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Business Analytics and Data Science: What’s the Difference?

By Samantha Beavers

With big data getting bigger, employers are on the hunt for data professionals who can help them glean valuable insights and edge out their competitors. And flocks of industry professionals, seeing the demand, are turning to graduate programs to help them dive into the world of data. 

However, not all data professions are alike. And, depending on their backgrounds and career goals, some professionals may see one career path as more promising than another. 

Specifically, some may be more drawn to data science – while others will gravitate toward business analytics. Why is that, though? And what’s the difference between them, anyway?

Sisters, Not Synonyms

Because business analytics and data science have some overlap, they often look similar. And many, not understanding the difference, use the terms interchangeably – only adding to the confusion.

Despite all they have in common, however, the two aren’t identical. While both dive into data looking for unique trends and insights, how and why they approach the data differs.

So, while anyone who finds data fascinating and enjoys problem-solving can appreciate both, finding the right career path and graduate program hinges on knowing where the two diverge.

Starting Points

Far more technical and complex than business analytics, data science involves starting with the data itself – exploring new ways to develop and model it in order to extract useful patterns, correlations and insights that can help business leaders identify areas of opportunity.

Business analysts, on the other hand, typically don’t start with the data – but with a specific business question or problem. Before they dive into a dataset, they already have a general idea of what they want to do with it.

Looking at the data through that particular lens, they create visualizations and search for compelling trends. The task of a business analyst is not so much to unearth questions, then, but to answer them.

Field Goals

Because data scientists spend more time programming, creating algorithms and experimenting with machine learning, data science will be more appealing to those who desire to delve deeper into large volumes of data – leveraging the most sophisticated data mining techniques to deliver actionable insights to inform future business endeavors. Many who pursue this career path are also eager to become companies’ go-to data experts.

Business analysts, however, are usually more concerned with telling stories than crunching numbers. Approaching datasets with a narrower focus, their goals involve addressing specific, pressing business problems – like how to target the right customers or why a particular campaign flopped. 

Eager to identify new business opportunities and make strategic decisions, many marketing and business professionals pursue business analytics roles to become more dynamic leaders in a complex marketplace. With a foundation in business analytics, they’ll be better positioned to climb the ladder and pursue senior management positions in today’s data-driven environment.

Background Check

For these reasons, professionals in data science and business analytics usually have different strengths and interests, which means that certain academic and professional backgrounds may be better suited for one over the other.

Those with math, statistics, IT and computer science backgrounds tend to be a stronger fit for careers in data science – and they tend to enjoy processing data, cleaning it and using sophisticated modeling techniques.

Meanwhile, backgrounds in business and marketing provide a stronger foundation for positions in business analytics. And those who have them generally find the day-to-day tasks of interpreting, displaying and communicating data trends to be more enjoyable. Their interest in solving complex business problems – and their passion for making strategic, informed decisions – ultimately drives their curiosity.

Line of Best Fit

Both data science and business analytics will attract professionals with critical thinking skills and a penchant for problem-solving. And, in a data-driven world, each career path will set professionals up for success.

Those interested in data, then, ought to examine their unique backgrounds, passions and career goals. What relevant skills and experiences do you have? What, at the end of the day, makes you tick? And where are you headed? With these answers, you can discern which path is the right fit and the foundation you need to get there. Interested in a career in business analytics? Learn more about our online degree programs in marketing analytics and risk and analytics, as well as several other programs at the Poole College of Management that emphasize the power of data.