Top Data Analysts Must ‘Speak the Language of the Business’

4 Min Read

Author: Linda Rosencrance
Spotfire Blogging Team

Author: Linda Rosencrance
Spotfire Blogging Team

Analytics professionals do best if they can succeed in three types of skills: technical, business thinking and “intangibles,” according to Kaiser Fung (@junkcharts), Vice President of Strategic Analytics at Sirius XM Radio, and the author of Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probability and Statistics on Everything You Do.

Fung points out that business thinking – how to teach data analysts to talk to the business in language the business understands – is often the hardest to develop because colleges and grad schools (outside of business schools) just don’t teach it. For him, intangibles are the hardest to find, mainly because it’s impossible to gauge them in an interview. 

In his book, Fung makes the case that even people who aren’t statisticians have to really understand what analytics can accomplish – and who better to help them understand than data analysts.

Fung says the whole field of business analytics is still developing—so much so that the average company isn’t really using them in the best way possible. And people in the field are still trying to use analytics to become more influential in the boardroom. In order to make a company operate more efficiently—a critical goal—BI professionals have to figure out how to effectively communicate their information to people who are not necessarily technical thinkers or quantitative thinkers.

Fung says that’s the only way to change anything in the business world because the important decisions are going to be made by people who either think intuitively or who are not trained in any quantitative skills.

But it’s not enough to teach the business folks the math so they’ll understand what the business analysts are talking about. So one of the big challenges is going to be to figure out how BI pros can speak to non-technical people in a language that works, which is one of the ways analysts can become more effective and help the business, he says.

Fung says the point of Numbers Rule Your World is that data analysts really should speak to people in English, and in the language of business as opposed to in the language of math and in the language of statistics. Of course the language of math and statistics is important for analyzing the data and reaching conclusions, but once analysts know what the insights are, they should look at communicating those insights in a way that’s different from doing the math.

That’s the challenge Fung is talking about—the challenge of communicating the findings.

“I think that’s where the statistics community has not done enough yet,” he says. “We are very obsessed with coming up with methodologies and coming [up with] new techniques that may be marginally better than the existing techniques. That stuff is great for academia and research, [but] you’re talking about practice and business interpretations.”

Bottom line: even though it’s a cliche, data analysts who want to make themselves even more invaluable to their companies have to learn “to speak the language of the business.”


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