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What Does a Business Analyst Do?

Attracted by above-average salaries and a favorable job market, many interested in joining the data economy are eager to become business analysts. While the upsides are clear — an average salary of $79,770 and 11% to 23% headcount growth over the next decade fieldwide, according to data provided by and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, respectively — one crucial question often remains: what does a business analyst do?

The simplicity of this question is deceptive: not only can the job responsibilities of a business analyst vary with their particular capacity and industry, but companies employ the job title inconsistently. A business analyst at one company, in other words, might very well be a data analyst at another. That said, as you’re researching a future as a business analyst, there are commonalities in the basic duties, skill set, and tools that can be instructive. In this article, we’ll uncover these and demonstrate how they feature in a real-world job description for a business analyst.

At the end, we’ll also suggest some ways to learn more if you’re interested in pursuing this career path.

What is a business analyst?

Different business analysts have different focuses, but ultimately they are all concerned with the same thing: employing data analytics to generate insights that support business needs by helping a business increase revenues, decrease costs, expand its position in a market or move into an entirely new one.

Within the broader category of business analyst, however, there are several different specializations. A business process analyst, for example, focuses on deploying analytics to find ways to streamline business operations. Management analysts, sometimes known as management consultants, can also focus on economizing operations, but might also work on a number of other initiatives such as making recommendations for growth opportunities or other ways to increase revenues. A market research analyst focuses on employing analytics to develop intelligence on consumers and markets to inform business and product decisions. A business intelligence analyst also produces new intelligence to inform business decisions, but the intelligence isn’t limited to consumer behavior and markets: they can also produce dashboards and reports on business performance, among other things.

While many online publishers consider computer systems analyst another business analyst role, a system analyst focuses primarily on designing and implementing information technology systems within businesses. As we’ll see in the next section, business analysts do need an IT skill set, but differ from computer systems analysts in their focus on employing these IT skills for data analytics.

What skills are needed to work as a business analyst?

To drive value for their employers and clients, business analysts must possess a skill set made up of skills in programming and information technology, analytics, data visualization, and business, along with several crucial soft skills.

Computer science: programming and information technology

Business analysts must be able to efficiently manage and analyze data, which means having advanced skills in Excel for spreadsheeting and Structured Query Language (SQL) for database querying. Additionally a business analyst, especially a senior business analyst, might need to possess the ability to program in Python or R programming language if they are working with machine learning.


Business analysts must utilize data analysis techniques from all four of the common areas of data analytics: descriptive analytics, diagnostic analytics, prescriptive analytics, and predictive analytics. (We’ll dive deeper into what each of these entails below.) As part of the analytics process, business analysts must also be skilled in methods of data collection (including data mining), data cleaning and preparation, and data storage.

Data visualization

To communicate their findings effectively to multiple stakeholders — regardless of the respective background of each particular stakeholder — business analysts must be able to transform their findings into compelling visualizations using software like Tableau and matplotlib.

Business acumen and industry expertise

It’s also crucial for a business analyst to have business acumen and industry expertise, both to communicate effectively with stakeholders and effectively design and execute analytics initiatives. For more senior roles, many companies will prefer candidates to have some experience in their particular industry.

Soft skills

While candidates for business analytics roles will be expected to have the above hard skills, soft skills are what will set the best business analysts apart, especially later in their careers when they gain more responsibilities and leadership. To succeed, skills like communication, project management, teamwork, and critical thinking are especially critical.

We’ve now gotten an overview of a business analyst’s broader purpose and the skills one needs to succeed. In the next sections, we’ll dive into what roles the different kinds of data analytics employed by business analysts serve and what the typical days of two different business analysts might look like.

What are the four core types of business analytics and how do they differ?

At the core of a business analyst’s activities are four core types of analytics: descriptive analytics, diagnostic analytics, predictive analytics, and prescriptive analytics. Here’s how they differ:

Descriptive analytics focuses on determining what has happened in the past, usually by analyzing single data sets using more elementary tools like Excel and SQL to identify historical trends. A business analyst working in manufacturing might employ descriptive analytics in order to quantify operating efficiency in a past quarter or fiscal year through the number of units produced.

Diagnostic analytics focuses on determining why certain past events have occurred, usually by analyzing several data sets through analytical techniques like regression, which allows trends to be identified between a dependent variable and one or more independent variables. Continuing our manufacturing example, a business analyst would employ diagnostic analytics not to identify a historical trend in efficiency, but to attempt to determine what might have impacted efficiency rates in the past.

Predictive analytics focuses on determining what events might happen in the future, either by developing projections based on methods like regression or through advanced statistical modeling or machine learning. If our business analyst determined that a factory’s efficiency depended on factors like daylight hours, availability and price of certain raw materials, and weather, they might develop a model to project efficiency rates going forward.

Prescriptive analytics focuses on determining — and perhaps even automating — the best future course of action, frequently through the use of machine learning. A business analyst working in manufacturing who identified a drop in efficiency when machines were off-line for unexpected maintenance might help devise a prescriptive model that would recommend or automate regular maintenance to avoid any surprise shut-downs.

If you’re interested in learning more about the kinds of analytics performed by business analysts, see our long-form article “What is Business Analytics?” For now, we’ll move on to giving context to these kinds of analytics by exploring what a typical day looks like for a business analyst — crucial information if you’re considering this career path.

What does the day-to-day of a business analyst look like?

To get a better understanding of a typical day of a business analyst, we’ll look at the responsibilities listed in two contrasting job descriptions, one for a business analyst role embedded on the Creator Business Analysis team at Spotify and one for a consultant business analyst role at Hatch.

Business Analyst, Creator Business Analysis – Spotify


  • Create opportunity assessments and financial models that increase the confidence in strategic decisions on things like pricing and business models design.

  • Develop models to understand and define leading indicators, quantifying their impact.

  • Build presentations to communicate findings and strategic recommendations.

  • Partner with cross-functional leaders to understand their needs and generate hypotheses for future analysis.

  • Proactively recommend research and strategic changes based on your data findings.

Business Analyst – Hatch


  • Work with Hatch and client project teams to deliver high quality results for our clients.

  • Deliver segments of analysis and reporting within Advisory projects.

  • Assist with project management and coordination duties, such as work planning, invoicing, and reporting.

  • Research, review, clean and analyze data to facilitate the development of well-supported, value-add solutions to customers’ most complex challenges.

  • Develop and deliver presentations and workshops both internally and for clients.

  • Select and use a variety of business analysis tools and techniques, asset improvement, process optimization and asset management techniques.

  • Assist clients to identify opportunities, create and execute a strategy, achieve the expected outcomes, and sustain these outcomes through the development of asset strategies, key performance indicators and performance measures.

As you can see, there are key similarities between the typical days of the analysts who would fill these positions: they would spend considerable time developing research projects and relevant models and creating presentations to deliver results upon completion of their analysis. These analysts would also both devote some time to working more creatively, the Spotify analyst getting to brainstorm new strategies to improve the creator business and the Hatch analyst having the opportunity to brainstorm and champion new asset strategies.

Ultimately, these job descriptions paint a picture of a varied day-to-day and demonstrate the importance not only of the programming and analytics skills, but also of the soft skills laid out above: both positions require constant communication with multifunctional teams and sharp critical thinking skills. That said, as you are considering career paths, note the crucial difference between these roles: while the Spotify analyst works to support Spotify’s operations and can do so remotely, the Hatch analyst ultimately works for Hatch’s clients and likely must travel often.

The trade-off thus becomes the convenience of working at home and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with contributing to the long term growth of a company versus the variation of problems you get to solve and industries you get to explore, not to mention the opportunity to see new places.

You’re interested in becoming a business analyst: what’s next?

If the basic responsibilities, skill set, and day-to-days presented above appeal to you, there are different ways to get started becoming a business analyst depending on your particular preferences and background:

Business Analytics Bachelor’s Degree Programs

A business analytics bachelor’s degree is typically a four-year undergraduate degree program during which students declare business analytics or a relevant field like business, economics, applied mathematics or computer science as their “major,” or area of focus. In the US, business analytics bachelor’s degrees typically last four years and include instruction in the social sciences and the humanities to complement work in the major. According to, bachelor’s degrees at public universities in the US average $102,828, while bachelor’s degrees at private universities average $218,004.

If you’re interested in a business analytics bachelor’s, see our dedicated guide for more.

Business Analytics Master’s Degree Programs

A business analytics master’s degree is typically a one- to two-year graduate program in which students gain training in advanced business analytics concepts and skills and apply this knowledge through practical projects, internships, and a capstone. While traditionally master’s degrees programs have been offered on campus, more and more business analytics master’s are being offered online or in hybrid formats. In the US, master’s degrees in STEM average  $61,200 for private universities and $29,150 for public universities.

If you’re interested in a business analytics master’s, see our dedicated guide for more.

Business Analytics Bootcamps

If you want to land an entry-level position in business analytics but don’t want to spend the time and money required for a traditional degree, data analytics bootcamps offer a relatively inexpensive alternative. For around $12,000, bootcamp attendees access comprehensive instruction in analytics and extensive career services to support them as they research, apply to, and interview for business analyst positions.

If you’re interested in a business analytics bootcamp, see our dedicated guide for more.

Business Analytics Certificate Programs

If you desire even more flexibility and time- and cost-savings than what’s offered by a bootcamp — or if you already have training in certain key business analytics skills — a business analytics (or data analytics) certificate program can be a great option. Offered online, these programs range from free to several thousands of dollars and culminate in a credential that can be advertised on your resume and LinkedIn profile.

If you’re interested in a business analytics certificate program, see our dedicated guide for more.

What other positions are open to you with a business analytics skill set?

In this article, we’ve focused on business analysts: their basic responsibilities, their skill sets, their typical days, and the educational opportunities out there that can help you pursue this career. But if you have a business analytics skill set, there are far more career opportunities open to you than just business analyst roles, both at the beginning of your career and once you’ve advanced down the career path. As you research your future career, consider the following positions alongside the business analyst position.

Data analyst

The responsibilities and skill sets of data analysts and business analysts overlap considerably — so much so that oftentimes the job titles are interchangeable. If you’re interested in learning more about the distinctions sometimes made between the two (and our take on things), see our explainer.

Data scientist

The skill set required to be a data scientist overlaps substantially with that required for a business analyst, but data scientists usually require more advanced skills in machine learning. For this reason, business analysts often seek out data scientist roles after they spend several years gaining experience and, potentially, more training in programming and applied mathematics.

To learn more about opportunities in data science, see the following articles: