There are several different pathways that can lead to a career as a business intelligence (BI) analyst, including specialized master’s programs that offer training and instruction in BI. Succeeding in the field of BI requires a strong background in mathematics and computing skills, an understanding of business operations, familiarity with business IT and database systems, and an ability to communicate technical information to those who may not have technical expertise. Earning a master’s degree in business intelligence has become one of the more common and direct ways to cultivate this interdisciplinary skill set. However, a bachelor’s degree with a major in computer science or information systems coupled with a minor in business, economics, or finance may provide adequate preparation for entry-level jobs in BI. A master’s degree in business analytics or data science, or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a specialization in analytics can also be a stepping-stone to a career in BI.
BI is an industry designation for the IT systems and computer applications used to collect, store, manage, and sort data that support decision-making, improve productivity, and optimize performance for businesses and other organizations. BI also refers to the professional practice of managing and operating business IT systems, including databases and data warehousing systems, decision-support systems (DSSs) and executive dashboards, and other tools and platforms that facilitate the processing of data for businesses and the presentation of the results to relevant members of an organization. BI systems and BI professionals have roles in the healthcare sector, manufacturing plants, the financial and banking services industries, scientific research and development, and a wide range of other businesses.
A BI analyst is a professional who is trained to use BI systems and technologies in order to collect and analyze data specific to a particular company and/or industry. The general goal of the BI professional is to provide decision-makers within an organization with actionable information that may improve workforce efficiency, enhance productivity, and improve overall market performance. An effective BI analyst knows how business IT systems operate, has the programming and quantitative skills to work with large amounts of complex data, and can use BI tools to ensure that the information extracted from data analyses is communicated to relevant members of an organization. This may include information relevant to daily operations, investment opportunities, marketing campaigns, supply-chain management, near- and long-term market trends, and other vital areas of business administration.
There are three essential areas of knowledge that comprise training in BI: quantitative reasoning and computer programming; IT systems and database architecture; and business operations and organizational communication. BI analysts require grounding in mathematics and statistics, and an ability to use software tools and programming languages for data mining, data analysis, and data visualization, including Excel, Python, R, Hadoop, and SAS. They must also understand data storage systems, network administration protocols, and how to manipulate stored data using SQL (Structured Query Language) or another database language. In addition, a successful BI professional should have a working knowledge of various business functions (accounting, finance, logistics, and marketing) and well-developed organizational communication skills.
There are several different ways to get this training, including a master’s in BI program or a master’s in analytics program with a BI specialization. Master’s in BI programs are designed specifically to prepare students for careers in BI. In addition to covering relevant analytical, programming, and IT systems subjects, they typically introduce students to the types of software packages and computer systems that are used in the field of BI, including DSSs, executive dashboards, and data visualization applications. Students may be able to receive similar training in master’s in business analytics and master’s in data science programs, however the curricula in these programs is generally not tailored specifically for BI professionals. There are also Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs that include tracks in analytics and BI, which may provide some training in BI proficiencies.
For those who want to lay the foundation for a BI career in college, most experts suggest majoring in computer science coupled with taking some business courses as an undergraduate, which may provide adequate training for entry-level BI positions. It may then be possible to learn BI proficiencies on the job or to enroll in an online master’s in BI program while continuing to work. Finally, there are a number of BI certificate programs offered by colleges, universities, and private institutes that can provide advanced training in BI to students who already have a strong business analytics background. Depending on an individual’s career goals and level of educational attainment, some or all of these options may provide a pathway to becoming a BI analyst.