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

Learn how data analysts and business analysts work with data to drive better business decisions (and find out which might be a better career fit for you).
A female business analyst interviews a female employee. Both have their laptops in front of them.

Data analysts and business analysts both help drive data-driven decision-making in their organizations. Data analysts tend to work more closely with the data itself, while business analysts tend to be more involved in addressing business needs and recommending solutions. Both are highly sought-after roles that are typically well-compensated.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what makes each role unique and why you might choose to pursue either as a career.

Business analytics vs. data analytics

Business analysts and data analysts have similar roles, and some companies might use the terms interchangeably. And while both types of analysts use data to improve business decisions, they do so in different ways. 

What do data analysts do?

Data analysts gather, clean, analyze, visualize, and present existing data to help inform business decisions. An effective data analyst uses data to answer a question and empower decision makers to plot the best course of action. Common tasks for a data analyst might include:

  • Working with business leaders and stakeholders to define a problem or business need

  • Identifying and sourcing data 

  • Cleaning and preparing data for analysis

  • Analyzing data for patterns and trends

  • Visualizing data to make it easier to understand

  • Presenting data in such a way that it tells a compelling story

Read more: What Does a Data Analyst Do? A Career Guide

What do business analysts do?

Business analysts help identify problems, opportunities, and solutions for their organizations. They do this by:

  • Evaluating a company’s current functions and IT structures

  • Reviewing processes and interviewing team members to identify areas for improvement

  • Presenting findings and recommendations to management and other key stakeholders

  • Creating visuals and financial models to support business decisions

  • Training and coaching staff in new systems

Read more: What Does a Business Analyst Do? And How to Become One

What is a business intelligence (BI) analyst?

BI analysts are somewhat of a hybrid between business and data analysts. They use analysis, modeling, and visualization of industry trends and the competitive landscape to help businesses cut losses and increase profits.

Educational background

Business and data analysts can come from a wide variety of academic backgrounds, though most companies look for candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree. Generally speaking, business analysts might have a degree in a business-related field, while data analysts often have degrees in STEM fields like statistics, math, or computer science.

Earning a graduate degree with a focus on data analytics could help open opportunities for advancement in either field.

No degree required for some entry-level roles

Earn a Professional Certificate in data analytics from Google or IBM to build the skills necessary for an entry-level data analyst role in less than six months of study.

Skills: Business vs. data analyst

Data analytics and business analytics each involve a slightly different skillset. While both occupations work with data, they do so in different ways. Here’s a look at some common skills for each.

Data analystBusiness analyst
Data analysisNeeds analysis
StatisticsPrototyping
Knowledge of data structuresKnowledge of business structures
SQL and statistical programmingMicrosoft Visio and software design tools

The two roles share several skills as well. Whichever path you choose, you can set yourself up for success by being a good:

  • Oral and written communicator

  • Problem solver

  • Critical thinker

  • Organizer

  • Collaborator

Salary

The in-demand skills involved in data and business analysis often draw high salaries. According to Glassdoor, business analysts in the US in 2021 earn an average base pay of $73,913, while data analysts bring in an average base pay of $66,836 [1, 2].

Get started with Coursera

If you’re considering a career as a data analyst, start building a foundation of job-ready skills with the Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate on Coursera. Interested in business analytics? Start building fluency in business data strategies with the Business Analytics Specialization from the University of Pennsylvania.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Which is better, data analyst or business analyst?

Both roles are in demand and well paid. The best option for you will depend on your unique interests, skills, and career goals. If you gravitate more toward mathematics and statistics, then a data analyst position could be a good fit. If you’re more of a business-minded problem solver, consider business analytics instead. 

Can a data analyst become a business analyst?

Yes, data analysts can become business analysts (and vice versa). Many of the skills overlap. A data analyst moving into business analytics might want to polish up on their knowledge of business structures and process prototyping. Business analysts who’d like to work more closely with data sets can build their SQL, statistical programming, and data management skills. 

Can I become a data analyst with a business degree?

Data analysts come from a range of educational backgrounds. Degrees in mathematics, statistics, and computer science tend to teach the math and analysis skills needed on the job. But a business degree can equip you with the ability to analyze business problems and communicate solutions effectively—also important skills.

Related articles

Article sources

1. Glassdoor. "Business Analyst Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/business-analyst-salary-SRCH_KO0,16.htm." Accessed April 12, 2021.

2. Glassdoor. "Data Analyst Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/data-analyst-salary-SRCH_KO0,12.htm." Accessed April 12, 2021.

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