What degree do I need to be a Business Analyst?

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What is a Business Analyst?

Before addressing the recommended educational path, individuals considering a business analysis degree need to understand what the profession entails.

A business analyst analyzes an organization or business and researches how it operates to suggest methods to improve practices and procedures. Ultimately, the resulting analysis will allow the entity to increase revenue, solve current problems, and achieve established goals.

The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) divides business analysis into technology-focused and business-focused, with some overlapping. The organization perceives the various roles of business analysis as having eleven tentacles. These are:

  1. Business Process Management
  2. Product Management
  3. Business Technology
  4. Strategist
  5. Cybersecurity Analysis
  6. Cloud Management
  7. Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning
  8. Business Intelligence
  9. Business Analytics
  10. Business Analysis Professional
  11. Quality Assurance or Customer Experience

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The Business Analyst is a change agent. The purpose is to bring about a disciplined approach for introducing and managing change to organizations, whether for-profit businesses, governments, or non-profits.

The business analyst identifies and articulates the need for change in how organizations work, facilitating that change. To arrive at this point might involve extensive engagement with the company or organization to document management levels, technology application, business models, production means, services offered, and more. As the analyst formulates ideas addressing the company’s mission, they must consider the recommendations’ technological, functional, and financial feasibility.

Therefore, business analysts work across all levels of an organization while delving into defining strategy, creating the enterprise architecture, taking a leadership stature by defining the goals and requirements for programs, and supporting ongoing technology and processes improvements.

Individuals contemplating a business analysis degree should first explore the profession by joining the IIBA for $139 USD. Headquartered in Pickering, Ontario, Canada, the organization boasts 29,000+ members in 120 chapters spread over 40+ countries. Members have access to over 11,000 Digital Online professional development books and journals, a subscription to the quarterly magazine, BAM or Business Analysis Magazine, career action guide, webinars, certifications, and networking. It also has 300 corporate members and over 240 endorsed education providers.

Educational Path for Business Analysis

The degree is referred to most often as a Bachelor of Science or Arts in Business Analytics or Applied Business Analytics at the undergraduate level. Grand Canyon University (GCU) in Phoenix offers both 120-credits degrees online and on-campus. The former concentrates on business practices, whereas the latter examines the fundamentals of database structures, including data mining.

Graduates of GCU’s Bachelor of Science in Business Analytics will have the skills and knowledge to:

  • Apply techniques for problem-solving
  • Prepare and deliver convincing presentations
  • Apply strategies for analyzing data
  • Scrutinize financial statements
  • Apply statistical analysis and modeling to data

GCU’s B.S. in Applied Business Analytics program includes statistics, database structures, IT project management, data mining, and computer technology. The classes in Business Analytics share many of the same topics, except for organizational behavior, economics, finance, accounting, and marketing.

Bachelor’s degree programs typically have finance, accounting, or business administration as the job of analysis requires a firm foundation in business-related subjects. Introductory courses vary depending on the major but include investment management, taxation, or basic cost accounting. Some programs have mathematics, statistics, or econometrics courses that help prepare students for financial modeling.

Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska, has a 100% online Bachelor of Science in Business Analytics whose curriculum has three sections:

Business Foundation:  Accounting, finance, marketing, microeconomics, and management.

Information Systems:  Programming with C#, business telecommunications, system analysis, and information systems strategy.

Business Analytics:  Statistics, SQL, data visualization, data mining, business analytics, and SAS programming.

Students with an associate degree may be able to reduce the 127 credits requirement. The online learning format has 24 students or fewer per class, support services and library 24/7, interactive tutoring, and online forums with peers.

Texas A&M University in Commerce, Texas, has a Bachelor of Administration in Business Analytics to take 86-99% online or on-campus. Students study U.S. history, business mathematics, life & physical science, college reading & writing, and computer systems during the first year. In your sophomore year, U.S. government, microeconomics, philosophy, and accounting are on the program. By the third year, there are classes in operations management, marketing, data management, communication, and statistics. Marketing research, business finance, data mining, business analytics programming, and analytics modeling are examples of fourth-year courses.

Two terms keep emerging in business analytics degrees, and they are data mining and data analysis. The two are similar, but there are subtle differences.

Data analysis involves developing models, in addition to testing and proposing hypotheses based upon the analysis of data.

Data mining is a subset of data analysis involving the extraction of large amounts of raw data by using algorithms to identify patterns and structures within the data.

A difference in their application is that data mining adopts mathematical and scientific methods, whereas data analysis relies on business intelligence and analytical models.

Another course mentioned above is SQL, or structured query language used in business analytics to administer, maintain, and manipulate databases. Simply stated, a database is a software system to store data for later usage. SQL interacts with databases; therefore, it’s an essential skill for novice business analysts to master.

Louisiana State University (LSU) Online is one source to review a Bachelor of Science in Business Analytics, a Master’s in Analytics, a graduate certificate in Analytics, or a General Business-Business Analytics Bachelor of Science – at the E.J. Ourso College of Business.

Some of the learning objectives of the online B.S. in business analytics at LSU are:

  • Understand how to write SQL queries to extract data
  • Proficient with business intelligence concepts
  • Able to prepare predictive models
  • Understand how analytics applies to finance, management, marketing, and accounting
  • Understand how different techniques apply to solving business problems

LSU’s General Business with a Business Analytics concentration includes courses in Management Information Systems, math, accounting, economics, college algebra, financial, statistics for analytics, banking, operations management, and calculus with economic applications.

The Master of Science in Analytics (MSA) at LSU Online prepares graduates to apply data-driven methodologies to reduce costs, increase productivity, boost revenues, solve problems, and improve decision-making in an organization. Applicants with a 3.0 GPA from an accredited institution may apply for the MSA program. The curriculum explores Descriptive, Predictive, and Visual Analytics – three credits each. What are these?

Descriptive:  A statistical method used to search and collate historical data to identify patterns.

Predictive:  The application of mathematical modeling to make predictions about an unknown event or characteristic.

Visual:  The use of interactive visual interfaces to interpret large volumes of data. Examples are sales and stock charts, marketing graphs, sales figures, compensation, revenue, and other visually depicted data.

Graduates of the master’s program at LSU will have the skills to work as a data analyst, data scientist, management analyst, operations research analyst, and market research analyst.

Individuals require at least a bachelor’s degree for entry-level business analysts, while more ambitious students should earn a Master of Business Administration.

The academic knowledge will allow business analysts to meet the tasks of helping a business meet its objectives. However, there are crucial intangibles required to excel in the profession. Some of these are:

  • Exemplary written and oral (public speaking) communication skills
  • Analytical thinking and decision-making capabilities
  • Listening skills and observing body language to pick up on subtle non-verbal cues
  • Poise and confidence to quell confrontation
  • Professional etiquette and manners
  • Attention to detail
  • Leadership Qualities
  • Be persuasive and influential

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have data for a business analyst, and their reports refer to Market Research Analysts, Management Analysts, Financial Analysts, and Operations Research Analysts. The Operations Research and the Management Analyst occupations have a median wage of $86,200 and $87,660, respectively, with a bachelor’s degree. Noteworthy is the job outlook for both professions: 14% for management analysts and 25% for operations research.

Is an undergraduate degree sufficient? What does the job market state as the preferred education on online employment sites?

Some of the posted positions have various titles; however, there are standard duties and responsibilities. The following are random examples:

Operations Analyst for an organization specializing in anesthesia in Irving, Texas, tasks the analyst with numerous functions, such as reconciling monthly financial performance, analyzing data, liaising with hospital departments, and testing operational metrics. The listed salary is $70,000 for applicants with one to three years of experience and a bachelor’s degree in business, finance, healthcare, or related field.

An insurance group posted an opening for a business analyst in Colorado to analyze and synthesize data for executive management presentations and develop strategic initiatives. The income range is $70,000 to $85,000 for candidates with three-plus years of experience in sales, marketing, finance, IT, or product management and an undergraduate degree (discipline not specified).

A corporation in the aerospace and aviation defense business seeks a Business Development Manager 3 to analyze government budgets, strategies, acquisition plans, lead new business development, develop growth strategies, and more. The company accepts applications from those with ten years of experience in the defense industry and a bachelor’s degree, although the preferred degree is a master’s. The salary range is $124,700 to $205,800, plus an annual bonus.

A Chicago-based company posted a position for a Senior Operations/Business Analyst in Wisconsin to perform analysis and provide recommendations to support facilities expansion projects, including inventory strategy development, logistical analysis, space planning, and labor planning. The estimated compensation is between $82,000 and $110,000 for analysts with a bachelor’s degree. Proficiency in SQL and Microsoft Office is mandatory.

According to the few examples above, a graduate degree does not carry as much weight as experience. Gaining expertise working with spreadsheets, data, appropriate programming languages, software development, and other technical skills seems more valuable than the additional time and cost of earning a graduate degree.

Certifications for Business Analysis

The IIBA offers several certifications that will perk up your resume and add expertise to the practice of business analysis. Here are some to consider:

Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA):  Must have an account with the IIBA and complete 21 Professional Development hours within the past four years before taking the exam. More details are available on the IIBA site pertaining to the exam questions and experience.

Certification of Capability in Business Analysis (CCBA):  Requires 3,750 hours of business analysis work experience and 900 hours of BABOK Guide Knowledge Areas (BABOK = Business Analysis Body of Knowledge). Analyst practitioners need two to three years or 3,750 hours of work experience to qualify.

Certified Business Analysis Professional CBAP):  Applicants need a minimum of 7,500 hours of work experience and 35 hours of Professional Development. Applicants require a minimum of 900 hours each in four of the six BABOK Guide Knowledge Areas (3,600 hours). The exam is available online.

IIBA has specialized certifications also; these are:

  • Agile Analysis (involves finding value in a dataset in a free-flow style)
  • Business Data Analytics
  • Cybersecurity Analysis
  • Product Ownership Analysis

Graduate Certificate Program in Business Analytics

This graduate-level education falls between a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Applicants must have a four-year undergraduate degree and a 3.0 GPA, and preferably a few years of work experience in business analytics. Individuals who meet these qualifications and don’t feel that a master’s degree will enhance their career may pursue a graduate certificate.

USC Marshall offers a graduate certificate in business analytics with courses in managerial statistics, data science, probability, data mining, and business intelligence. Admissions recommend work experience, although it’s not mandatory for application.

Colorado State University Global has an online 12-credit-hour graduate certificate in business analytics. Students learn more about predictive analysis, data mining, and visual analytics at the cost of $500 per credit for graduate programs.

Since most institutions require a background in business analytics, most individuals will restrict their search to online certificates. PennState Global is another possibility for earning a graduate certificate online in business analytics. The three-course nine-credit-hour study plan has three courses from its Master of Professional Studies in Data Analytics. If you opt to continue into a master’s degree, the school allows the nine credits to apply towards the degree.

PennState uses an asynchronous learning format, meaning that students set their schedule – there are no specified class times. The online learning network of peers and instructors facilitates weekly assignments, readings, and exams.

After graduating and working as a business analyst, the IIBA, mentioned above, provides numerous benefits for an annual membership fee of $139. Membership offers certification discounts, a career guide, connection with over 120 IIBA chapters, access to the Business Analysis Magazine, research articles, Salary Survey Report, conferences, and global networking resources.

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