The Ever-changing Analyst Role

October 6, 2011
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Always good to have a theme where our blog community can share thoughts on a common topic.  This topic of how the role of the analyst is changing has long been a favorite of mine.  I will start by breaking the role into three main groups  There is the business analyst, a data analyst and there needs to be a process analyst role.  Mind you, each of these will overlap in some degree but that is a good thing as moving the business forward is the intersection of data, process, and business metrics themselves.

Always good to have a theme where our blog community can share thoughts on a common topic.  This topic of how the role of the analyst is changing has long been a favorite of mine.  I will start by breaking the role into three main groups  There is the business analyst, a data analyst and there needs to be a process analyst role.  Mind you, each of these will overlap in some degree but that is a good thing as moving the business forward is the intersection of data, process, and business metrics themselves.

So let’s explore each of these in a bit of detail and see where they are going in the next 12 – 18 months.

Editor’s note: Rob Armstrong is an employee of Teradata. Teradata is a sponsor of The Smart Data Collective.

I have long thought that the typical business analyst was more in tuned with their own functional business outcome rather than the total outcome to the business.  This is a big distinction.  If you are working promotions then you may be running reports and analytics on how the promotion is driving sales.  You may even have a great promotion that completely sells out the merchandise.  That is the functional business perspective.  The business analyst needs to be much more aware of the larger, cross functional picture.  How was the inventory prior to the promotion, what type of targeting or marketing campaign was run, and at what cost?  If you sold out of the merchandise did you just create demand that could not be filled and you ended up with disgruntled customers instead of happy customers?

To illustrate this point, I was marketed to for a child’s car seat.  It came the week I was going to go buy such an item.  Going to the store I found out they were sold out and not sure when more would be arriving.  I ended up buying the same item from a competitor at a higher price.  I am sure the promotion was seen as a success but the overall outcome may have been negative.

The role of the business analyst will need to (or will continue to) evolve to encompass a larger point of view across not only your business but also start to involve your partnership and eventually your customers themselves.

This evolution in the business analyst will also create the need from much more focus on the business process (as illustrated above).  Adding in the operational aspects of your business will require a new role of process analytics.  This is a much broader type of analysis.  In the business analyst case, you are typically looking for answer to questions that you have whereas in the process analytics you are actually looking for the questions you even need to be asking.  Where do the processes intersect and where are they at cross-odds.  Which point in the process is the right place to highlight customer interactions or to enable automation?  When automation is called for, what data do the end customers need in order to be most effective with self service?

This can be seen with the self checkout and self service kiosks that are becoming so prevalent.  These endpoints need to integrate and cross many business functions.  For example, I am checking into a flight and possibly changing my seat (or perhaps changing to an earlier flight).  This may include the baggage, catering, load balance and revenue business units.  How are these diverse processes going to be integrated.  What data needs to be presented to the customer and then shared back with the operational units.  What data should then be integrated and analyzed (by the business analyst) to better serve this customer in the future?  By understanding the total end to end process as a whole stream of interrelated interactions as opposed to a set of separate transactions the company as a whole can run more effective and provide higher levels of service.

The last analyst group I will discuss today is the data analyst.  Much like the process analyst this role is one that crosses wide areas of a corporation.  This is akin to the data miners and predictive modeling folks.  I include this group in the changing roles as the introduction of “big data” and the new data types are going to require new thinking and new approaches to collecting, transforming, and integrating data.

Clearly the data analyst needs to understand and help drive the standards for master data and meta data management.  This portion of the work will only expand as more companies get into the master data world or the ones already involved make it more pervasive throughout the enterprise.

The “new” part will be the inclusion of social data feeds and web chatter.  Many times these avenues of data come with their own syntax and semantics.  Understanding the content as well as context of the data feeds will become more an art form than a science.  The hardest part may be the integration of these new data elements into existing business processes so that the new data can be transformed into business valuable actions.

It is nice to be able to get tweeter feeds or opinions of social bulletin boards but then what?  Knowing the “ladiesman443” likes a certain brand of beer and has a party tonight may be interesting but can anything be done with that information? Who else needs to be aware of these pieces of data?  Did we even get the data in a time enough manner to do something?  Should we be collecting these data feeds more frequently?  All of this becomes critical as companies move from simple transactions into the much more complex world of understanding total interacations.

The data analyst also needs to expand their presence to work more with the business communities around the critical data management dimensions.  These are the areas such as data quality, data accessibility and availability, data timeliness, and data governance.  Companies will need to start putting a much greater focus on the data itself as that is the foundation from which all information, knowledge, and actions spring.

In addition to the various types of analysts described above, another coming wave of change is the tool sets that are becoming available.  Dashboards, mobile, visualization, and sharing technologies are making the data easier to access but at the same time these technologies will bring complexities.  Analysts will need to be educated in these tools and in some cases the “new hires” may have a lot to offer in how data can be shared or represented but those same new faces will need the business experience that comes from seniority.  Clearly some exciting times if all are open to working together and sharing best practices.

So, are you ready for these changes?  How will your role change to either accommodate or support the analyst role.  If you are in IT you’ll need to support a wider arrange of analytics and self service, if you are a business user then you will need to gain a better understanding of how your role effects the final outcome with the end customer.  Start preparing now as the future is her before you know it.

To see what other bloggers are saying on this topic follow this link:

http://smartdatacollective.com/40832/analytics-blogarama-october-6-2011