What is a data analyst vs a business analyst?

data analyst vs a business analyst
data analyst vs a business analyst

Those who choose to boost their careers by earning a Master of Analytics at UNSW Online are often from or heading into, the data analytics or business analytics fields. For both careers, a close understanding of data analytics is vital, and yet in most organisations, their roles and responsibilities are quite different.

How do they differ, in what ways are they similar, and what information does an individual require to make a choice between the two?

Let’s begin with business analysts.



What is a business analyst?

The role of a business analyst, as it is most commonly defined, involves solving a current or future problem for an organisation, most often with the implementation of technology as part of the solution. Rather than figuring out and managing the broader organisational strategy, as might be the role of a CEO, a business analyst instead typically focuses closely on a specific project or challenge.

In developing a response to that challenge, the business analyst facilitates change, meaning they are a change agent of sorts. While their role may not involve implementing that change (although often it does), the result of the business analyst’s work always involves some form of change.

What might that change be? It can involve any and every aspect of business. Perhaps it’s around performance management in a certain part of an organisation, improving fulfilment processes, enhancing customer experience and consistency, expansion into a new market, freeing up staff by introducing automation, new product development, or countless other business challenges.

Often the role of a business analyst involves determining, designing and implementing new IT systems to improve functional efficiencies and achieve certain goals. This means they often work closely and collaboratively with IT teams.

Their job involves developing a thorough understanding of what the business does, and knowing what role their project plays in the broader organisational strategy. To analyse needs and develop a new business case, they must discuss issues with numerous stakeholders, develop and test various solutions, then present their findings to their internal client, whether that be an executive or the Board.

Along the way, they are extremely likely to utilise the power of data analysis to develop their knowledge, remove doubt from assumptions and inform decisions.

It is not uncommon for those who have worked purely as data analysts to move into a business analyst role, as it typically broadens their responsibilities and therefore takes them into a more senior position. Business analysts also come from the fields of project management, software development and general management.

What is a data analyst?

While the business analyst works across various organisational functions and problems, data analysts typically work exclusively with data.

Data analysts use the many powerful tools and techniques at their disposal to figure out how the available data, in its many forms, can be sliced and diced, mixed and matched, to help the business reach its strategic goals.

As a business analyst does, they must begin by defining a question or a problem. A clear definition helps the data analyst figure out which data sets are absolutely necessary and which are a distraction.

They will then go about gathering this data, ensuring it is in a consistent format, then culling it down to further remove erroneous or unnecessary information. They then process the resulting data to reveal patterns and trends, causes and effects or predictions and reasons – anything that will help the business to answer the original question and, therefore, to make a better decision around how to move forward.

Just like a business analyst, and as with any manager within an organisation, a data analyst benefits from a solid knowledge of general business practice and process as well as the strategy and goal of their employer or client organisation.



So what’s the difference?

The two professions – business analyst and data analyst – can be said to work on opposite sides of the IT system. The business analyst imagines, designs and implements the IT systems while the data analyst interprets meaning from the data collected by those systems, and others.

However, as data becomes central to every business decision, the role of the business analyst relies more heavily on data analytics. This means that in order to become an exceptional business analyst, a candidate should already be an exceptional data analyst.

The difference between the two very much depends on how the organisation itself treats the roles, understands the meaning of data, and desires positive change.

Business analysts, some argue, will be more likely to have a collaborative role with other managers and other departments, particularly IT. The data analyst is more likely to work on projects independently or answering to a specific manager or executive.

Each project being carried out by the data analyst will be fuelled by data, whereas problems being addressed by the business analyst will likely need a greater amount of human input and feedback.

Both professionals must define the business problem and be the architect of its solution. They must both provide the essential ingredients in the recipe for success for whatever challenges the business is facing. 

Most importantly, both roles are vital to the success of each other. In fact, they can make each other’s lives a lot easier! They may be able to help automate each other’s tasks. They could possibly provide unique and unexpected points of view on an issue, or be able to identify different ways to come up with specific information required to solve a problem.

Although business analysts are more likely to have to collaborate while data analysts are more likely to work independently, both require exceptional communication skills in order to seek and provide vital business information before, during and after a project.

The business analyst will have greater interaction with people, and the data analyst will require a stronger understanding of matters that relate to data science.

Both are powerful and increasingly necessary roles in the future of business and both offer opportunities to work on an enormous variety of projects across numerous industries, all around the world.

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