Data Analyst Versus Business Analyst: A Job Guide

Published on: January 2, 2024

Companies compile, research and evaluate information for a variety of reasons. But whether they are gathering facts about their customers to serve them better or examining the statistics of their competitors to identify strengths and weaknesses, company leaders must rely on data science to make sound business decisions. Today’s data science professionals provide in-depth business intelligence based on solid facts to guide strategic decisions across a broad spectrum of markets and industries.

Business analyst and data analyst are two data science career paths that are often misunderstood, although they are widespread and well-known. While they share much in common, these positions have different purviews and areas of responsibility. So, if you have questions about the specifics of employment as a business analyst or data analyst, this job guide is made for you!

Differences to Consider When Choosing Data Analyst or Business Analyst

The primary difference between data analyst and business analyst career paths is their areas of focus. A data analyst uses technology to work with massive amounts of information and analyze it closely to, in the words of the business data firm Talend, “reveal patterns and trends, draw conclusions about hypotheses and support business decisions with data-based insights.” A business analyst, by contrast, “focuses on the larger business implications of data and the actions that should result from them.”

While these definitions are quite accurate and succinct, their brevity may oversimplify the exact roles and responsibilities that data analysts and business analysts actually assume in the professional environment. Read on to get a more comprehensive picture of what these data science experts accomplish on a daily basis.

What Is a Data Analyst?

Both data analytics and business analytics involve sourcing and working with available information to gain key business insights that can help them identify weaknesses, understand strengths and drive the business performance optimization process. However, data analysts place a far more concerted emphasis on the purely technical use of massive data sets to discern key patterns and investigate important relationships. Their other primary responsibilities include data and text mining and using artificial intelligence (AI) analytical modeling to perform predictive analytics that help companies prepare in advance for consumer and operational outcomes. Data analysts may also have a range of data management and general data operations duties with the companies that employ them.

What Is a Business Analyst?

While they must possess a firm understanding of high-tech data analysis and the processes that drive it, business analysts focus less on the data itself and more on how it can solve business problems, meet existing business needs and engender various business improvements. In addition to predictive analytics, business analysts are interested in descriptive analytics—which examine and evaluate past occurrences and trends—as well as prescriptive analytics—which explore the best strategic reactions to both predictive and descriptive analysis results. Companies rely on business analysts for advice and guidance on matters that range from consumer target market segmentation to new product research and development.

Education and Certification Requirements

When it comes to education and certification requirements, the fields of data and business analysis share a similar lack of official standards or industry-wide benchmarks. For this and other reasons, data analysts and business analysts tend to come from a broad spectrum of academic backgrounds and have a variety of qualifying credentials. However, most companies seeking to fill positions in these fields expect candidates to have, at minimum, a related bachelor’s degree. After confirming this assessment, the independent higher education resource Coursera goes on to recognize the power of a graduate-level degree in data science to open employment doors and drive career advancement for data analysts and business analysts alike.

Data Analyst Requirements

While an undergraduate degree in general data analysis or business analysis is beneficial to data analysts and business analysts, Coursera contends that a data analyst is far more likely to benefit from a core STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in a field such as statistics or computer science. Let your unique academic and professional ambitions determine the level and focus of any STEM program you choose to pursue.

Business Analyst Requirements

Different business analyst job descriptions can list extremely different duties and responsibilities. But typically, business analysts focus less on technical issues and more on practical business applications. For this reason, many successful business analysts have one or more academic degrees or certificates in business or a business-related field.

Job Skills and Knowledge

When it comes to core skills and areas of understanding, the data analyst and business analyst must commonly serve as critical thinkers, communicators, organizers, collaborators and problem solvers. The Indeed Career Guide echoes these sentiments while specifically stressing the core values of critical thinking and communication for aspiring data and business analysts. By honing critical thinking skills, you can learn how to accurately assess your own analytical hypotheses and findings. By honing effective communication skills, you can better work in teams and clearly convey your hypotheses and findings in both oral and written forms.

Data Analyst Skills

Although the desired skill sets for data analysts and business analysts overlap, they are far from identical. Beyond the skills that they share in common with business analysts, data analysts must generally have a strong command of highly technical resources and tools. Coursera lists an in-depth knowledge of data structures, statistics and SQL programming among the specific skills that a data analyst should develop.

Business Analyst Skills

A business analyst, by contrast, will focus less on strict data analysis and more on nuanced needs and opportunity analysis. To excel as a business analyst, you will want to sharpen your prototyping abilities and master software design tools such as Microsoft Visio.

Job Responsibilities

Because business analysts and data analysts share many of the same roles, some people (even executive administrators holding senior positions in business) might mistake one profession for the other or use the terms defining them interchangeably. But business analysts and data analysts take different approaches, use different methods and address different areas of focus to meet the same general objectives: driving overall business improvement, optimizing strategic business decision-making and moving businesses and other organizations forward.

Data Analyst Responsibilities

Between Coursera and the Indeed Career Guide, you can get a pretty clear picture of the detailed duties and daily that a data analyst might perform. Here are just a few areas that these authoritative employment resources emphasize:

  • Working with business leaders and stakeholders to define problems, opportunities and wants and needs of focus
  • Using business goals and requirements to define needs and techniques of data gathering
  • Identifying, sourcing, collecting and preparing needed data while ensuring its reliability
  • Analyzing data to confirm business hypotheses and find useful patterns and trends
  • Crafting clear and understandable writing and visual reports to explain data results
  • Presenting data to stakeholders and decision-makers in a clear, compelling manner

Some of these responsibilities are unique to data analysts while others are shared by data and business analysts.

Business Analyst Responsibilities

Coursera and the Indeed Career Guide also identify a clear set of duties that business analysts are likely to perform on a regular basis. These duties include:

  • Using data and sound evidence to evaluate a company’s current operations and functionality
  • Using data and evidence to identify current business needs, processes, teams, structures and areas of potential improvement
  • Using data and evidence to develop solutions for problems and leverage opportunities for optimization
  • Crafting clear and understandable writing and visual reports to explain data results and support proposed business decisions
  • Presenting data to stakeholders and decision-makers in a clear, compelling manner
  • Overseeing teams of data science and information technology (IT) professionals

Some of these responsibilities are unique to business analysts while others are shared by business and data analysts.

Jobs and Industries

Because they hold so many job responsibilities in common, data and business analysts tend to apply for many of the same positions in the same industries. These two professions share numerous employment characteristics, but certain employers have more need for data analysts while others gravitate more towards business analysts.

Data Analyst Jobs

In April 2023, the website design and digital marketing company Career Foundry released a research report on the leading sources of jobs for data analysts in the current employment market. In no particular order, these jobs are centered in the fields of business IT, healthcare, entertainment and finance. Additionally, it highlights services in support of the sharing economy as an important subsection of the finance industry for data analysts.

Business Analyst Jobs

In its latest Global State of Business Analysis report, the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) report ranks finance, banking and insurance as the top three industries currently employing business analysis professionals. These industries combined employ nearly one in four (24 percent of) business analysts working today. Beyond finance, business analysts join with data analysts to play prominent roles in the business IT and healthcare industries. According to the IIBA, other big employers of business analysts include retail companies and government agencies.

Commonly Shared Jobs

Acknowledging that the fields of data analysis and business analysis overlap in various areas, Park University echoes the fact that study in either of these fields could prepare aspiring analysts for many of the same jobs. In fact, both Park’s Master of Science in Information Systems and Business Analytics program and certificate program in business analytics can help students reach their desired professional goals in the world of data science or business advisement and consultancy.

The employment environment for data and business analysts can be remarkably similar as well. Both typically work as part of a larger team in an office setting. When they aren’t conferring with colleagues, they spend a great deal of time on computer devices collecting and analyzing information. Some data and business analysts also work from home. Although they tend to work standard, full-time Monday to Friday hours, they might be called upon to work off-hours or extra hours during times of need.

For More Information

Part of our Robert W. Plaster School of Business, the Park University Business Analytics program offers students targeted, comprehensive education and training in areas that include big data, data mining, predictive models, data visualization and general data or business analysis. You can pursue an education through the Park University Business Analytics either online or in person on its main campuses in Parkville, Missouri, or Gilbert, Arizona. The Business Analytics program is also available through multiple Park Campus Centers across the United States.

To learn more about our data and business analysis offerings, fill out a short online request form on the official Park University website.

Park University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Park University is a private, non-profit, institution of higher learning since 1875.