Here is advice for current and future business analysts at large corporations or consulting firms.
Your most important goal is to add value. This means thinking long and hard about whether you copy, tabulate or analyze information. Only analysis truly adds value.
We think of information manipulation as a three level hierarchy.
1. Copy. This is the simplest form. In the old days it was done with a Xerox machine. Today, data is usually replicated in a new spreadsheet. That is, exactly the same information as in the original data source is presented, perhaps with a spiffier graphic.
There is little value in this, but sometimes it is useful when basic facts need to be presented. An analyst who does this for a living, or a manager who asks for only this type information won’t be long lived in the organization.
2. Tabulate. The by far most common form of information manipulation is tabulation. Again, it is a trivial task.
As a tabulator, you take existing information and cut it in a different way. For example, your existing data has sales and profit in two columns. You create a new ROS column by dividing profit by sales. There is no analytical task in this, just a simple division.
Another example is if you have income by county and aggregate it up to to the state level and then present a bar chart. There is no analysis in this, just a simple summation and tabulation.
Most analysts do tabulations but believe they are analyzing. Tabulation certainly can be useful in presenting basic facts. But it does not reveal unknown patterns and as such adds marginal value to the organization.
3. Analyze. Three characteristics are the hallmark of analysis:
- It uses statistical methods
- It combines different data sets
- It leverages quantitative and qualitative data
An example of analysis is if you want to estimate regional sales of a category within a country.
You have one data set with global income distribution data and a global data set of category data, both at the national level. Further, you have regional income data for the country. You also know, from visits to the country, that the category is mainly sold in modern supermarkets, so you collect supermarket geocodes and square meter size.
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A good business analyst would know how to combine this information into a solid model for regional category sales using statistical methods. In doing so, the analysis adds gives additional insights. It is not mere copying or tabulation. Instead, fundamentally new knowledge is created.
So as a business analyst, make sure you don’t just do the trivial stuff. Make sure you have the skills to truly analyze the issue at hand. After all, it is called business analyst, not copier or tabulator.