what does a data analyst actually do? don’t they just push buttons and the data magically turns into actionable insights, find out right now what is up ladies and gentlemen my name is matt Bratton founder of tmbanalytics.com. Your analytics career headquarters.
we are going to cover what it is that these data analysts actually do all day so let’s just jump right in: what I want to cover first is actually? A bit of prerequisite knowledge that any effective analyst should have as they start working in a new organization now is going to include developing an understanding of the business such as are the departments. What are the systems each department relies on what kind of data is being produced by these systems and where does that data flow it is important that you know where and how to tap into the various sources of truth so the less mature.
The company the less structure this is likely to be and the more disparate the information systems, but either way you’re going to need to be familiar with them in order to be effective as an analyst some examples of these systems could include your financial systems, the operational platforms that you run on the sales and marketing systems and tools or if everything’s just piped into a central data warehouse or data mart understanding that process and just generally getting familiar with the organization and how the data flow is going to be very valuable?
Use of your time upfront another good use of your time early on that I don’t think gets nearly enough love is the importance of understanding the business model of your company now this opinion comes from my background in finance and the thinking behind this is all roads lead back to the bottom line and what I mean by that is if you don’t understand how your business makes money.
You could find that your analyses start completely missing the mark in some cases, so having that lens to really view the requests through is always going to be a valuable thing to have with those prerequisites in mind if you’re new to a company. Let’s say you started in the past six months these are going to be the things that you’ll want to take part of your mental priority, list to help you ramp up more quickly and start contributing in a more meaningful way so focus on job number one.
Obviously whatever it was that you were hired to do but then any spare moments should be used to better understand the business, how the data flows all right prerequisites aside analysts are internal consultants? Who supports the various areas of the business so from a day-to-day perspective? Your tasks are likely going to vary depending on the needs of the business at any given time so if for example, marketing is ramping up certain efforts, you may get pulled in to help with some predictive planning some post-mortem evaluation of campaign success, or anything in between and that’s going to require a lot of communication, with the business to make sure that the objectives are clear outcomes are understood and then you can go get on your merry way of knocking things out by pulling cleaning relevant data.
Doing all the analytical fun things that we analysts get to do now before I go any further I do think that it’s important to also highlight something that may ruffle some feathers, but I don’t care because I think it’s important to mention reporting is not analytics I hear these things get conflated regularly and it drives me just a little batty at times but analysts may perform reporting functions. Yes in fact it’s often one of the most common tasks that early-career analysts find themselves doing because it gets you into the data familiar with cleaning organizing presenting but reporting itself is more like heat mapping or a precursor that can actually lead to analytical projects.
Do you know how I say good data drives? Good questions drive better data and better analyses yeah the reporting is where all that good data starts it’s you creating that window for the organization to peek through and get a view of what’s going on and your ability to make that view a clear one is critical. So while important the active querying data and just throwing it into tableau is not in and of itself analytics, you can and should inject analytical thinking into the process where you’re considering the the user objective the user experience and you add functionality proactively that’ll help the user be better able to self-service and answer their own questions before they need to be asked but it’s still just reporting and i don’t say that to diminish reporting it’s a critical thing that an organization have a solid reporting function in place it also just needs to be clear that reporting is not the same as analytics.
Now the actual reporting to analytical work ratio is going to be a bit of a sliding scale in that the more experienced, the analyst often the less time you spend curled up with your favorite data set busting out reports, because not only are you more efficient but you’ve likely also established yourself as someone who can be leaned upon for more intensive types of consultation, which is to say your time is more valuable doing things beyond querying and cleaning data. In fact where you might spend most of your time is on the QA process which sadly, I also don’t hear a lot of people talking about but that’s where a good chunk of your time could well be spent and to be clear it wouldn’t be because you’re just looking for errors rather.You’re interpreting your own results you’re reviewing your work you’re formulating your own questions putting on the hat of the consumer and predicting their questions so that you can go back and build more supporting information so that when it comes time to share your analyses you’re.
Already three steps ahead and the conversation can go much farther much faster with the stakeholders, many people think of QA in terms of simply just making some numbers tied dates are correct making sure but I view it very differently in that I see it as an opportunity to test drive. What you’ve just created and made enhancements as needed before go-live so what does all this mean did I even answer the question of what an analyst actually does eh maybe not because there really is no right answer but in general here is my punch line, so if you’re new let’s say you’ve got under three years in the game most of your time is going to be spent swimming in the data drinking from the fire hose and learning about how your company does things that’s the covering the tool stack the business model and beyond and you’re going to be pulling data cleaning data?
Building reports for probably 80 of the time the other 20 is going to be a combination of just ad hoc work and general business learning as you get more experience. Let’s say you’re three to five years now you’ll be likely creating more complex views on the data via reporting which will lead to spin-off ad hoc analytical requests and that’s going to start overtime to consume up to 80 of your time, while the reporting is more in maintenance mode and driving the other 20 from here your next career move is likely going to be a shift into either management or further.
Down the individual contributor track which turns into a completely different conversation about time management so so that’s it if you’re an analyst let me know in a commentary.