Hundreds of colleges and universities offer students the chance to study for a career in analytics. There are at least another 28 MBA programs that specialize in analytics. U.S. colleges awarded more than 3,000 degrees in Business Analytics just last year alone, up from just over 1,200 graduates 10 years ago. And yet, job postings for data scientist jobs outnumber qualified applicants 6-to-1 nationwide! Your Name Here Now says, the future of the analyst profession is really bright!
Obviously not all analysts will be great data scientists or get involved with machine learning – but it seems like there’s never been a better time to learn about business intelligence or data analysis if you want to have a successful career in this field over the next few decades.
So it was with this background that I read a recent article from Forbes that featured a provocative title: The Future of the Business Intelligence Analyst Profession Is Bleak . The article has a few interesting points, but ultimately strikes me as a little bit off target. The author makes some good points, and there are things to think about if you’re working in the field of analytics or data science, but overall I’d argue that things are actually getting better for those who choose to work as analysts in business.
For example, the Forbes article claims there is no such thing as business intelligence and that the term is dead. That’s flat out wrong. According to the dictionary, a “business intelligence (BI) analyst” is a person who “[analyzes data] to improve decision making and increase profits.” They are also engaged in data visualization. Business intelligence is not an end in itself – but it can help you make better decisions and generate more revenue.
Why focus on BI?
In my opinion, this is a crucial question for those who want to have an analytical career. Making decisions in business is about solving problems. You might be an analyst not because you want to work at the intersection of data and strategy, but because you want to help your company get better at making decisions based on data.
I would also argue that the Economist Intelligence Unit report cited by the Forbes article gives a pretty accurate picture of current job market trends for BI analysts. The EIU’s report on Recent Developments in Workforce Analytics argues that “BI has firmly established itself as a core capability within BI analysts’ skill-sets, and is considered a very important skill-set for all graduates.” In fact, the report argues that “the number of people graduating with a BA/MA degree related to Business Intelligence has more than doubled.
Changes in technology certainly have a major impact on what it means to be an analyst. Back in the 1980s there would be no question that those who worked in data science or analytics would spend their days using mainframe computers – programs like SAS and COBOL were the key tools of choice. Today, it’s a mix of technologies. Analytics tools like SAS, IBM SPSS and Microsoft Excel are widely used today. But they are joined by new tools for creating data visualizations and for analysis. The Python programming language and the R statistical analysis platform.
Let me be clear – there are still some incredibly difficult jobs in analytics. If you’re working with transactional data, modeling it by hand to analyze the past is a must. But there is nothing like the ability to automate analysis and create algorithms for processing data from the web, from sensors or from other sources to make an analyst’s job a whole lot easier.
In my opinion, some of the biggest changes in terms of technology over the past two decades are happening now. Machine learning is helping companies figure out what their customers want more easily than they ever have before. Big data analytics tools help companies find new business opportunities more quickly. And artificial intelligence is helping companies unlock new insights from big data. All of these areas are linked . You’ll find that machine learning and analytics tools that incorporate machine learning lead to more accurate forecasts and predictions.
The Forbes article doesn’t mention any of this. I think we can assume it was written before the Oculus Rift was revealed (and released) as a prototype for a virtual reality device.
For analysts who want to keep up with the latest tools. There are now courses available in just about every major city in the country. Often from multiple universities. There is also an ever growing trade book market on analytics. There are dozens of books published every month on topics ranging from data visualization, to big data , to the management of analytics teams . For those who want to keep on top of leading edge topics, I recommend The Predictive Analytics Times. It is an online resource that highlights articles from more than a dozen sites on business intelligence and data science.
The decline in business intelligence jobs is not due to a lack of interest in data nor a lack of demand for analytics talent. If you are interested in making your own career as an analytics professional, you will have no trouble finding a job.
With technological developments happening at rapid speeds, it can seem hard to predict what the future holds for the job market. It’s hard to know which skills will remain valuable and which ones will become obsolete.