Ours is a data-driven world.

For businesses seeking to survive and thrive, data-driven decision-making has become an essential part of driving growth and remaining competitive. As data becomes more available to growing businesses, the pressure mounts to use that data effectively to steer the company through the rough waters of today’s competitive marketplace. In short, the more data that’s available, the greater the demand for making sense of that data.

That’s the job of Business Intelligence (BI to help business leaders make informed decisions. BI ultimately helps organizations enhance operational efficiency and accelerate progress towards enterprise goals. They help companies keep a firm finger on the pulse of the business with informed insights, real-time performance metrics, and more accurate perspectives of operations from one end of the organization to the other.

As IT evolves, as the marketplace gets more sophisticated, and as the volume of business data proliferates, executives and managers depend more and more on nuanced business insights to make timely, efficient, and even surgical business decisions. The ability to adeptly monitor performance, forecast trends, improve customer experience, recognize impending opportunities, respond to blips in the market, and better manage departments has never been more powerful.

Calling all analysts.

The rise in demand for ways to make sense of data has created a robust market for business intelligence (BI) analysts. Professionals with the ability to transform data to communicate information of high value to support an organization’s decision-making have never been more sought-after. In fact, BI is one of the only fields that has continued to expand over the last decade, even in the face of economic volatility.

According to Gartner, a global IT research firm, the BI market is expected to grow to $22.8 billion by 2020. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reflects the same sentiments: the demand for business intelligence analysts is expected to grow by 21% from 2014 to 2024.

In fact, the demand for the position is far outpacing the supply, for many reasons. The sheer prominence of BI across all industries has created a shortage of qualified personnel. The job requires a unique set of skills that not everyone can claim to have: both technical and business expertise, and the ability to communicate with all types of stakeholders. With new BI technologies and tools continually emerging, the bar remains high, and the market remains competitive among job seekers.

It may be worth it
The position is also enjoying greater respect and prominence within organizations as well. Top decision-makers are choosing to invest more in the growth area and are not inclined to outsource the position. They recognize that analysts need to have an ongoing presence within the organization to make sure that what they do aligns with the current and future needs of the business.

In addition, the life of a BI project is one of constant modification, as goals change, metrics get added or subtracted, or new data becomes available. Support for new data and more responsive data reporting tools frequently expand the requirements of BI projects. There’s always more to do.

BI analysts earn a respectable wage and can expect it to increase over time. Today, the average annual salary of a BI analyst is $66k per year, according to Payscale.com. Bonuses and profit sharing benefits are also frequently offered and can boost the total into the $98k range. Taking it to the next level, business intelligence analysts often progress into higher-paying roles, like business intelligence architect, business intelligence developer, or business intelligence manager, whose median annual compensation runs around $112,000.

Is it right for you?
With a lucrative future, how do know if becoming a BI analyst is right for you? To succeed, you need to be comfortable in two seemingly different worlds: business strategy and computer science. On the one hand, you benefit from being able to understand the mindset of a business executive. On the other, you need to know how to use specific programming languages and tools, as well as have the precision required to work with data detail. It’s a good bet it’s up your alley if you are good at analytical thinking, enjoy searching for solutions to problems, and are detail-oriented, persistent, and flexible.

Those who are best suited to fill BI analyst shoes like working with ideas. They like searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally. They can synthesize a variety of needs and questions and make recommendations for action. They are comfortable starting up and carrying out projects. They like leading people and don’t shy away from making many decisions.

How to get started
Now is a great time to take advantage of a career opportunity that seems to have a bright and rewarding future. Here are some suggestions to get started in the field if you haven’t already:

    • Start with a degree. Start with an undergraduate degree in information systems, computer science, data science, or engineering. Learn as much as you can about data-related topics: data architecture, database design, data mining, data visualization, and more. You’ll also need to obtain a basic understand of business processes and organizational operations.
    • Secure an internship. Before or after graduating, try to secure an internship or entry-level job within a BI team. Get a better grasp of how your knowledge can be applied in real-life scenarios. Take advantage of on-the-job trainings. Whenever possible, learn from the experts how to master Excel and SQL skills, and to gain experience working with an ERP system like Oracle or SAP.
    • Invest in certifications. Certifications will give you a deeper understanding of the topic as well as open more doors for you. A good place to start is with the Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP), proposed by The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI), and the ICCP. There are other common certifications that are available to you as well, including Microsoft’s Certified Solutions Expert in business intelligence.
    •  Build communication skills. It’s also important to develop solid presentation and communication skills. BI analysts are often relied upon to facilitate meetings, discuss organizational data, present and explain key findings, and train new personnel. The ability to convey ideas clearly and even influence your audience will take you a long way.

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