Working with data: how do business analytics and data analytics compare?

If you’re looking for a technology-based career in a field of growth, you can’t go past working with data.

Data analytics and business analytics are two careers that involve working with large and fast-flowing volumes of volatile and highly variable real-time data, otherwise known as ‘big data’. These careers both have broad applications but there are some key differences. Where data analysts are more skilled in transforming raw data into meaningful information, business analysts sit closer to the business users, assisting them to make important strategic decisions.

We spoke to a senior lecturer from each field to fully explore the distinctions.

What is a data analyst?

Put simply, a data analyst or data scientist is responsible for gathering and interpreting data to predict patterns and trends. Senior lecturer in Data Science Dr Sergiy Shelyag says the applications for data science are practically infinite. ‘In general, data science and data analytics are broad disciplines based on applications of statistics and programming for understanding data,’ he says. ‘If we think about the range of things covered by data science it’s quite tremendous.’ The scope ranges from gathering information in outer space through to utilising health data to find cures for diseases. Data scientists and analysts use technical skills in artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop innovative tools for data collection and analysis.

One example of where a data analyst might work is the aviation industry. ‘There are probably a few tens of thousands of sensors in a modern aircraft,’ Dr Shelyag says. ‘And all those sensors produce enormous amounts of data which has to be properly processed.’ This is where a data analyst comes in.

What is a business analyst?

A business analyst is a data scientist who specialises in extracting insights from business data. Dr Kristijan Mirkovski, senior lecturer in Information Systems, says you need to develop a good business acumen to be a business analyst. ‘You need to understand what the company is about, what the strategy is and where the company is going in order to link insights from the data with the strategy and provide recommendations about decisions that the managers are making,’ he says. ‘In this way, business analysts are a lot more embedded within the systems than data analysts.’

A day in the life of a business analyst

So what would a normal working day look like for a business analyst? It might involve working with the marketing department’s database of client information. ‘Let’s say they have ten years’ worth of data from the customer relationship management system,’ Dr Mirkovski says. ‘The business analyst might take this information and process it with various analytics tools to make recommendations around which customers the company should invest in to develop better relationships.’

The business analyst can also run predictive models and see whether previous customers are willing to pay a certain amount for a certain product and then based on this kind of analysis, they can write reports to be presented to the marketing department.’

This is just one example of many. ‘The piece of data could come from any department and sources, it could be finance, manufacturing or social media data,’ Dr Mirkovski says. ‘The business analyst will then process the data, get insights and link these insights to the strategy.’ Where senior managers might work off gut feelings based on extensive experience, business analysts are able to give them a different perspective and new insights.

A versatile career

Both business analysts and data analysts can work in any industry that has data. ‘Data analysts can be found working with data in health, engineering, construction and more,’ Dr Shelyag says. ‘Data science is more general so if students would want that generality they can go practically anywhere that a data scientist is required.’ At Deakin, students can study data analytics through the Graduate Certificate of Data Analytics or data science through the Master of Data Science.

If you study business analytics at Deakin you’ll learn all the different flavours of analytics. ‘The whole point is that we want to develop graduates with a set of skills that mean they can start anywhere, in any industry that they like, and then build up their career and climb up the corporate ladder,’ Dr Mirkovski says. ‘There are business analysts that I know of who started working in the energy industry, then moved to transport and now they're working in construction. It's very versatile and flexible.’ At Deakin, students can study business analytics through the Bachelor of Business Analytics or the Master of Business Analytics.

Dr Mirkovski says business analytics appeals to both school leavers and people with extensive business experience alike. ‘This is a career for anyone that is passionate about technology, but loves strategy and business,’ he says. With the majority of analytics software being web-based, all you need is a laptop and the skills and you’re ready for an exciting career.

Interested in studying the Bachelor of Business Analytics at Deakin? Visit the course page to find out more.