a Big Data Business Analyst in a Big Data, Data-Driven Culture

What Big Data Analysts Do

If data scientists focus on exploration and discovery and executive sponsors create the vision around big data, business analysts do the critical work in between. They operationalize the use of big data within specific functions and processes, with a clear focus on performance trends and operational information. In other words, big data business analysts are primarily responsible for generating insights that convert the potential value of big data into real, tangible business value.

Typically, that means translating insights and patterns embedded in data assets into language the business can understand. On the leading edge, top big data analysts are seeking opportunities to apply predictive analytics to solve business issues.

Those fundamental responsibilities give big data business analysts a unique opportunity to engage and support functional leadership groups across the business to address challenges and opportunities:

  • Helping sales and marketing executives understand which products are the most profitable by region, season, customer type or other factor
  • Defining the optimal staffing plans for retailers during seasonal cycles
  • Tracking anomalies and outliers within financial and transactional data that might signal fraudulent activity
  • Refining metrics and standard reports to better serve the needs of executives seeking decision support
  • Conducting market research and tracking external trends relative to specific products, geographies and demographic segments

It is worth noting how much the role has changed. Big data analysts were once associated with specific technologies and the technical process of running SQL queries. Today, they translate requests for information into queries only when self-service tools can’t deliver what the business is looking for. To some extent, they sill serve as liaisons for IT teams and their business stakeholders, but they’re more likely to shape the discussion than take orders from one side to the other. As with so much else in business and technology, big data is fundamentally reshaping the role of the business analyst.

Questions and Answers

Big data business analysts are paid to answer many different questions, but their work will also raise important questions:

  • What is happening now with specific operations?
  • Are the trends positive or negative? And why?
  • How can business processes, offers or marketing campaigns be adjusted to achieve better results?
  • Given past performance and current trends, what are the likely outcomes from different courses of actions?

What Business Analysts need to succeed

Today, the best big data business analysts are well rounded and are much more than numbers crunchers. Because they understand both the data and the business, they can see – and help others to see – how specific metrics fit within broader strategic contexts and relate to market megatrends. Generally speaking, they are self-sufficient types and solid communicators. They are often described as “bilingual” – able to speak fluently to both business leaders and IT teams.

From a technical standpoint, they need sufficient big data discovery capacity to work iteratively with all the data, not just information stored in a data warehouse. It is safe to say that getting more big data into the hands of business analysts generally leads to better results. That means the overall ecosystem or data architecture needs to be sufficiently integrated and unified.

What Business Analysts Need to Succeed

If big data is the lifeblood of many businesses today, then big data business analysts can be thought of as the heartbeat – that is, they help keep the data flowing so it can be used by other parts of the organizational body. That’s an important role, of course, but not the only one required for big data success. Executive sponsors, data scientists and big data marketing professionals are other critical components of a healthy approach to big data.