A Master's in Business Analytics is Your Key to a Big Data Career in Business

Businesses are built on data. Understanding how information flows into, through, and out of a business to customers or suppliers can be the critical difference between a profitable enterprise and one doomed to bankruptcy.

A master’s degree in business analytics represents an advanced, generalized, toolset for understanding how to take apart the vast and various streams of data that come into a corporation and stitch them back together in ways that bring unique insights to business operations and a fuller picture of the environment in which the business operates.

Business analytics uses advanced statistical and quantitative analysis along with high-tech tools like data warehouses, machine learning algorithms, and interactive visualization to present executives and business staff with easy to understand findings that allow them to make better decisions.

Real Time Processing and Feedback is the New Frontier in Business Analytics

From descriptive analysis (using data for a detailed understanding of what has happened in the past)… to predictive analysis (forecasting what is likely to happen in the future based on past events)… business analytics has evolved to provide prescriptive analysis—a method that uses incoming data in real time to interpret both past and current events, then instantaneously – and often automatically – prescribe and implement a course of action.

This kind of advanced analysis is in great demand and holds huge promise for revolutionizing business performance. The emerging area of prescriptive analytics is something that relies on a very demanding set of skills. The best master’s programs in business analytics are the ones that prepare candidates to enter industry with the skills they need to leverage data for decision-making and operational efficiency the instant that data is created.

Business Analytics Professionals Understand What Makes Businesses Tick

Business analytics are nothing new to the corporate world; they have historically been used for everything from assessing credit and investment risk to budgeting and market analysis to inventory and supply chain optimization. In fact, some say business analytics has its origins in the industrial revolution when Frederick Winslow Taylor invented the modern science of tracking and measuring production rates to optimize efficiency.

But all new methods and entirely new fields have opened up in the generations since, some of which are only now being explored in-depth.

Computerized analytics was originally about identifying and quantifying events that had already happened—finding faster ways to total up unit sales and business expenses, for example. Descriptive analytics still has a role to play in business, but it has already been overshadowed by predictive analytics—guesses about future trends and performance based on data analysis.

Then came prescriptive analytics, which combines the two to determine performance in real-time and apply predictive algorithms to make automated decisions or recommendations on how to tweak process variables in a way that will maximize efficiency and profit.

Increasingly, companies are moving toward competing based on their analytics prowess. German conglomerate Siemens AG, for example, has used a business analytics approach called process mining to dive into the more than 70 ERP systems used in the company’s various business divisions and identify bottlenecks and procedural optimizations that could speed up supply chain distribution. Using data mining techniques to model processes in real time increased on-time deliveries by 14 percent and saved the company $10 million in 2017 alone.

The big data revolution came on so swiftly and was applied so thoroughly to all aspects of business and commerce that the biggest problem businesses face now is not collecting and collating massive amounts of scatted and disorganized data, but finding people who can put that data and the resulting knowledge to work in new and innovate ways.  An MIT Sloan survey conducted in early 2018 found that from 2013 to 2015, at the height of the big data revolution, companies actually reported a decline in their ability to compete with other businesses on the basis of superior analytics alone.

What this points to is a deluge of data with too few analytics professionals to interpret it. Graduates from business analytics master’s degree programs are in high demand, and have a lot of lucrative work ahead of them.

The Kind of Jobs and Salary Available When You Hold a Master’s in Business Analytics

Although you might imagine that most graduates of business analytics master’s programs go on to fill business analyst positions, you would be wrong. Most of the time, business analyst positions don’t actually require an advanced degree or the specialized knowledge you get in a business analytics master’s program. Business analysts are more often responsible for a big picture interpretation of the factors affecting the business environment and rarely get their hands dirty working with big data and the tools used to organize and find meaning in it.

Instead, the kind of positions that more often require a master’s in business analytics include, and the salaries they pull down are:

  • Management Analyst – $175,000
  • Corporate Data Scientist – $167,000
  • Business Intelligence Analyst – $146,000
  • Data Reporting Analyst – $102,000
  • Data Warehouse Analyst – $131,000
  • ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) Business Analyst – $139,000

Salaries shown are the median for New York as published in the 2018 Robert Half Technology & IT Salary Guide.

In these roles, you’ll be expected to evaluate or design business data stores, data collection processes, and data utilization. You might be responsible for optimizing these processes on your own, or working together with other executives to meet larger business goals with applied data science.

How to Select a Business Analytics Master’s Program

The program you choose shouldn’t focus solely on applying statistical and quantitative analysis methods to existing corporate data, but should also provide a solid basis in how data is collected and stored. A good business analytics master’s degree will prepare you for:

  • Data collection techniques and measuring business processes
  • Data warehousing and mining processes
  • Programming in R, Python, or SQL
  • Creating effective and accurate visualizations
  • Applying mathematical models to decision-making scenarios
  • Strategic analysis

It’s not uncommon to find business analytics degrees that are a part of dual-degree programs, paired with master’s programs in:

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Business Administration

These can be powerful combinations if you are planning on a management track career.

However, because of these crossover options, it’s important to ensure that the instructors you’ll be learning from are themselves data science experts instead of just business professionals. Some schools may simply treat analytics as a slightly more math-heavy version of their existing business or finance programs, when in fact it’s a subject worthy of instructors with a more in-depth and specialized statistical or computer science background.

On the other hand, business analytics is about practical applications of data science in real world scenarios. You don’t want a program entirely instructed by wonks who have been living in academia. Look for schools who have instructors with practical business experience. UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, for example, offers business analytics courses taught by former Uber Head of Economic Research Keith Chen, who invented the data-driven surge pricing model the company is now famous for. The school also presents regular seminars from industry pros, ensuring up-to-date information on the latest trends and techniques going on in the industry.

Better yet, look at programs that have internship programs, or at least solid working relationships, with current issues in the business world. A program that offers a capstone project option that involves real-world challenges will give you a solid entry on your resume when it comes time to apply for work after graduation.

Depending on your post-graduation focus, you might also want to look for a program with a large number of electives. While core courses can teach data science adequately, there are enormous variances in industry-level applications. A degree with MIT’s Sloan School, though, offers 26 different elective options ranging from media ventures to innovation strategy to supply chain planning… a specialization to match almost any possible career path.