Analytics is finding increasing relevance across industries in hitherto unheard of applications, and this has resulted in a rapid surge of related jobs. The good news is that Business analytics as a career is seeing significant interest – both from students who are just starting out, and from professionals who have sharpened their skills using online and offline learning programs.
When working with someone who has recently started in a business analytics role, I’ve observed some common patterns – what they tend to focus on and what they are oblivious to. Usually, they’ve picked up the tools and technologies, standard algorithms, business analysis, visualization techniques, etc., but have some blind spots which they need to work on to make an impact. In this article, I share my observations in the form of 5 key pointers to help new business analytics professionals make a good start to their analytics career.
1. Understand the Business Problem
Before beginning to solve the analytical problem, make sure you understand the business problem. Speak to all the stakeholders in detail to get an understanding of their needs and pain points. You should be able to comprehend and articulate how solving the problem would affect the business. A well-defined and well-scoped out problem statement, agreed upon by all stakeholders is the first step. If a problem is unstructured in nature and/or the objective is mere exploration, agree upon that as part of the scope.
2. Understand the Data
The first order of business after you gain access to the data is to understand it in detail before jumping into any analysis or modeling. Evaluate the health of the data – missing values, the number of fields and types, anomalies, internal consistency, etc. Understand what different fields mean and how they are related to each other. Ask how various business users have been interpreting and using the data. Before you start your analysis or modeling in earnest, slide, dice and explore the data and develop a very good sense of what it is saying
3. Tools Come and Go
Do not fall into the trap of becoming only an expert tool user who can solve a specific problem. Develop into an expert problem solver using a relevant tool to get the job done. There is a difference between the two mainly in how one approaches the problem. This distinction is important because there is an unprecedented proliferation of analytics tools in the market. Today’s hottest tools might be replaced by even more effective ones tomorrow. For you to stay relevant, focus on problem-solving, and adapt to new tools.
4. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Learn how to communicate your results visually. While you might be good at business analytics, realize that the stakeholders might not be interested or have the time to understand all the details. Cut out irrelevant information. Use the right charts in the right places. Pay attention to design details. Visualization is one of the most important and often ignored areas of analytics, and it can make or break the adoption of your analyses.
5. Learn to Build a Story
Think of yourself as a detective at a crime scene. You would look around for clues, gather evidence, put your hypotheses to test – proving some and disproving others, bring together various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to build a story, and draw a conclusion. The same holds when solving a business analytics problem. You need to be able to tell a compelling story based on the results of your analyses. Make sure you round out each project with a clear and concise summary of your findings and recommendations on next steps for stakeholders.
A slightly different variant of this article was also published in The Hindu under the title ‘Gain that Analytical Edge‘