Business Intelligence Careers

The term “business intelligence” encompasses a wide range of roles, including business analysts, customer analysts, data analysts, data engineers, economists and statisticians. (In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists customer insight analysis as one of the fastest-growing careers in the US.)

In general, a job in business intelligence entails:

  • Analyzing competitive market strategies in terms of product, market, or share trends.
  • Compiling business intelligence or trend data to verify recommendations for action.
  • Communicating with customers, competitors, suppliers, professional organizations, and others in the industry.
  • Managing the flow of business intelligence information.
  • Collecting business intelligence data from various free and paid sources.

All of this work involves data – gathering it, cleansing it, storing it, and finally analyzing the data and presenting results.

Skills requirements

Both hard and soft skills are necessary for success in this field. Technical proficiency in the following types of software, with a heavy emphasis on Structured Query Language (SQL), is recommended:

  • Database management such as Apache Hive and MySQL
  • Database user interfaces, such as those that accompany Microsoft Access and Oracle Essbase
  • Enterprise resource planning software, such as Oracle PeopleSoft and SAP
  • Statistical analysis packages and languages, such as SAS and R
  • Programming languages such as C++ and Python, and, in some cases, frontend web development languages such as JavaScript

Business intelligence also requires soft skills such as critical/analytical thinking, attention to detail, deductive and inductive reasoning, as well as active listening and learning.

Some professionals decide to specialize in a specific platform, while others master the basics in several different platforms. Regardless of what platform you use or what industry you serve, you will need to have a good handle on basic techniques such as:

  • Regression – using statistical models to estimate what factors influence a particular outcome
  • Forecasting – extrapolating historical data to do trend analysis
  • Factor analysis – determine which variables have the most impact

Career trajectories

Just as skills fall into hard and soft categories, so can career paths in business intelligence. These are often referred to as “back-end” roles, which are more technically-oriented, and “front-end” roles, which tend to emphasize presentation and usage of data.

Back-end roles might involve extraction, transformation, and loading data so that it can be used efficiently for analysis. In a front-end role, however, your goal is to present the information in a manner that is easily understandable by the end user. This might involve the creation of reports and dashboards. It’s important to be comfortable with data visualization, possess strong analytical and quantitative skills, and be able to communicate concepts clearly.

The end user of BI information can vary greatly, ranging from a basic user to a “super user” who analyzes the data within the BI applications. Falling in between these two are casual users, who may refresh reports and conduct high-level research, and functional users, who are able to develop their own queries.

So where do you start if you want to get your foot in the door? One point of entry is report writing, which will give you exposure to – and experience in – querying and other skills such as change control. A data analyst role can also be a stepping stone to a business intelligence role, as a data analyst can gain experience in technical skills such as data modeling, as well as business skills.

Wherever you land, as with other data positions, you will gain access and insight into a cross-section of business. You’ll have the opportunity to work with a variety of departments on a wide range of projects.

Salary projections

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically list “business intelligence” as a position, the job titles below are most relevant in terms of salary. Each title is followed by the average annual salary and the expected growth rate in number of positions available over the next ten years.

  • Computer systems analysts: $85,000 / 21%
  • Financial analysts: $80,000 / 12%
  • Management analysts: $81,000 / 14%
  • Operations research analysts: $79,000 / 30%

PayScale offers more detailed information on business intelligence analyst salaries. According to PayScale, business intelligence analysts are utilized in a variety of industries, including these major corporations: Amazon, Boeing, Cisco and Google.

Other BI positions you should research include BI application developers/testers, BI solution architects and integration specialists, business and BI analysts, data analysts/developers/testers, database support specialists and data warehouse specialists.

Business Intelligence (BI) Analyst (United States)

Compare your salary.
Get a FREE salary report »

Industries

Business analytics is used in virtually every vertical, every industry. Here are a few examples of BI applications by field:

  • Business management – strategic planning, competitive intelligence, benchmarking
  • Education – institutional effectiveness, learning analytics
  • Human resources – talent management, HR analytics
  • IT management – web analytics, usage analytics
  • Logistics – shipping & inventory control, supplier & vendor management
  • Marketing/sales – CRM, pricing, customer profiling, customer behavior analysis
  • Urban planning – urban analytics, power usage, traffic management

Trends

A promising field, business intelligence is poised for growth. In the 1980s, BI consisted of executive information systems (EIS) and decision support systems (DSS). In the 1990s, data warehousing took hold, and the first wave of business intelligence took off, albeit a time-consuming process. In the 2000s, emphasis was placed on dashboards, scorecards and performance management, not to mention big data.

Today, analytics are key, mobile and cloud BI are playing a role, and data science is the next frontier. According to BI-Survey, other buzzwords are agility, cloud, and artificial intelligence. The survey, with nearly 2,800 professionals participating, revealed that data quality/master data management, data discover/visualization and self-service BI are the three topics BI practitioners identify as the most important trends in their work for 2018. This underscores the importance of having a solid foundation of data for any BI endeavor.