Comparing Analytics Careers: Business Analyst vs. Data Analyst

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Data analyst reports quarterly business data.

Companies that fail to leverage data for business growth are at a disadvantage in a global marketplace increasingly reliant on data. At the same time, access to data without insights offers little to no benefit. As a result, the demand for knowledgeable business professionals with data and analytics skills is on the rise. According to “The Quant Crunch” report from Burning Glass Technologies, data and analytics roles are projected to reach 2.7 million by 2020. There are a wide range of job titles for professionals employed in data and analytics roles, including business analyst and data analyst.

Professionals looking to advance their careers in the data and analytics field should understand the similarities and differences of the business analyst and data analyst roles. In comparing the business analyst vs. data analyst roles, it’s important to understand that candidates for these positions often share common traits and knowledge. For example, they typically have analytical and critical thinking skills, which enable them to solve problems. They also have strong communication skills, which help them explain in plain language what the data is revealing.

Professionals seeking to become business analysts or data analysts can benefit from the University of Maryland’s Online Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program. The program is designed to provide essential technical knowledge of quantitative modeling, data mining, data management and SQL, combined with business skills, to prepare students for leadership roles in analytics.

Business Analyst vs. Data Analyst: Who Does What?

The International Institute of Business Analysis defines business analysis as “the practice of enabling change in the context of an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders.” Business analysts are primarily concerned with finding insights hidden in data that reveal opportunities to improve business performance and efficiency. For example, through business intelligence processes — including analysis of sales trends, company expenses and consumer behavior — they can help managers make informed decisions.

The Insights Association defines data analytics as “the process of examining data sets to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, trends, preferences and other useful information that can be used to describe, understand, influence and predict behaviors.” Data analysts are mainly focused on extracting data from various sources using programming languages. They then present the insights to senior managers and executives to facilitate decision-making in areas such as business strategy and marketing.

One key responsibility that business analysts and data analysts share is leveraging data to help uncover business opportunities. The differences between them include their responsibilities and the skills needed to succeed. In both roles, a master’s degree in business analytics with forecasting, prediction and managerial decision-making components can provide professionals with the business, analytical and technical skills needed to succeed.

What Does a Business Analyst Do?

In addition to using data and analytics to identify opportunities, business analysts strategically bridge the gaps that often exist between different teams within companies. For example, finding common ground between the business and information technology functions often requires a business analyst’s negotiation skills. Business analysts also leverage data to improve products and services.

As more companies use data and analytics to gain a competitive edge, the business analyst role is evolving to include data analytics as a core competency. Using business intelligence tools to gather insights from data, business analysts can inform company leaders about the state of their business and help them make knowledgeable and strategic business decisions. With the ability to draw informed conclusions, business analysts often serve as management consultants to senior leaders.

Business analysts typically have strong technical backgrounds to understand how databases work. They have excellent problem-solving, interpersonal and presentation skills. Importantly, they’re also knowledgeable in modeling, as visual representations can enable stakeholders to better understand the problems and gaps.

What Does a Data Analyst Do?

Data analysts possess mathematical and analytical skills and have knowledge of programming languages such as Python and R, which enable users to collect data. Data analysts need to be able to translate data so it’s easily understandable to nontechnical executives and managers. According to a McKinsey & Company report, companies are experiencing difficulties in finding and retaining “business translators” with the right skills to “bridge between analytics and other functions” in a business. Moreover, a data analyst may work with other data specialists — for example, data scientists and data architects — to formulate data analyses to predict what the future holds for the business.

An inquisitive mind, a penchant for curiosity and tenacity are traits that will serve a data analyst well. The data analysis process is exploratory in nature, so these professionals must be inquisitive. Data analysts present data using easy-to-understand methods, typically via a computer dashboard. But a data analyst’s job doesn’t end there; the person in this role must illustrate the data’s business relevance in written form and in-person or group settings.

Additional skills necessary for data analysts include SQL and other programming languages for database queries, data management for efficient data storage and retrieval, and data warehousing to collect large data volumes from various sources. In addition to business and programming knowledge, a background in statistics and machine learning algorithms may be useful for success.

Employment Outlook: Business Analysts vs. Data Analysts

Business analysis roles go by many titles, including management consultant and management analyst. Their main goal is to provide managers and executives with data-driven insights to improve organizational efficiency, lower costs and increase revenues. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), management analysts earned a median annual wage of $83,610 in 2018. Finding opportunities to improve efficiency and lower costs is a top aim of organizations looking to improve their competitive edge; as such, the BLS projects 14% growth in this occupation from 2018 to 2028.

Data analytics professionals may have various job titles, such as operations research analysts. Operations research analysts had a median annual wage of $83,390 in 2018, according to the BLS. The BLS projects 26% growth from 2018 to 2028. And, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, “Hiring demand for recent Master of Data Analytics graduates is strongest [in 2019] among employers in the technology (72%), energy/utilities (63%), and consulting (61%) industries.”

Explore Future Career Opportunities for Business Analysts and Data Analysts

To improve efficiency, control costs and boost business performance in a global, data-driven market, organizations are placing a premium on prospective employees who have advanced expertise in both business and data analysis. Professionals who are considering a career as a business analyst or data analyst could benefit from the high potential for growth in each of these occupations.

Learn more about how the Online MSBA program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business can prepare you to pursue career opportunities across a range of industries, including health care, consulting, banking and insurance, communications, cybersecurity and government.


Recommended Readings

Is Business Analytics a Good Career?

Master’s in Business Analytics Salary: Enhance Your Earning Potential

Maryland Smith to Offer Online Master of Science in Business Analytics Degree



BA Times, “Nine Key Skills That Every Good Business Analyst Needs”

Burning Glass Technologies, The Quant Crunch

Houston Chronicle, “The Differences Between a Business Analyst & A Data Analyst”

CIO, “What Is A Business Analyst? A Key Role For Business-IT Efficiency

CIO, “What Is BI? Business Intelligence and Strategies and Solutions”

Forbes, “The Five Most In-Demand Skills for Data Analysis Jobs”

Forbes, “What is the Difference Between Data Analysis and Data Visualization?”

Forbes, “What You Need to Know About Business Intelligence”

Graduate Management Admission Council, Corporate Recruiters Survey Report 2019

International Institute of Business Analysis, BABOK Guide Appendix A: Glossary

International Institute of Business Analysis, What Is Business Analysis?

McKinsey & Company, The Age of Analytics: Competing in a Data-Driven World

Medium, “Lost in Translation: Data Industry Professionals”

Techopedia, “Job Role: Data Analyst”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Management Analysts

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Operations Research Analysts