With the explosion in the use of data-driven strategies in organizations across every industry, it’s little wonder so many want to get into a data-related field.

Of course, it’s important to know exactly which data-related field you want. Many people, including those who want to get into the industry, confuse business analyst with data scientist jobs. And while both are rapidly growing, rewarding career choices, they also are very different.

Here’s a look at the two, and how business analysts fit into the overall picture.

An Overview of Data Science

The term “data science” can include a variety of specific jobs. However, those who earn a degree in data science tend to focus on similar tasks.

Typically, they involve delving deep into large datasets, looking for trends and connections between sometimes disparate data sources. These insights are then turned into actionable recommendations by data scientists to business leaders looking to make better, data-driven decisions.

They curate data throughout its life cycle, from creation and storage to eventually getting archived (or, in some cases, deleted). They specialize in data wrangling, which involves cleaning, transforming and mapping data into a form that is more useful for analytics.

Multi-source data amalgamation, sometimes called data fusion, also is a key component of many data science jobs. It involves integrating data from multiple sources into a form that is consistently accurate and useful for analytics, as well as providing more insights than can be gained from a single source.

All the above can involve data feature engineering, the process of creating features that allow machine learning algorithms to work properly and consistently.

 Data scientists often get assigned open-ended, complex challenges to solve. They work primarily on their own using advanced techniques, developing algorithms they feel can help solve those challenges by collecting the right kinds of data.

They also may look at multiple sources for data points. Then using data, develop and test theories on how they might relate. While past and current data play a role, those who work in data science typically are building predictive models to test how various strategies might play out.

How Business Analysts Work

Defining exactly how business analysts fit into the overall data science mix can prove tricky, because much depends on the industry and exact nature of the job.

However, generally speaking, business analysts work with an organization to find ways to improve operations and meet business goals. These improvements can fall into many areas, including identifying ways to make an operation more efficient, better ways to invest money and methods for improving a product or service and better serving customers.

They do this through the rigorous collection and analysis of data. Some examples of a business analyst in different professions could include:

  • Healthcare – an analyst might review patient databases to find areas where money can be saved (duplication of effort, for example) while also finding ways that patient outcomes can improve.
  • Marketing – an analyst might review consumer behavior online (how they entered a site, what pages they visited and what products they reviewed) to determine the best way to market to various demographic segments
  • Finance – a business analyst might recommend ways to leverage existing dollars to get a better return on investment.

That’s just several of many ways an analyst might approach the use of data in different settings. No matter what the specifics of the job entail, the idea is to use a disciplined, structured approach to collecting, analyzing and interpreting data.

Becoming A Business Analyst

Growth in the profession has resulted in many colleges and universities offering business analyst courses. One approach used by Merrimack College is designing programs to provide students the knowledge and skills the workforce currently needs.

The college accomplishes this by having experts from industry work with the school in developing a curriculum. These industry experts assist in designing the program with help from both the business school and the engineering school.

On the technical side, business analysts typically do not write algorithms as a data scientist might. However, they need strong skills in programming, statistical modeling, machine learning and data visualization.

Business analysts play a critical role in the world of data science. Tasked with finding ways to improve a business using data, their work directly impacts the fiscal health of an organization. For those willing to commit to learning the profession and earning a degree, it’s a career that can provide a lifetime of both challenges and rewards.