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What's the Difference Between a Business Analyst vs. Data Analyst

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Published on: 03/14/2024
Last Updated: 03/14/2024
8 minute read

If you’re an entrepreneur or considering a career path in the business world, you may be interested in two of the sector’s popular specialties: business analyst and data analyst.

But what’s the difference between these two fields, and which career path should you choose based on your background, capabilities, and interests?

In this guide, our business curriculum experts break down the business analyst vs. data analyst dichotomy to help prospective business professionals consider both career paths.

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Defining Business Analyst and Data Analyst Roles

Before diving into our data analyst vs. business analyst comparison, let’s define the two roles, the responsibilities of each in the business process and company structure, and their intended impact on company growth.

What is a Business Analyst?

While business analyst jobs can vary widely by company and industry, their primary concerns include:1

  • Business processes – Standard operating procedures, workflows, and position responsibilities all fall under the purview of a business process—how a business creates and delivers its product.
  • Business systems – Business systems can include the business needs, technologies, and best practices companies use to create products.
  • Stakeholder communication – Business analysts work to streamline and optimize communication channels to improve productivity and efficiency.

In short, business analysts examine the moving parts of a company and adjust them to meet specific goals. For instance, if a company wants to reduce its overhead costs, a business analyst might examine staffing and utility costs and find ways to optimize them to meet this goal.

Business analysts have a strong potential to impact company growth. They must be both detail-oriented and able to see how minute changes can affect a business's “big picture” and the bottom line. Their influence on business processes, systems, and communications is instrumental to a company’s success.

What is a Data Analyst?

Data analysts can also be integral to company growth and performance in the digital age. Their responsibilities typically include:2

  • Collecting data – Data analysts create and implement systems to collect useful, objective information about company performance: the time it takes to resolve customer support tickets, for example.
  • Processing data – Using the data they collected, data analysts can use various methods to produce models or big data summaries. Using all of a company’s customer support ticket timelines, a data analyst can calculate an average resolution time, for instance.
  • Data analysis – Analysis capabilities are a key competency of data analysts—it’s in the name, after all. Analysis can take various forms like profit forecasts or optimization suggestions. If a data analyst discovers that one customer support department has a higher average ticket resolution time than the others, they could dig deeper to find ways to optimize that department’s performance.

Data analysts collect, assemble, and interpret critical business data to help decision-makers come to informed conclusions and actionable insights that improve overall company performance. Data analysis becomes more important for today’s entrepreneurs as business technologies improve.

Skill Sets Required for Each Role

To fulfill the above roles, data analysts and business analysts must develop competency in a few key areas—some overlap. Let’s dive into the skill sets required for each position.

Business Analyst Skills

For a business analyst, the following key capabilities can lay the groundwork for career success and positive impact on a company:

  • Business acumen – An overall understanding of how businesses operate, maintain profitability, solve institutional problems, and grow is key for any business analyst. Many build this foundational knowledge by pursuing graduate programs in business.
  • Requirements gathering – Requirements gathering is the process of identifying project goals and parameters before the project begins.3 This is a critical skill for business analysts who constantly focus on developing improvement projects to conduct business analysis and foster growth.
  • Process optimization – Many of the business analytics projects executed during your career will focus on process optimization—improving the day-to-day functions of a company to increase efficiency or productivity. A nuanced understanding of cause and effect is necessary for business analysts focused on business needs and company-wide improvements.

Data Analyst Skills

While the business analysis skills above certainly also help data analysts develop insights and goals, the following data analyst skills are critical for their everyday work:

  • Proficiency in data analysis tools – Data analysts must be well-versed in the latest methods and technologies used to collect, assemble, and analyze big data—and methods and technologies of the recent past.
  • Statistical knowledge – Statistics is a foundational subject for any data analyst, and this science informs much of the curriculum in any master’s in data analytics program (a common career preparation route for prospective analysts).
  • Data visualization – While data analysts can use tools to create visuals and compiled data, they must also understand how to make these visual aids digestible and understandable for company stakeholders and teams outside of the analytics department.

Focus on Business Processes vs. Data Insights

The key difference between business analysts vs. data analysts is focus. While business analysts are primarily concerned with understanding and improving business processes, data analysts zoom in on analyzing and interpreting data to come to actionable conclusions about company decisions.

What does that look like in real-time? Let’s say a company’s leadership team wants to decrease customer support ticket resolution times and take a look at how each position would approach this goal:

  1. Data analysts would first devise a way to collect the data needed: finding a simple way to track how long each ticket takes to resolve. They might work with an IT expert to implement a software-based change, for instance.
  2. Business analysts might also help data analysts develop other trackable parameters: types of customer service concerns, communication channels used (e.g., email, phone, or chat), or customer reviews, for instance.
  3. Once enough data has been collected, data analysts will compile it to conclude what’s slowing down the customer support process. For instance, they may find that email-based support interactions are the slowest. They may also forecast how ticket times may change if the support team phases out email and resolves all support tickets via chat and phone alone.
  4. With these data and predictions, business analysts will come up with an approach to implement these efficiency-boosting changes in everyday operations.

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Tools (and Technologies) of the Trade

As you might imagine, business analysts and data analysts typically use different tools to accomplish their goals and manage projects.

Business analysts use tools such as:

  • Process models
  • Databases and storage platforms
  • Collaborative project software
  • Requirements management or project workflow tools

Data analysts, on the other hand, leverage technologies like:

  • Data visualization tools and graphics builders
  • Statistical and forecasting software
  • Database management systems with data collection functions

Interaction with Stakeholders

While data analysts and business analysts often work in tandem to solve complex company problems (as seen in our hypothetical above), each of these professionals typically communicates with different teams regarding project implementation.

Business analysts most frequently engage with stakeholders like:

  • Clients
  • Managers and partners
  • Development teams and consultants

These groups help business analysts understand a company’s (or a client’s) needs and goals.

Data analysts most commonly interact with various internal teams, including:

  • IT
  • Finance/Accounting
  • Customer service
  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • HR

In conversations with other internal teams, data analysts collaborate to gather data and help support data-driven decision-making.

But since all of a company’s internal cogs are pieces of a larger machine, all of these parties must collaborate and use their skills effectively to support company success—and both business analysts and data analysts are key pieces of a well-oiled machine.

Educational Background and Training

A variety of educational programs can lay the groundwork for various career opportunities as a business analyst:

While some employers may consider candidates with bachelor’s degrees if they have ample experience, the role of a business analyst requires ample insights—and these are typically informed by higher education or time spent in the field.

Data analysts also have multiple options when it comes to training:

  • Bachelor’s programs in IT, math, data science, or other STEM fields
  • A master’s in data analytics (MS)
  • A master’s in healthcare analytics (MS)
  • A master’s in information systems technology (MS)

Data analysts pursuing leadership positions may also consider advanced doctoral programs in business. And, like business analysts, their employers typically look for ample experience in higher education, work experience, or both.

Career Pathways and Opportunities

If you’re pursuing a career as a business analyst, there are a variety of entry-level career opportunities that might provide a foundation to help you meet your long-term goals:

  • Administrative careers
  • Roles in finance or accounting
  • Research and development positions
  • Jobs in data analytics
  • Work in business consulting

After gaining business experience in a related field (such as the positions above), prospective business analysts may pursue an advanced degree (like a master’s or a doctorate) and apply for analyst, management, or leadership positions.

Data analysts may take a similar path to career success. Some entry-level jobs might include:

  • Data entry
  • Data visualization
  • Data review and corrections
  • Database management
  • Finance or accounting support

After gaining ample experience or pursuing an advanced degree (or both), prospective analysts may qualify for higher-level positions.

Our Advanced Business Curricula at Alliant International University 

While there are many distinctions between business analyst and data analyst positions, both roles can be critical in business strategy development and to the long-term success of a business—and Alliant International University can help prepare prospective analysts from a variety of backgrounds for the ever-changing job market.

We offer a variety of master’s and doctoral programs in business for future leaders, and each can help support a future analyst’s professional goals. If you’re looking to train with experienced professors, get hands-on experience, and learn to use the latest business innovations, we have a program for you.

Apply for one of our business programs today.


  1. Shobhit Seth. “Business Analyst: Who They Are, What They Do.” Investopedia. January 12, 2024.…. Accessed February 19, 2024.
  2. Jake Frankenfield. “Data Analytics: What It Is, How It’s Used, and 4 Basic Techniques.” Investopedia. August 9, 2023. Accessed February 19, 2024. 
  3. “Requirements Gathering: Template, Example, and How to Use.” Indeed. October 15, 2023.…. Accessed February 19, 2024.

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