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7 Must-have Skills for the Business Intelligence Business Analyst

Business Intelligence (BI) is a top priority across the world: Gartner estimates that 90% of organizations have some form of BI capability…

with global BI spend for 2016 expected to reach 16.9 billion US dollars. Simultaneously, experts predict future demand for BI professionals to increase even higher than present, resulting from a future shortage. The time is rife with opportunity to explore specializing in BI. If data, information, and analytics interest you, perhaps it’s time to explore expanding your Business Analyst (BA) skillset to specialize in BI.

Related Article: 9 Key Skills Every Good Business Analyst Needs

The BI BA uses BA and BI tools and techniques to build BI solutions that align data, business, and technology to deliver actionable insights needed by the organization to support decision-making. The BI BA may be involved at various points in the BI lifecycle – from data sourcing and analysis to enhancing, integrating and presenting information – all the way to delivering analytics and actionable insights.

The BI BA role requires hard and soft skills. Hard skills are left-brain skills that can be learned through courses and experience, given an inherent or acquired aptitude. Soft skills take emotional intelligence, using the right-brain. While the well-rounded BI BA demonstrates a wide range of both these types of skills, there are a few essential skills that underpin the BI BA role that employers typically seek at a minimum. We see these as critical for the BI BA, over and above the traditional BA skill set – consisting of, for example analytical and critical thinking, problem-solving, technical writing and ability to facilitate workshops.

Starting with the hard skills:

1. Business Acumen

A fundamental skill for the BI BA is the ability to understand and converse in the business domain specific to the particular industry and organization they are analyzing. The BI BA needs a solid foundation of knowledge of the industry as well as the organization’s business model, strategy and objectives, its key issues and its competitors. Strong business acumen helps the BI BA as they follow a top-down approach translating the organization’s strategy into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), measures and metrics. This may be done for executive, management or operational levels to support strategic, tactical or day-to-day decision-making.

2. Data Analysis and Modelling

Ability to understand data and information and convert this into insights. The BI BA must be able to think conceptually, using high-level data models to conceptually map the real world of the organization. They also need a firm understanding of how data moves from operational source systems across the organization, through the various transformation processes, to where it is ultimately used by decision-makers.

3. BI-specific Software and Analytics Programs

Employers typically seek super-user level skills in Microsoft (MS) Office applications, specifically advanced Excel for analyzing and pivoting data, the ability to use Visio for data modeling and possibly also knowing SharePoint to build custom input lists. MS Access skills are less in demand, possibly only needed on specific projects where a client department may already be using this.

Proficiency in a query language, such as Microsoft SQL, is highly sought after by employers. The capability to see and analyze data helps with the much-needed hands-on and data-focused nature of BI analysis. It helps understand the format, grain and structure of the data and moves analysis from intangible to tangible, real-life examples.

Additionally, BI BAs working in the analytics space must know how to use Commercial off the Shelf (COTS) BI and analytics software applications. A good place to see what is relevant today is on Gartner’s magic quadrant for BI and Analytics platforms. As of February 2016, Gartner ranks Tableau, Qlik and Microsoft the highest in terms of leadership and vision.

4. BI Methodology and BI Journey

The traditional BA must understand the Systems Development Lifecycle (SDLC). Similarly, the BI BA must know both the BI methodology and BI journey for their particular department and organization.

In terms of BI methodology, the BI BA must specifically know: how requirements flow through BI development processes; key handover points, who the BI team members are and how to collaborate with them and; governance and maintenance processes required in operations after project conclusion.

The BI journey entails understanding the overall organizational approach to BI in terms of how the organization intends to move from maturity to maturity level, the technological platform and tools it plans to use to do this and what organizational structure it sees of use in getting there.

On the side of the soft skills:

5. Big Picture AND Detail Oriented

Paradoxically both of these skills are required. Often the BI BA is working in the minutia – the finest grain of data – and needs to understand this in all its subtle details. These may entail where it is sourced from, what are the transformation rules, who uses it, who owns it, etc. At the same time, they need to understand the organization’s vision, how this translates into the various strategic, tactical and operational level objectives and then how to translate the objectives into KPIs, metrics and measures that link to detailed data elements.

6. Ability to Navigate Politics

BI solutions typically cross a number of functional areas and departments, where key stakeholders may have their own agendas for a particular BI solution or may be fearful of or unwilling to share information. While the common mantra in business cases for BI solutions is “a single version of the truth”, the BI BA needs to be able to navigate politics such as turf wars between departments and key stakeholders and inability to define key business and data terminology.

7. High Tolerance for Ambiguity and Ability to Create Structure

BI scope and requirements are notoriously ill-defined upfront, emerging as further information comes to light through analysis. Additionally, data quality and structure are also not usually known upfront. The BI BA needs the soft skills to confidently manage through the fog, creating stability and structure for themselves, their BI team members and their business stakeholders as they proceed.

About the Authors:

Dr. Pam Clavier is a PM and BA with 16 years’ experience in IT and consulting. She has a PhD in Informatics and is certified as a PMP and CBAP. She can be reached at [email protected].

Harman Brar is a Director at Decision Streams. He has 22 years’ experience in BI, data warehousing and analytics. He holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree and is certified as an Oracle DBA, a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP, MCITP DBA/BI) and is a Certified Scrum Master (CSM). He can be contacted at [email protected].

References & Further Reading

De Jager, T., Brown, I. 2016. A Descriptive Categorized Typology of Requisite Skills for Business Intelligence Professionals. SAICSIT ’16. 
Gartner News Room. 2016.
Gartner Research. 2016. Magic Quadrant for BI and Analytics Platforms
Selig, A. Survey: What Employers Are Looking For in a Business Intelligence Analyst.  
The Business Analyst Body of Knowledge (BABOK) Guide V3