Why Data Analysts Need Business Analysts

Data analysts often butt heads with IT staff. Though both are working for the success of the organization as a whole, the two groups have different responsibilities, different training, and different points of view. Our schooling sets us up for this conflict.

Data analysts often get handed data directly with homework and exams. In recent years, it's been common to download publicly available data. But students rarely hear about processes for obtaining private and controlled datasets, let alone actively experience such a process. Almost none are actually involved in deploying models they've created. Many IT professionals complete their education without any exposure to advanced data analysis, so they may be unaware of or misunderstand the needs of data analysts.

It's been common for data analysts to work around IT in any way possible. That's never a good practice, and it can have serious consequences for an organization. As data volumes increase, it's also becoming an impossible practice. Data analysts who have been avoiding IT involvement now find there's no other option.

Yet the two groups still don't speak quite the same language, and they don't understand each other's concerns very well. If data analysts and IT staff are ever to partner effectively, they'll need to bridge the gulf in language and understanding. This transition isn't going to come easily, so they're going to need help. Business analysts are the right people to provide that help.

Business analysts (often known as systems analysts) are experts in facilitating business process change. They are uniquely equipped to help data analysts and IT cooperate productively. As the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA) puts it, "Business Analysis is the practice of enabling change in an organizational context, by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders."

Many data analysts are not even aware that business analysts exist, but business analysts are keenly aware that advanced analytics is growing in importance. They want to know more about analytics and the role they can play.

The IIBA website sports advertising for degree programs in analytics. At a talk I gave for the IIBA, the room was packed - every chair filled, plus people standing in every corner. They were listening, really listening, to what I had to say. Not one person peeked at a laptop, tablet, or phone. They've asked me back to teach them more about analytics.

Now it's time for us data analysts to show them same interest in them.

Business analysts can help us define what we require to support our work in terms that IT can understand. They can help us ensure we get what we need without breaking any laws or exposing our employers to unnecessary business risk. They can make us more aware of how our work impacts other areas of the organization. And they can help us understand why and how to work more effectively with IT.

You can learn more about business analysts through the IIBA, which has local chapters around the world.

Are you working with business analysts? Please share your experience.

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Re: Why there is a need for Business Analysts
  • 11/16/2015 9:50:11 AM

@adrianad. Good points. One way to simplify it even more: the data analyst makes findings, and the business analyst applies those findings to solve problems.

Re: Why there is a need for Business Analysts
  • 11/16/2015 9:17:25 AM

For data analysts and IT people the database is just that, a bunch of data that needs to be modeled, whilst for the Business Analysts the numbers are full of meanings. They break down a business in small pieces to understand what the problems and opportunities are. For small or medium-sized businesses, with the right software product, Business Analysts can model the data and create the reports they need to recommend solutions for the business to achieve its goals. reportview

Re: A Different Perspective: Food Chain/Career Path Ranking
  • 1/25/2014 12:20:12 AM

Or request analytics skills but name the position an IT analyst. Unfortunately that has come across my email recently, and I think it will be a while before hiring teams learn to assess title and responsibilities better.

Re: A Different Perspective: Food Chain/Career Path Ranking
  • 12/12/2013 3:12:40 PM

@Meta, don't get me started with how vague job titles have become. You could find job posting looking for a director title listed under entry level with 2-4 years expierece needed? How does that make sense?

Re: A Different Perspective: Food Chain/Career Path Ranking
  • 12/11/2013 3:30:55 PM

Hi Michael, 

My apologies for over simplifying my perceptions of their roles.  By no means do I see them as mindless automatons or worker bees. It is just that as my own career has circled back to doing more support than project management (and sometimes it flips again), my view of their organizational role became more refined. Data analysts are skilled professionals whose data and analytic skills discover solutions and create value. They are the human capital that do the dirty work and often stay late until they solve tough problems.  They are bright, creative folks whose work is invaluable.  That being said, the from the perspective of organizational power, they do not control how their work is used.  For all of the value that data analysts contribute, the folks at the top of the food chain control budgets, hiring and how the derived information is communicated.  As I type this out, I believe that my response was also colored by reflections upon the changing value of data analysts by software vendors.  Let me explain please:

I started using SPSS around 1977 and then SAS in 1984.  I pretty much became SAS-only from 1987 forward.  Before 2000, SAS conferences and sales discussions in the US were dominated by the users. SAS made a ton of cash in Europe, the Middle East and Asia during this time because there were fewer programmers there and sales were made directly to managers. But in the US, the users drove the larger conferences and the account reps often called the users first to see what software they would recommend for their organizations. After 2000, SAS changed its sales strategy by slowly asking more frequently if the user had purchase authority.  It was also around this time when the larger conferences started having more SAS Institute presenters (to promote the products they wanted sold instead of what cool stuff the users wanted to show off). SAS started replicating its  foreign sales strategy – take all of the user tips and tricks (or legacy products that did not sell well as small units), bundle them into solutions and make the software easier to use so that hiring a professional would not be as critical (for example – Enterprise Guide means that anyone can become a SAS user – no need to hire those expensive data analysts when an interface makes it simple – spend a little more on software but save a lot more on human capital). In short, the programmers/users/data analysts in the US started losing influence and the dialog shifted from 'techie to vendor' to 'manger to vendor'. The users may make recommendations to their managers, but SAS sent a very clear message that going forward that whoever controlled the purse strings was most important to them. As someone who witnessed this depreciation of influence of the users, it reinforced a dictum that I learned as I eased my way into management – the organizational value of the programmers and analysts is that they are valued resources as information generators but do not have ultimate organizational authority.

So in the light of the view that I obtained when I moved to the other side of the desk, plus seeing SAS bypassing the users to speak directly to managers, that is what framed my response concerning data analysts.  These days I am doing much more support work than management and I see the value of my own analytic contributions.  But I also see the big picture and wanted to help our younger folks to also have a healthy perspective of who they are and where they fit in organizations. Data Analysts are more than just creatures of stimulus and response. They have marketable skills that will keep them employed for a long time; they also have innovative minds that can discover new water from old wells.  As long as they are at peace in: (1) not having power over what they have produced, (2) working the hours and providing billable dollars that pay the salaries their bosses and (3) being tolerated by account reps as a means of accessing those with purchase authority, then they can have fulfilling careers. But make no mistake, the view from the top – whether from within the organization or software account reps – is those who control the cash flow and the work products are to be served by those under them. 

Why there is a need for Business Analysts
  • 12/11/2013 11:20:36 AM

Having spent many, many years working in the financial services industry  where I worked on and seen the implementation of numerous financial applications .I have seen the results of those implementations with and without the contributions of business analysts. For several years served as a business analyst and came away with a strong conviction for the necessity of the role. Yet again this was during a time when many financial applications were internally developed rather than purchased off the shelf, and before the Internet, and the Cloud.   Suffice it to say.. Corporate IT Budgets changed over the years and eliminated the business analyst as non- essential and expected the application developer (ADs) to fill in the gap... to a detriment.  Not all ADs are business or financial oriented, and so many struggle to learn the business. Business Analysts that are home growned and know the business and then contribute to AD bridge the communication gap between business owners, end users and AD, IT and DataAnalysts teams.   The end result is a superior, high quality solution that meets the end users/business owners information processing and analytical needs where those apps that do not have input from a BA, 90% of the time leaves the end user frustrated for not meeting all there information needs, The end user is provided a product that they are told they must live with, and often times must do workarounds or extra reporting because the product does not deliver nearly 50% or more of their business requirements. The IT requirements for deployment and implementation take over the as more critical requirements, rather than the business or reporting process.

Re: A Different Perspective: Food Chain/Career Path Ranking
  • 12/10/2013 10:01:33 AM

Yes, that's true. Often the job titles remain vague and the certified roles become better known by initials - CPA, for example.

Most certifications remain obscure to all but a small group of very interested people. I have four professional certifications, but naming them wouldn't do a thing to help most people understand what I know or do. It would be nothing but a bowl of alphabet soup.

Re: A Different Perspective: Food Chain/Career Path Ranking
  • 12/10/2013 9:51:00 AM

Well there's certification, and then there's widespread knowledge of said certification. That could make for a long time to understanding!

Re: A Different Perspective: Food Chain/Career Path Ranking
  • 12/10/2013 9:05:02 AM

The titles can be very confusing. That may be one of the reasons for the establishment of certification for business analysts.

Re: A Different Perspective: Food Chain/Career Path Ranking
  • 12/10/2013 8:47:00 AM

Data analyst here, business analyst there, systems analyst over there. It can surely get confusing!

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