As an analytics leader with more than three decades of experience, including 19 of those years at Accenture where I led the advanced analytics practice and consulted to Fortune 500 companies, I know that business analysts play a crucial role in the success of data-driven organizations. They are conduits between business decision makers and data engineers, requiring a specific set of cross-functional skills needed for successful collaboration and execution.
Here are the skills and characteristics of world class business analysts:
- Analytical Skills: The ability to analyze data and draw meaningful insights is at the heart of the business analyst's job. A good business analyst should be able to gather, organize, and analyze large amounts of data to identify trends and patterns that can help the company make informed decisions. The best ones are those that can understand the business value drivers, and business needs, and bring that into their work.
- Communication Skills: Business analysts need to be able to communicate effectively with stakeholders across different departments and levels of the organization. This includes writing reports, making presentations, and facilitating meetings. Successful analysts know how to tell a story. Story telling is the best way to get people to understand what you are saying and to remember it.
- Technical Skills: Business analysts should have a good understanding of the technical aspects of the company's operations, including data management, software systems, and industry-specific technology. This knowledge will help them identify areas where technology can be used to improve efficiency and productivity. Effective business analysts can understand how people think about data, and bring that into their work.
- Project Management Skills: Business analysts often work on multiple projects simultaneously, so they need to have strong project management skills. This includes setting project timelines, managing budgets, and ensuring that projects are completed on time and within scope. This is often the challenge for analytic types who tend to have a high tolerance for ambiguity, but it is a critical factor to project success.
- Problem-Solving Skills: Business analysts need to be able to identify problems and come up with creative solutions to address them. This requires a combination of analytical skills, critical thinking, and creativity. This is a critical need, especially in the consulting space. People who don’t like solving problems can slow down the progress, as they tend to want to wait until someone tells them how to get over the barrier in front of them.
- Business Knowledge: Business analysts should have a good understanding of the company's business model, industry trends, and competitive landscape. This knowledge will help them identify opportunities for growth and make informed recommendations. When you can combine a good business knowledge and analytical talent, you have what I call the analytic artist. These are the hardest people to find and develop and are some of the most valuable talent you will find.
- Interpersonal Skills: Business analysts often work with cross-functional teams, so they need to have strong interpersonal skills. This includes the ability to build relationships, collaborate effectively, and resolve conflicts. This is often one of the most unique skills to find amongst analytic talent. Though, I will say, that it is more common than when I started in analytics almost 40 years ago. The growth in analytics/data science as a career choice has helped in this area.
As businesses become more data-centric, business analysts have an opportunity to further cultivate these must-have skills to work more productively and to focus on generating business value. Analytics leadership's job is to put together a team that covers these skills. It is rare that you will find someone strong in more than a few of them. Most people have a few strong skillsets and gaps in others, so the art of building a world class analytics team is to combine talent so that must-have facets are covered by a team.