mathematics degree
German mathematician Peter Scholze, one of the four winners of the prestigious Fields prize, is pictured in front of a board where he demonstrated his field of work during a press conference in Bonn, western Germany on Aug 7, 2018. Source: Patrik STOLLARZ/AFP

Did you know that the term “data scientist” was only coined in 2012? It can be traced to a Harvard Business Review entry by DJ Patil, the first Chief Data Scientist in the US government. In it, Patil and co-author Thomas H Davenport crowned “data scientist” as the sexiest job of the 21st century – which naturally caught the attention of ambitious graduates worldwide.

According to Dr William Yeoh, Business Intelligence and Analytics researcher from Deakin University, this trend has contributed to universities offering more business analytics degrees to meet industry demands. “Major job search websites suggest that there are always tens of thousands of business analytics-related jobs. The current job market is in high demand for analysts, and the pay is quite decent,” he said.

In the US alone, over 2 million business analyst vacancies are expected to be filled this year. For an industry so young, data science has quickly dominated discussions and decisions in digital marketing. Why is it a big deal?

business analytics degree

DJ Patil attending TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015 as US Chief Data Scientist. Source: Steve Jennings/ Getty Images North America/AFP

What do business analysts do?

In their article, Patil and Davenport posit that “data scientists today are akin to the Wall Street “quants” of the 1980s and 1990s.” This means they know how to optimise data for business insights and gains. By collecting, processing, and studying complex chunks of data, they are able to identify actionable patterns and devise suitable approaches to execute them. As an analytical consultant at Google Malaysia, this is Alicia Tan’s primary job scope. “I achieve this by partnering closely with advertisers and agencies to develop digital solutions that build their brand and connect with their audience,” she explains.

What are the pre-requisites to study business analytics?

Dr Yeoh says that the top three skills required to pursue this education are analytical, research, and communication skills. These provide the right foundation for students to build hard statistical skills, think out of the box with data, and effectively present insights to consumers. 

Needless to say, students should also have a passion for mathematics and perseverance when crunching numbers.  Through a business analytics course, they will develop “an in-depth understanding of the body of knowledge of business analytics and be able to research and develop analytical reports or projects,” says Dr Yeoh. “They will also be equipped with the essential skills in using business analytics systems and technologies to analyse complex data and disseminate findings,” he adds.

Where should I study business analytics?

Leading business schools all around the world are gearing up with their own offerings, especially in the postgraduate space. UCLA Anderson School of Management and Orfalea College of Business at California Polytechnic State University each offer the Master of Science in Business Analytics programme, while The University of Western Australia, Business School and Deakin University have the Master of Business Analytics.

Degree-holders in business and management, actuarial science, statistics and human resources could level up with a Master in Business Analytics, as Alicia did. Having zeroed in on the US, Alicia secured a Fulbright scholarship to undertake the MS in Business Analytics at Arizona State University (ASU). “I chose the US because I wanted exposure to people and companies I viewed to be at the forefront of data science. I chose ASU because the curriculum is suitable for people with zero tech background like myself,” she shared.  “Plus, I got to be in close proximity to California without the price tag!”

business analytics degree

“Data scientists today are akin to the Wall Street “quants” of the 1980s and 1990s.”Source: George Frey/Getty Images North America/AFP

What are my potential career pathways?

Upon starting at Google Malaysia, Alicia was expecting to do a lot of predictive work, “But the reality is that there is a lot of pre-work to do before we reach that stage, from data validation to feature engineering,” she shares. “The data by itself is not worth much – what’s more important is how you collect, store, and interpret it with respect to your context. 

“A business analytics degree graduate will have developed a broad set of analytics skills that are sought after in almost every industry sector,” Dr Yeoh says, advising bachelor degree holders to get right on the business analyst career pathway. Besides that, graduates can go on to become systems, consumer, or market analysts, portfolio or financial managers, and even hold research and government positions. Though she chose a career with a tech giant, Alicia believes business analysts are also valuable to small-and-medium-sized enterprises. In her words, “You don’t need millions of data points to extract actionable insights.”