Business Intelligence Analysts: What They Are and How to Become One

Business intelligence analysts use data to help businesses navigate decisions. Once you have the necessary skills, there are several paths you can take to become one.
Business intelligence analysts comb through data

What does a business intelligence analyst do?

A business intelligence analyst, also known as a BI analyst, uses data and other information to help organizations make sound business decisions. 

Though exact job descriptions can vary, a business intelligence analyst’s role can be broadly broken down into three parts:

  • Breaking down key business data: A business intelligence analyst might gather, clean, and analyze data like revenue, sales, market information, or customer engagement metrics of a business. BI analysts can also be asked to program tools and data models to help visualize or monitor data.

  • Interpreting the data: Finding patterns or seeing areas in the data that signal a potential for improvement in business practices is a key part of a BI analyst’s job. For example, a BI analyst might analyze market trends to understand how a company might need to adapt its product.

  • Sharing findings: Sharing findings can include anything from visualizing data in graphs and charts, to putting reports together and presenting in front of other teams or clients. Business intelligence analysts will also make recommendations to improve or grow the business based on their findings.

Business intelligence analysts vs. business analysts: What’s the difference?

Business analysts, not to be confused with BI analysts, also analyze information to make recommendations to improve a business. But while BI analysts deal more directly with data to find insights, business analysts typically deal with the practical applications of those insights.

A business intelligence analyst in the US makes an average salary of $83,401, according to April 2021 data from Glassdoor [1].

Business intelligence analysts can go on to become senior business intelligence analysts or make the leap to business intelligence consulting.

Read more: Data Analyst vs. Business Analyst: What’s the Difference?

How to be a Business Intelligence Analyst

As a business intelligence analyst, you’ll need a combination of technical data skills, an understanding of business, and people skills. Here are specific skills a BI analyst typically has and the paths taken to acquire them.

  • Database tools: Working with data will be a key part of your job. Knowing how to manage data using common data tools such as Excel and SQL are essential. Familiarity with data analysis tools that offer machine learning solutions has also become an increasingly sought-after skill among BI analysts.

  • Data visualization: Knowledge of services like Tableau and Power BI are often cited in job descriptions as important skills to have. These tools help create graphs and other visualizations of data.

  • Coding languages: As a BI analyst, you can be asked to create systems or processes to help analyze data and monitor key aspects of the business. Familiarity with coding languages like Python, Java, or R is often sought after in job listings.

  • Financial and business knowledge: A good understanding of business practices and finance will be critical to providing insights on improving the business.

  • Communication: A business intelligence analyst often speaks in front of teams or creates written reports in order to share findings. Having the written and verbal communication skills to synthesize research and recommendations is often core to the role.

Becoming a business intelligence analyst

There are several paths you can take to become a business intelligence analyst.

Professional certificates or online courses: A professional certificate or course are good ways to build needed skills like data analysis or familiarity with Power BI. Often with no previous related experience required, certificates or online courses can offer the flexibility needed to learn a new field while not disrupting your life. The University of Colorado offers a Data Warehouse Business Intelligence Specialization on Coursera that can teach you the essentials of business intelligence analysis.

Interested in certifications but don’t know where to start?

Read through a list of SQL and database certifications. You might also consider Google’s professional certificate in data analytics.

Bachelor’s degrees: A bachelor’s degree can bring you both the technical and critical thinking skills needed of a BI analyst. Focus your studies on a quantitative field like finance, mathematics, or data science.

Master’s degrees: A master’s degree can build on your previous experience and education to pivot you into a business intelligence analyst role. It’s a good idea to take your past experience into consideration in deciding what field is best for your master’s.

If you’ve worked in business for several years and need a stronger background in data, a master’s in data science might suit your needs—like these master's programs on Coursera. If you have a solid understanding of data analysis but need better business understanding, an MBA program with a focus on business analytics might be what you’re looking for.

Getting started

Business intelligence analysts use their critical thinking skills and quantitative abilities to help businesses improve and thrive. As data serves an increasingly important role in our everyday lives, BI analysts will likely be crucial to business operations for years to come. 

If you’re ready to jump into building the skills you need, take a look at the Data Warehouse Business Intelligence Specialization on Coursera, or consider enrolling in the Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate program.

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Article sources

1. Glassdoor. "Business Intelligence Analyst Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/business-intelligence-analyst-salary-SRCH_KO0,29.htm." Accessed April 19, 2021.

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