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Business Intelligence Analyst Skills: Which Ones Must You Have?

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What skills do you need to be a business intelligence analyst?

The must-have skills for business intelligence analysts include having a good grasp of analysis methods and reporting techniques so that they may make sense of data more efficiently. Moreover, they have should be familiar with the latest tech and programming tools to use BI software more seamlessly. Lastly, they should also have great interpersonal skills, industry knowledge, and business acumen.

Are you qualified to be a business intelligence analyst? If yes, there are plenty of companies waiting in the wings for you. Around 48% of businesses say that BI technology is critical to their operations, according to a 2019 market study by Dresner Advisory Services. The importance of implementing business intelligence solutions is becoming more evident.

The only problem here is that BI software don’t run themselves and these take a certain level of expertise to operate. This is why there is a demand for business intelligence analysts now more than ever. These professionals are trained to collect and evaluate data that may be used to improve business operations. However, it is best to note that they don’t always share the same skill set.

So, how do you know what skills are needed for business intelligence? To help you out, we will be providing you with an in-depth guide about the must-have BI skills of today. This way, you’ll have a better grasp of the demands of the industry. Moreover, this will give you an idea of what standards you should set for your skills in the future.

business intelligence analyst

You can’t steer a plane without a pilot. If you try to operate one without the necessary skills, you’re bound to crash it. The same goes for business intelligence programs. It’s not enough to simply have the best tools, you also need professionals who will be able to maximize its capabilities.

Unfortunately, many businesses are facing a huge problem when it comes to finding people with the right skills. In a recent poll by Ernst & Young, results showed 56% of respondents found the lack of qualified AI professionals to be the biggest barrier to implementation. As you can see on the table below, a similar study echoed this with 53% of respondents saying inadequate analytical know-how is the number one problem in Big Data technology usage.

Source: BI Survey Big Data Use Cases Report

With these statistics, we can conclude that in order to reap the benefits of business intelligence, you will need to have professionals who are trained for the job.

This is where business intelligence analysts come in. These professionals are tasked to drill large data sets so that businesses have actionable data to develop their processes and initiatives. They play crucial roles in strategic thinking, data-driven decision-making, and the discovery of new valuable insights. Oftentimes, their responsibilities include:

  • Data Collection
  • Data Processing
  • Programming
  • Data Mining
  • Data Visualization
  • Applying Statistical Analysis

As such, they are expected to have a good balance of hard and soft skills that will help them fulfill their duties. For instance, knowing how to communicate with non-BI professionals and the ability to pay great attention to detail are important in providing substantial reports. They should also know their way around programming languages. Furthermore, they need experience working with business intelligence tools or similar systems.

The list doesn’t end there. In this article, we have culled the top skills that business intelligence analysts need. We will also be providing you with some tips that will help you improve your understanding of BI and remain competitive in the industry.

Must-Have Skills for Business Intelligence Analysts

1. Analytical Skills

As the job title suggests, the primary role of BI analysts is to analyze data. So, it only makes sense for you to have strong analytical skills that will allow you to quickly see connections in data and yield insights from them. Furthermore, you should be able to understand situations from different perspectives in order to perform a holistic analysis approach to data. This calls for a good background in statistics and mathematical calculations as well as extensive experience in dealing with all sizes of data sets.

2. Reporting Skills

On their own, numbers don’t mean much. In order to truly make sense of data, it pays for a business intelligence analyst to not only understand mathematical information but have the ability to present it in the most efficient way possible. This means being able to turn what seems to be a mishmash of numbers into comprehensive reports—be it visual, written, verbal, or all of the above—that can easily be grasped even by non-BI professionals. You’ll be glad to know that today’s BI solutions offer a variety of ways to create and present dashboards with KPIs and visual reports.

For starters, BI analysts need to know how to match the data visualization formats with the appropriate kinds of data. It is also best that they study the different types of reports that are needed for various business scenarios. Moreover, it helps for them to be able to simulate what-if situations to give their audience an easier way to digest information.

Cutting-edge BI software like Sisense allows you to slice and dice data in various digestible ways.

3. Critical Thinking

While this is already evident in the previous two skills we’ve discussed, we believe that it bears repeating. Critical thinking is a core skill for business intelligence analysts. It simply refers to the ability to systematically process information so that you can understand concepts beyond a superficial level and find practical applications for them. In fact, this includes asking yourself–do you need business intelligence software?

In terms of applying BI, critical thinking will allow you to pinpoint anomalies in data, define their effect on the business, and present practical solutions to the problems you stumble upon. It is also a crucial factor in helping you evaluate your own work so that you can further improve your methods later on.

4. Technical Familiarity

Business intelligence and AI exist not to replace human expertise but to assist it. This is why technical familiarity is an important skill to have. As a BI analyst, you should know how to use technology to your advantage so that you can yield more substantial analyses in a shorter period of time.

Of course, it is important to note that this skill goes beyond navigating a computer and knowing how to use MS Office applications like Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. It also involves having a level of mastery in modifying data warehouses and developing data source queries.

In addition, it is also a plus if you have experience in using one or more business intelligence software as most companies are using them for their operations.

If you want to start learning how to use these tools, there are plenty of reputable software providers that give out free trials and demos of their products such as Sisense, Looker, and Qualtrics Research Core.

5. Computer Programming

Many software solutions require the use of different scripting and statistical languages for more advanced analyses. In order to make the most out of these platforms and have the flexibility you want for your analyses, it is best that you build your knowledge of programming. The most common language used in different BI tools is Structured Query Language (SQL) so it is best to focus on this. In addition, you should try to dabble in other in-demand programming languages such as R, Python, NOSQL, SAS, HTML, Javascript, and C/C++ to further enhance your skill set.

6. Business Acumen

Maximizing the impact of business intelligence requires more than simply knowing how to analyze data and use BI software. You also need to have a good understanding of the company that they are working for. This is what will allow you to perform analyses in line with the objectives of the company.

To build your business acumen, need to study the company’s business model, understand their short-term and long-term goals, pinpoint their key issues, and know their major competitors. The point here is to be able to think at an executive and operational level so that you can leverage data better and have a granular approach to decision making.

7. Industry Knowledge

Accurate data analysis does not rely solely on the information that you have collected from your company’s system. If you truly want to provide meaningful reports that offer actionable insights, it is pertinent that you understand the ins and outs of the industry you are working for. This means going beyond focusing on the goals and objectives of your company but also knowing the different KPIs necessary across the field.

Furthermore, you should keep yourself apprised about the biggest trends in business intelligence. You can easily do this by reading the news on a daily basis. If you want to dive in deeper, you can consider taking some seminars that talk about what’s new in the industry or even subscribe to reports and surveys of major players in the industry.

By taking these simple steps, you will be able to draw more substantial insights from your analyses.

8. Attention to Detail

When it comes to analyzing data for trends and insights, it’s all about reading between the lines and going beyond the superficial. This is why business intelligence analysts need to have great attention to detail. By doing so, it will be much easier to transform even the smallest fragment of data into actionable insights. In addition, this helps you prevent the chances of overlooking information for specific situations as well as making mistakes that can affect the overall accuracy of your reports.

9. Communication Skills

The job of business intelligence analyst does not stop at collecting and analyzing data; you also need to have the ability to explain your analyses in the most efficient manner possible. With that said, having solid communication skills is crucial. In fact, 57% of employers believe that these soft skills have greater value than technical skills which may be learned and honed on the job, according to a study by LinkedIn.

It is highly likely that you will need to work with professionals who have absolutely no knowledge of business intelligence. So, it is best that you know how to describe technical information in layman’s terms and help them understand the insights that you have yielded from your data.

10. Organization and Time Management

Last but not least, business intelligence analysts need impeccable organization and time management skills.

A company often needs reports on multiple aspects of their business at a time. This means that business intelligence analysts will most likely have to work on different analyses and reports simultaneously. Therefore, it is important that you know how to organize daily tasks, prioritize assignments, and break large tasks into smaller ones for a more streamlined workflow.

Similarly, you need to be able to know how to pace yourself and understand how much time to allot for each project. This way, businesses may get the information they need in a timely manner.

How Can You Improve Your Business Intelligence Skills?

The modern business landscape is cutthroat. As such, companies need the best people on their team to move forward. So remember that while there are plenty of business intelligence jobs available, they can be hard to snag if you simply rely on your current skill set. You have to keep on finding ways to improve your work if you want to become indispensable as a BI analyst. To do this, here are some of the steps that you can take:

Go Back to Basics

One of the simplest steps toward enhancing your skills is to reinforce your foundation. Go back to the basics by reading more on statistics or calculating by hand using a small sample of data. This time, try to apply the methods you’ve learned over the years. Perhaps, by doing so, you will be able to uncover new ideas for improving your analytical skills.

Experiment with the Unfamiliar

If you want to take your skills to the next level, you should experiment with the unfamiliar every now and then. This is what will help you increase your adaptability. Perhaps, learn a new tool or spend some time to work on bigger (or smaller) data than what you’re used to. You can also try to apply new methods that will increase the ROI of BI technology. The point here is to step out of your comfort zone.

Read Books on Business Intelligence

What better way to expand your understanding of business intelligence than by reading a book? After all, there are plenty of good literature on the topic out there and they’re all within reach.

Some titles you can consider are “Successful Business Intelligence: Unlock the Value of BI & Big Data” by Cindi Howson and “Big Data in Practice: How 45 Successful Companies Used Big Data Analytics to Deliver Extraordinary Results” by Bernard Marr.

Get Certified

Certifications can open new doors for BI analysts. What’s more, the process of getting certified will force you to retrain yourself in the field. If you don’t have any yet, some of the most reputable ones that you can apply for are Microsoft’s Certified Solutions Expert and TDWI’s Certified Business Intelligence Professional.

Invest in Education

Be it taking a more advanced business intelligence course, pursuing another degree in this field, or simply taking seminars, investing in further education will allow you to sharpen your knowledge of business intelligence. This is what will help you stay in-the-know about the new methods in the industry as well as give you a fresher perspective as to how you can improve your work.

By honing the skills we’ve mentioned in this guide and proactively enhancing them, you can remain competitive in the business intelligence industry. It would open more opportunities for you or your company in the long run.

Incidentally, if you want to practice and hone your skills using BI software without committing to payment terms yet, you can check these free business intelligence software solutions. Once you’re ready for more advanced features, you can simply bump up to paid plans.

Jenny Chang

By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

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