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Data scientists and business analysts: are they one and the same, or are they worlds apart? If the analogy that a data scientist is a business analyst working in California is to be believed, then the positions are only separated by a zeitgeist job title. But in reality, this isn’t the case: the two roles have very different parts to play in the ever-evolving landscape of big data. While data scientists are (and will continue to be) eagerly sought after in an attempt to plug a gaping hole in the employment market, business analysts are already there — on the ground, working with the data harvested by their enterprises. More and more as the industry progresses forward, these business analysts will be called on to contextualise that data, providing valuable business and industry insights.

Big data is sweeping into every part of the business world. According to the IDC’s Digital Universe Study, the amount of information managed by enterprise centres will grow by 50 times in this decade alone. And, as big data pervades the business world, traditional models will change to incorporate it and traditional job roles will change as part of a cultural disruption. The smart business analysts – those who wish to be change agents and seen as integral to their business and industry – will be at the forefront of this shift. So, with that in mind, we’ve put together a primer for business analysts — something that you can cut-out-and-keep, or pass on to your colleagues.

An introduction to big data

A big data strategy is essentially a business strategy, and for that reason (and this primer shows), business analysts are key to that strategy. They can make the most of what is fast becoming one of the biggest influential shifts in global business history. Big data will reach well beyond the IT department, infiltrating most aspects of business. Companies will be able to collect, analyse and interpret big data in real-time. And those enterprises that use the insights they gain from their data will be able to potentially reduce costs (in IT infrastructure and business processes), while also improving decision making and customer relations.
New challenges

Big data will create challenges for business analysts, but it will also empower them. They’ll be able to create bespoke models to solve complex problems, using tools that don’t require endless input and mediation from IT professionals. These new tools — placed in the hands of the people who need them most — will allow business analysts to gain deep insights into data and create detailed behaviour models based on their findings.

Visualisation tools will play a big part in this new wave of data analytics and business modeling: it will help business analysts add a frame of reference to the insights mined from data, and put them in context (and in forms) that will tailor their insights for better end-user understanding. Another part of the business analyst’s role in any big data strategy will also be to add a frame of reference to the insights mined from data. Aside from being able to analyse their own sets of unstructured data and working closer with new dashboards, business analysts will find themselves having to get to grips with new ways to visualise their findings. But once they’ve mastered the new visualisation tools at their disposal, business analysts will be able to tailor their insights for better end-user understanding.
New Opportunities

And for business analysts, the changes in their working landscape mean they have a whole new set of opportunities that they can turn into advantages for their companies (and their personal careers). One of the first will be the way in which business analysts work with other teams. A big data strategy enables business analysts, data scientists and marketers to work closer than ever before. With data scientists extracting insights from multi-structured data, business analysts applying context to it and marketers implementing campaigns based on the findings, a new, beneficial kind of co-departmental harmony will exist for any company smart enough (and brave enough) to embrace and foster a cultural shift within their organization.
The new analyst

Business analysts shouldn’t fear big data. It may seem overwhelming at first, but essentially it’s a matter of scale, not capability. Business analysts have the skills and experience already to analyse data for the benefit of their companies, they just have to adapt to the new levels of volume, velocity, and variety of the data they’re handling. And because business analysts know their businesses inside out — they know how they work and what they need — they’re in an ideal position to leverage big data to create and implement the kind of agile solutions that their competitors are missing.

Published on: 4:32PM on 8th November 2012