Research Analyst Roles and Job Description

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A research analyst monitors data on several screens.

Research analysts are known as data crunchers. They’re skilled in gathering, analyzing and working with data to improve efficiency, profitability and savings for companies and organizations in many industries. They’re also effective communicators; they present the data in an understandable format for business decision-makers.

Simply put, data is at the core of research analyst roles and responsibilities.

Why is data so vital today?

A look at some revealing statistics about data usage worldwide can provide some perspective on the growing importance of data:

  • The world created 41 zettabytes of data in 2019, according to a Statista report; 1 ZB is about a trillion gigabytes.
  • Worldwide, the number of bytes, a unit of measure for data, is 40 times higher than that of the stars in the universe, according to the World Economic Forum.
  • Seagate reports that by 2025, the world will have created 175 ZB of data.

These statistics provide a glimpse of how data is embedded into the fabric of modern society. Data is critical to business success, too. The ability to harness its power provides businesses with competitive advantages.

A look at the most valuable brands in the world reveals how data has transformed global commerce. According to Visual Capitalist, the top-four most valuable brands include the following:

  • Amazon, valued at $220 billion
  • Google, valued at $160 billion
  • Apple, valued at $140 billion
  • Microsoft, valued at $117 billion

A common thread among these companies is that data is foundational to their businesses. These companies are the most active and largest hyperscale data center companies in the world, each investing upwards of $1 billion for a single data center campus, according to Data Center Frontier. Hyperscale data centers are massive facilities full of racks, technology and equipment that house the very data that drives the digital transformation of commerce and society.

The digital transformation, also known as digitization, represents unprecedented opportunities for businesses. By acquiring essential insights from data, companies can improve their products and services. They can also change how they operate and interact with customers, contributing to a healthier bottom line. There’s even a catchphrase used to describe the growing influence of data in the business world — “data is the new oil.”

The metaphor speaks to data’s role in transforming society and the global economy. Still, there are clear differences between oil and data. For one, oil is a natural resource requiring extraction, a process that makes up to 57 percent of costs incurred for oil and gas producers, according to Towards Data Science. Extracting data isn’t nearly as costly. However, like oil, data must be refined so that it can add value to businesses. A vital part of research analyst roles and responsibilities, processing data is essential to uncovering its value to businesses.

How do research analysts extract value from data? Expanding on the metaphor, oil refineries process crude oil through an industrial process to make useful products, such as gasoline, plastics and jet fuel. For raw data to be processed, it requires human ingenuity and technology, such as Python, R and SQL programming languages. Part of the research analyst’s toolkit is to use quantitative modeling and data-mining methods and tools to reveal the business value in data.

Ninety-four percent of enterprises consider data and analytics critical for business growth and digital transformation, according to a recent Forbes article. Businesses understand the critical role data plays in ensuring their success, so they invest in people and technology to collect more of it from the Internet, databases, search engines, social networks, mobile phones and smart devices. These trends are creating new career opportunities for individuals interested in using their analytical, technical and business skills and advancing their education to help companies and organizations improve their products, operations and effectiveness.

What Is a Research Analyst?

Research analysts are professionals who work with data in both private and public organizations. Data in and of itself has no intrinsic value until a data analytics professional, such as a research analyst, makes sense of it. They put data to good use for business purposes, such as identifying sales opportunities or market trends.

Research analysts understand the strategic value of different types of data, including unstructured data and big data. Their expertise in collecting, analyzing and translating data into valuable insights offer businesses a competitive advantage in the marketplace. A research analyst’s role is critical to helping organizations reach their business aims, including improved efficiency and operational performance.

What Does a Research Analyst Do?

Research analyst roles and responsibilities include a host of activities to transform raw data into valuable business insights. The following activities are typical for research analyst roles:

  • When research analysts conduct research, they look at historical data from various sources, including internal databases, such as financial, accounting and sales systems. At this point, the data is typically in raw form. Research analysts examine and validate the accuracy of the data to ensure that it produces meaningful information.
  • Analyze data.Upon collecting the data, research analysts use mathematical, statistical and analytical models to find patterns that may reveal business opportunities. For example, the data may uncover a fundamental flaw in how a company interacts with its customers, creating negative experiences. With the data in hand, research analysts help develop potential solutions to improve the ways the company interacts with its customers, opening opportunities for additional sales.
  • Present data.Research analyst roles and responsibilities include compiling information drawn from the data to help managers see the business value. Research analysts prepare communications, such as reports and presentations, to provide insights on what the data reveals to facilitate decision-making.
  • Interpret data. In meetings and during conference calls, research analysts interpret data, demonstrate what they’ve learned and explain its value from a business perspective.

In addition to these activities, research analysts design methods and strategies to capture, store and manage data. They also help implement analytics tools, a driving force behind the growth of the data and business analytics industry. According to IDC, it’s valued at around $189 billion as of 2019 and projected to grow by double-digits through 2022.

This tool selection process typically involves determining which technologies best fit the needs of the business. Popular open-source tools include BIRT, Matomo, OmniSci and Apache Zeppelin. In determining the best tools, research analysts often have to work closely with technology vendors and other stakeholders. Other important elements of the job include ensuring the effective management, protection and governance of data, working together with data security experts.

Research Analyst Skills and Education

Research analyst roles and responsibilities vary across different organizations and sectors, but at a minimum, strong math and statistics skills are required. Through sophisticated data-driven mathematical models, analysts derive useful information to help achieve business goals, from improving performance to cutting costs.

Still, research analysts do more than work with numbers and raw data all day. They also interact with other analysts and share their findings with business decision-makers through presentations, face-to-face meetings and reports.

The following is a sampling of research analysts’ essential competencies and skills:

  • Mathematics and statistics skills to work with the data and develop models
  • Ability to recognize patterns to find useful information in the data that’s sometimes unstructured
  • Research, fact-checking and validation skills to ensure valid data sources and verify accuracy
  • Analytical and critical thinking skills to find value and understand what’s in the data
  • Communication, presentation and writing skills to present findings derived from the data
  • Financial skills to calculate the financial performance of companies, especially in accounting and finance operations
  • Focus and organization to work on multiple tasks and projects
  • Interpersonal skills to build relationships with teams from other departments
  • Knowledge of the company’s business to understand customer behavior and market trends relevant to the company’s industry
  • Technology skills to work with various research, data analytics, modeling and predictive tools, as well as business productivity software
  • Forecasting to determine future trends, often presented in charts, infographics and other visual aids
  • Problem-solving to address the challenges of data collection and analysis, as well as help guide decision-makers toward solutions that resolve issues revealed in the data

Research analysts typically have bachelor’s degrees in a business-related field. However, depending on the industry, a master’s degree may add value to their career prospects, especially if they’re aiming for senior research analyst roles. Because research analysts work across many industries, formal education or experience relevant to the sector they work in may offer additional advantages for advancement. For example, a research analyst working in the oil and gas industry could benefit from knowledge about energy and climate policy.

Research Analyst Careers

The versatility of the role means that there are various types of research analyst careers available. Research analysts can work in technology, marketing, health care, finance, government finance, public policy, management consulting, aviation and other industries.

Job titles for research analysts can vary based on the industries of their employers. For example, research analysts working in an investment bank, a financial institution, a securities firm or an insurance company might be called investment analysts, financial analysts, securities analysts or insurance analysts. In financial organizations, the work of financial analysts involves examining, collecting and interpreting financial information to help make business decisions. Market research analysts and operations research analysts are also popular careers.

Market Research Analyst Career Path

Businesses want to understand who their customers are, what they need and their preferred method of buying. Market research analysts help them get a better picture of their customers through data. Market research analysts work for various types of organizations, examining market conditions and helping determine opportunities to grow sales of products or services.

Competitor researching, price analysis, and investigating sales and marketing processes enable market research analysts to provide critical business information that provides competitive advantages. Market research analysts use their knowledge about customer behavior to explain the benefits and shortcomings of their employers’ products or services. For example, they can present the data that shows what customers are buying and at what price.

This type of information is useful for companies to align their product and service offerings with consumer preferences. Data from market research analysts also helps marketing directors determine appropriate marketing, sales and content strategies.

On a typical day, market research analyst roles and responsibilities include the following:

  • Gathering and analyzing data on market trends and consumer demographics, customer needs, and people’s buying habits to create forecasts and help optimize marketing efforts
  • Using a combination of traditional methods, such as focus groups and questionnaires, statistical techniques, modeling and analytics software
  • Interpreting findings to determine pricing strategies, forecast future trends, and help develop targeted marketing strategies and tactics
  • Assessing the impact and performance of marketing programs and strategies and working with sales and marketing teams to develop solutions
  • Creating tables, graphs, reports and presentations to present their findings to senior managers and clients
  • Collecting and analyzing data on demographics, customer preferences, market needs and consumer buying habits
  • Developing and refining processes for data collection and analysis

Market research analysts are in high demand; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the field to grow by 20 percent between 2018 and 2028. Entry-level candidates typically have a bachelor’s degree in market research, business administration, statistics, math, communications or computer science. A master’s degree may create opportunities to advance to an organization’s highest levels.

Many market research analysts begin as field researchers for market research agencies. Then, they progress to serve in client-facing roles and project management roles. However, career paths in market research aren’t always straightforward, thanks to the many specialized disciplines available: technology, marketing and big data, to name a few.

The BLS reports a median annual salary of $63,790 for market research analysts in 2019. According to U.S. News & World Report, market research analyst is ranked No. 8 in the Best Business Jobs category. The position is also given a high ranking for advancement and salary by professionals in the field.

Operations Research Analyst Career Path

Operations research analysts are problem-solvers. Organizations turn to operations research analysts for critical decisions that can affect the success of their operations. Operations research analysts can help corporations, manufacturing firms, airlines, technology companies, government agencies, and other businesses and organizations. They work with business leaders to tackle problems that lead to reduced operational costs, improved efficiency and increased profitability.

At an airline, for example, an operations research analyst might look into the shipping operation of an airline to help improve logistics. Logistics describes management of the flow of resources, equipment, people and supplies between different facilities or destinations.

At a food and beverage manufacturer, an analyst might investigate whether the materials or processes used in the production of goods indicate patterns of waste. The analyst can identify areas where improvements can generate more products more efficiently and achieve cost-savings for both the company and its customers.

Operations research analysts uncover value from data that can lead to improvements in the productivity of processes, machines and people. Research analysts can also leverage data to help:

  • Improve interactions with consumers to meet growing demands for better and faster service
  • Accelerate manufacturing and distribution to ensure the availability of products
  • Ensure accuracy in operating processes and machines to minimize errors, which can be costly

Thanks to operations research analysts and their skill in applying mathematical models and statistical analysis and the use of sophisticated data analytics tools, organizations can address the pressing challenges created by a global marketplace.

On a typical day, operations research analyst roles and responsibilities include the following:

  • Identifying opportunities to help organizations operate more efficiently and lower costs
  • Developing models to ensure sufficient inventory to meet market demands
  • Using optimization and data mining tools, conducting statistical analysis, and developing mathematical models
  • Advising business leaders on the costs and benefits of taking a course of action
  • Collecting data from various sources, including internally from workers with specialized knowledge or who experience an issue needing a solution
  • Examining data and running simulations to identify patterns that may reveal future trends

The path to becoming an operations research analyst begins with education. Entry-level candidates typically have a bachelor’s degree in business, math or engineering. A master’s degree may create opportunities to advance to the highest levels. Many begin their careers as analysts, then progress to become senior analysts or directors of a team or department.

The BLS reports a median annual salary of $84,810 for operations research analysts in 2019. U.S. News & World Report ranks operations research analyst No. 4 in the Best Business Jobs category, with above average advancement and salary reported by professionals in the field. The demand for operations researchers is expected to increase dramatically, according to the BLS, with 26 percent growth projected between 2018 and 2028.

Embark on a Career in Research Analytics

Employers are looking for knowledgeable research analysts to help solve complex problems and make better business decisions. For individuals seeking roles in operations research or market research, honing their research, analytical, technology and mathematical skills can help garner the attention of these employers. Explore how the online Master of Science in Business Analytics program offered by the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland can prepare you for a successful career as a research analyst.


Recommended Readings

Data Mining in Business: Skills and Competencies Needed to Succeed

6 Data Analyst Skills for the Modern Marketer to Master

Comparing Analytics Careers: Business Analyst vs. Data Analyst



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