Data is the foundation of a new wave of innovation, competitiveness and productivity that could save $300 billion a year in health care costs and help retailers increase profit margins by 60 percent, according to a May 2011 report by the McKinsey Global Institute. However, it takes people with strong analytical skills, such data analysts, to help realize these benefits. McKinsey estimates that, in the United States alone, there is a need for 140,000 to 190,000 more people with statistical and data analysis skills.
Data Quality and Overview
A data analyst identifies data-quality issues, such as duplicate records or missing values, before using data in an analysis. Analysts run reports to identify inconsistencies and correct, exclude or highlight suspect data. A data analyst may prepare an overview of a data set by creating a series of graphs or scatterplots and running one or more statistical tests such as a correlation matrix or principal components analysis.
Answering Business Questions
Data analysts retrieve, manipulate and analyze information to answer business questions. They identify and retrieve the right data from a database or data warehouse. Analysts organize and present the data using charts, graphs and tabular reports to help answer business questions. For example, a sales manager might wonder why sales in one region are lower than in other regions. A data analyst might retrieve sales figures for each region, analyze the data and discover that the region in question has two fewer salespeople. He might then prepare a report that shows sales by region and by salesperson that highlights the reason for lower sales.
Many data analysts use statistical software packages such as SAS or SPSS to perform advanced-data analyses. Analysts write scripts to process data using statistical software, perform statistical tests to identify relationships among variables, and develop models that describe or predict behaviors. For example, a data analyst might analyze customer data to identify products that customers regularly buy in tandem and use that information to suggest additional products to customers.
New Data and Tools
Searching for and evaluating new sources of data that help provide additional insight, answer different questions or identify trends is an important part of a data analyst's job. A data analyst might recommend a new data source and create an interface to integrate the new source with existing databases. Analysts also evaluate data analysis tools and recommend purchasing tools or utilities that would make data analysis more efficient or improve the results.
- American Health Information Management Association: Data Analyst Job Description
- Data Analyst Boot Camp: The Data Analyst Job Description
- Washington State Hospital Association: Data Analyst II, Health Information Program (HIP)
- McKinsey Global Institute: Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity
- Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images