What does a data analyst do and where do they work?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Data analysts collect and interpret large amounts of data and present it in a way that is easy to understand. Organisations, businesses and companies rely on data to help them make critical choices and key decisions. If you're looking for a technical career, love working with numbers, enjoy using mathematical skills and investigating things, this could be the career for you. In this article, we ask, 'What does a data analyst do?', find out what their responsibilities are and look at how they help businesses and organisations.

What does a data analyst do?

To answer the question, 'What does a data analyst do?', it's necessary to look at the type of organisation or business employing a data analyst. Put simply, data analysts specialise in gathering raw data and use this information to discover insights and intelligence which they present to stakeholders. You might supply the figures to help decision-makers across business, industry, consultancies, education, marketing, finance, government or non-profit organisations.

If you work for a government department, you might analyse and interpret information for senior politicians which may help them with policy decisions. Within the business world, data analysts provide the hard data to back up business proposals and plans.

Related: How to become a data analyst

What does the role involve?

A data analyst compiles and organises data. Their general duties may include:

  • Designing databases: Data analysts design and maintain data systems. They fix code errors and sort out problems with data organisation.

  • Employing statistical tools: They use statistical tools to establish sequences, patterns and trends. These can help shape predictive analytics, machine learning and assist with diagnostic requirements.

  • Mining data: They dig out data from various sources, primary and secondary, and organise it into a format that humans or computers can understand easily.

  • Presenting data: They present data and produce a summary in an appropriate format that is easy to understand. They communicate expectations, predictions and trends by revealing this data.

  • Collaborating with others: They collaborate with programmers, managers, software engineers and team members to improve statistical testing procedures. They help identify the possibilities for improvements and suggest data governance policies.

Other responsibilities include:

  • understanding a company's brief and fulfilling their requirements through data analyst tools and techniques

  • completing statistical tests to extract data related to business procedures

  • discovering areas where the company can introduce efficiencies and greater automation

  • tracking key performance indicators

  • monitoring data for industry changes, trends and patterns

  • auditing data and monitoring quality

  • designing, conducting and analysing surveys

  • creating visuals, including graphs and charts

  • looking at large datasets and presenting these to members of management

  • preparing reports using analytical tools

  • using business information tools and techniques

Related: Analytical skills: definitions and examples

Why do companies need data analysts?

Companies are increasingly realising the value of data analysts. They can use their unique analytical skills to probe, investigate and reveal important business information. Business managers and executive decision-makers rely on the information that data analysts supply to understand key indicators and business trends. Data analysts can translate large amounts of data into meaningful results.

Data analysts may be able to uncover consumer behaviour trends. They can identify useful information that can increase business profitability. They are able to extract data quickly and are experts at reading this data when a company needs quick advice about a decision. Data analysts can answer important questions such as:

  • 'What is our most productive time of day?'

  • 'What are the competitors doing to sell their products at a cut-price?'

  • 'Where do our best customers come from?'

What skills do you require to work as a data analyst?

If you work as a data analyst you require excellent computing skills and attention to detail, other skills include:

  • Curiosity: If you see a sudden change in trends, for example, a large increase in sales at the beginning of the month, you might look for other patterns throughout the year. As an analyst, you're good at asking the right questions to get the answers you require.

  • Organisational skills: Data analysts sift through large amounts of data. Strong organisational skills help you to arrange data in a way that is easy to retrieve and easy to understand.

  • Analytical skills: Analytical and logical thinking are crucial as you interpret the data to find answers, patterns and key trends. Data analysts organise results to present their findings to stakeholders and business leaders. You also provide conclusions, insights and tips to improve business models.

  • Mathematical skills: Advanced mathematical skills are useful when calculating, interpreting and measuring complicated data results. Experience in statistical methodologies and data analysis techniques are also key skills.

  • Interpersonal skills: Data analysts often work as part of a large team and may work directly with managers and members of the executive team to provide tips and recommendations based on their findings.

  • Problem-solving skills: As a data analyst, you usually collect data to find out more about a business system, customer base or an issue the company may require help with. It's important to have strong problem-solving skills to help you identify trends and interpret data to solve issues and problems.
    Leadership and communication skills: Leadership skills help data analysts to think in a strategic way and to communicate why this information is important. Project managers depend on the data to establish valuable metrics for their projects so it's essential for you to be able to explain your findings so they can make data-driven decisions.

  • Computer know-how and technical skills: Some roles require specific knowledge of databases that are unique to the industry you're working with. It's also important to understand how to use SEO, web and keyword analytics when working on a marketing project.

Data analyst training

The usual route to working as a data analyst is to gain a university degree in a relevant discipline, such as:

  • computer science

  • information management

  • mathematics

  • statistics

  • economics

  • business information systems.

You may then study for a postgraduate degree in data science. Your choice of Masters (MSc) subjects may be one of the following:

  • Data Science

  • Big Data

  • Data Science and Analytics

  • Business Analytics

What certifications do you require?

To maintain your understanding and awareness of new practices, tools and techniques in data analysis, it's possible to take short industry specialist courses, either at a university or online. Popular data analyst certifications include:

  • Cloudera: This is useful for understanding coding and offers the Cloudera Certified Associate or CCA Data Analyst certification.

  • Hadoop: Useful for information technology professionals, this is an open-source, Java framework that processes and stores big data.

  • Hortonworks: This is another certification for Hadoop professionals. To qualify as an HDP Certified Administrator (HDPCA), you learn how to ingest, analyse and transform data stored in Hadoop and use tools such as Pig, Hive, Sqoop and Flume.

  • MangoDB: The MongoDB Professional Certification is a good choice for data analysts tasked with building and maintaining MongoDB databases.

  • Programming languages: Computer programming languages such a Python, Structured Query Language (SQL) and SAS software.

It's also possible to further your professional development with business courses, such as project management.

Related: How much does a data analyst make? (with qualifications)

Where do data analysts work?

Data analysts work for a range of different employers. They may work for a financial services firm, a small consumer retail business, a marketing agency or for the public sector. Other examples of data analyst employers include:

  • consultancy firms

  • higher education, universities and educational establishments

  • professional services companies

  • marketing companies

  • telecommunications organisations

  • media organisations

  • governmental departments such as the Civil Service and GCHQ

What's the difference between a data analyst and a data scientist?

The roles of data analyst and data scientist are quite similar, but there are some key differences. Whereas a data analyst uses existing data to establish facts and figures, a data scientist looks at new ways to mine the information to analyse. Data scientists may suggest new methods to capture and analyse data, data analysts report regularly on the data that already exists.

The software and programming languages they use, also vary. Data analysts use SQL (Structured Query Language), statistical software and SAS Analytics Software which helps turn data into business intelligence. Data scientists may spend more time scrubbing and cleaning data. They may also work on creating more automation techniques. Data scientists work on methods to capture data that data analysts then analyse.

How much do data analysts earn?

The average salary for a data analyst is £32,590 per year. The average salary for a data analyst manager is £44,880 per year. Salary varies depending on location, experience and the type of employer. Similar roles within data management may vary widely. The average salary for a data scientist is £48,981 per year. The average salary for an analytics consultant is £48,470 per year.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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