How can businesses make smarter decisions, increase profits, and improve internal processes? The short answer: data. Without data, many businesses would be flying blind—even the local bicycle shop that’s experimenting with Facebook ads and loyalty cards.

It’s not enough just to have data, either—you have to be able to make sense of it and turn it into action. That’s why more businesses than ever are turning to business intelligence (BI) analysts. And the sector seeing the highest rate of BI adoption is small organizations with 100 employees or less.

BI is not your average data analysis—it’s a powerful way to investigate outliers, streamline processes, and even predict the future. It can help businesses improve operations and go after better opportunities. We spoke with performance improvement consultant Rob Giorgiani to learn more about what BI experts do and how to find the perfect one for you.

What does a business intelligence analyst do?

BI analysts leave no stone unturned in gathering insight into your operations, mining deep into your data, managerial reports, competitor data, past and current market trends, and consumer data. Analysts organize, cross-reference, and analyze this data using a variety of tools and techniques such as predictive analytics, statistical modeling, visualization platforms, and more. Some analysts have skills in machine learning, AI, and natural language processing to make better sense of unstructured data.

From there, analysts are able to:

  • Merge data. An analyst can merge and integrate application-specific data into a master report so it’s cross-functional, organized, and accessible in a timely way.
  • Improve processes such as full-spectrum operations, technology, customer support and claims using industry standards and benchmark reports to see where your productivity deviates from norms. This might include investigation into payroll, revenue integrity, general ledgers, and even department schedules to get a complete look. Giorgiani says, “These investigations might find that a department isn’t capturing all of the volume it should, for example, in which case the analyst can help train them to do this moving forward.”
  • Prevent losses. If something looks off, an analyst can find the root of that discrepancy. In some cases, these can uncover some major hidden issues. Giorgiani notes, “Sometimes, investigations into outliers that pop up during analysis can help identify lost revenue, poor processes, and under-performing management.” Then, the analyst can propose detailed solutions to address your issues, whether they’re informed by best practices elsewhere in the organization or regulatory guidelines.
  • Data storytelling. The other side of BI is reporting findings, and tailoring these reports and visualizations to both an organization’s goals and audiences. Analysts can gear insights toward competitive advantage, reducing overhead, or data that’s particularly relevant to sales teams and the C-suite alike.

Identify your goals

The first step in finding the perfect BI analyst is to determine your goals for your analysis. A few reasons to engage a business intelligence consultant might be:

  • Data discovery. Don’t have a clear goal in mind? That’s fine—many businesses tap a BI analyst to give them a broad view and a starting point for growth and improvement. Some findings can’t be predicted, but might help determine next steps and exciting opportunities.
  • Strategize the smartest ways to scale. For small businesses in particular, this is valuable intelligence to fuel smart growth.
  • Support the launch of a new product or service. An analyst can help predict how customers will react to a new product or service.
  • Find areas of strengths and weaknesses. Before hiring new talent, growing departments, or bolstering efforts, use your data to identify where things are working and where they aren’t. These may be inefficient processes, or opportunities to train teams.
  • Sell smarter. Optimize marketing or sales strategies with insights.

Shortlist Top Business Intelligence Analysts

As proposals begin to roll in from your job post, you’ll want to shortlist the most promising applicants. Some key things to screen for include:

  • Business and change management experience. Expertise in statistics, economics, accounting, or other fields of business—or an MBA, which is helpful when consulting with more complex businesses. Change management experience is important, and you might look for advanced education or certifications, such as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.
  • Data science and programming skills. Hard skills can include programming knowledge (e.g., SQL, Python, or R), data science and data architecture, and advanced and predictive analysis. Machine learning, predictive analytics, and statistical modeling are increasingly common, as well.
  • Reporting. See how they’ve presented findings in the past, whether they’re visualizations format or self-service dashboards using Tableau, Alteryx, BusinessObjects, or PowerPoint. Find out what tools they use and why.
  • Goal-oriented. A big part of BI analysts’ jobs is goal-setting, so listen for how they’ve measured their success.
  • Professionalism. Look for soft skills like active listening, communication, and the confidence to push back on requests that don’t align with strategy. “A BI analyst should conduct themselves with a level of professionalism and be an effective communicator with executives and ground-level staff alike,” Giorgiani adds. They’ll need to collaborate with stakeholders to be sure the right hypotheses are being tested.

Giorgiani notes there are proven productivity indicators you can look to. “There are many ways to measure the efficacy of a BI analyst, and BI analysts tend to be goal-driven. For example, I’d identify an EBITA impact that’s a multiple of my salary and use it as my productivity indicator. Any good business intelligence analyst should be able to find and provide that.”

Prepare for the interview

The interview is where you get to meet your future BI consultant. Depending on the proposals you receive, try to schedule interviews with at least three candidates: the more senior analyst, a junior analyst, and someone in between.

Brainstorm questions to ask in the interview, such as:

  • “Walk me through a business request from start to finish. How do you pull data, who do you engage for that extraction, what tools do you use, how do you manipulate data, then present the data?”
  • “Have you worked with companies in our industry in the past?”
  • “How have you set and met goals in the past? How do you measure your efficiency and ROI?”

That’s it—you’re ready to craft a job post. Get started today!