Over the last few years, there has been a major increase in the demand for data analysts, in fact, a number of studies have predicted that data analysts will be one of the most sought after professionals of the future. We are going to explore why there is such a demand for data analysts, what led to the rise in this demand, and what the future looks like for data analysts.
What is a data analyst?
Before delving into the reasons these professionals are in such demand, we should first explore what exactly a data analyst is. If you are an analyst, you will know this, but this explanation could help you if you are considering the profession or looking to hire an analyst.
Data analysts collect, clean and interpret existing data sets. They then use this data to answer questions or solve problems. Analysts typically work with structured data from a single source and provide historical analysis to help organizations and businesses pursue data-driven decision making.
Some examples of questions or problems data analysts will aim to answer are;
- What should be our #1 focus right now? Next quarter? Next year?
- What are the biggest threats to growth and scalability?
- How effective are our onboarding programs? Training programs?
- What do employees who leave within 1-2 years have in common?
The key skills that a data analyst should have are an understanding of statistics, good communication, being able to think critically, the ability to visualize data and a good understanding of business strategy.
This is a role that can be hugely beneficial to any organization, but how did we arrive at a place where this role is possible and why is there now such a high demand for data analysts?
The rise in the use of technology
Over the last 30 years, we have seen rapid growth in the use of technology and the interconnectivity of various devices. Not that long ago, many jobs were possible without computers and daily internet connection; now industries could crumble if you removed the internet.
Data is easier to collect
This rise in technology has led to a huge advancement in the way that data can be collected with a plethora of devices from smartphones, to laptops, wearable smart devices, gaming devices, and building controls constantly collecting user and usage information. There are also other data collection methods such as loyalty cards, apps, search engines, online services, and other software that has become irrevocably integrated into daily life in recent decades. All of these items are interconnected and provide analysts with loads of useful and relevant information to analyse and interpret.
Additionally, more organizations are able to collect and tap into the data that is available to them from employees and customers. In fact, if an organization fails to do so it may fall behind its competitors.
Data is easier to Access
The increase in the use of technology has not only led to a great need for data but also to better access to data. There are now a multitude of data collection tools and services available to organizations, allowing access to far more data even if it is not directly collected by the organization itself. This access enables stakeholders to make better data-driven decisions.
The problem is, just because we can access a mountain of data that does not mean we will be able to use it to make the right decisions. Data-driven decisions only work if we understand data, and that is where data analysts are needed. This is why organizations are now always on the hunt for data analysts, they have the data collection tools and the data but they need someone to correctly interpret that data.
Data-driven decision making
Leaders are aware that making decisions is tough, using data to guide them takes away a lot of the emotion and pressure surrounding hard decisions. Taking advantage of the facts, metrics and data to guide business decisions empowers everyone within the organization to make better decisions with less uncertainty. This makes it easier for businesses to achieve their goals and objectives while being able to implement the correct initiatives within the business. Ultimately, using data to back up any decision is simply better for business. It has also become standard and the benchmark for how decisions should be made and how businesses can drive improvement.
This increased demand for data-driven decision making is one of the leading factors in the increased demand for data analysts. Every business and organization wants an analyst that can dissect data, turn it into something comprehensible, and provide directives for how it can be used to guide decisions.
Rising customer expectations
Customers are also now aware of the amount of data organizations can collect and analyze, and with that their expectations have increased. Customers are happy to share their data but want businesses to use it effectively to understand their needs and to treat them as individuals.
Companies now have access to data that can help them attain what their customers want. However, the data needs to be correctly understood and that is where an analyst is handy. Businesses want to understand their customers better and a data analyst helps achieve that understanding. This rising customer expectation as well as a more competitive, increasingly online and data-driven marketplace has led to an increased demand for data analysts.
The future for data analytics professionals
While there has been an increased demand for data analysts over the last few years, it is also key to think about how the future of the profession may look and to consider questions like; how will COVID-19 have affected the demand for data analysts? Or; What skills will data analysts need to have in the future?
How the financial impact of COVID-19 will affect the demand for data analysts
The pandemic has affected and disrupted economies and industries the world over. Some industries have seen a boom while many others have been decimated financially. The future demand for data analysts could be affected by this in a number of ways:
The demand could increase if there is a good return on investment
There could be a further increase in demand for data analysts, however, this depends on a few factors. If the use of analysts has shown a great return on investment then organizations will more likely look to analysts even more now. They may look to analysts to help them navigate a new data space and predict ever-changing consumer demands. The pandemic has complicated data and the need for good decisions and agility in the face of uncertainty is at an all-time high. Using data to drive decision making could simplify what decisions to make, and high-quality data analysts can help this.
The demand could decrease if there is no budget for hiring new staff
Secondly, budgets will be a determining factor. Most businesses will understand the need for a data analyst as we come out of the pandemic, however, they may simply not have the budget to employ data analysts. This could result in a decreased demand for analysts.
How has demand for data scientists been affected thus far by the pandemic?
During 2020, most industries saw a massive decrease in the number of job postings, however, job postings for data analytics and science jobs decreased at a slower rate. We are still seeing the fallout from the pandemic but hopefully as economies start to recover there should be a continued demand for data analysts.
What skills will data analysts need for the future?
From what we can tell, there will still be a huge demand for data analysts post-pandemic and so data analysts are going to need to prepare themselves for the new demands businesses will put on them. Analysts will naturally still need to be able to use SQL, Python, Machine learning, Excel, etc. However, there are a few key skills that will be needed to set an analyst apart:
- Adaptability – Analysts will need to be able to work with massive changes to data and be able to work under the pressure of daily needs.
- Critical thinking – Data analysis will require a much deeper look and contextual understanding post-pandemic which analysts will need to be able to do using their critical thinking.
- Excellent communication skills – Most people are confused when presented with new data sets; analysts will need to be able to communicate exactly what they are seeing and how this should affect decisions. The analyst will need to bring calm in a room of confusion, this will require good communication.
- The ability to cope under pressure – Recovering financially from a pandemic is stressful. Analysts will need to be able to handle pressure to best help their organization use data to guide their recovery process.
Analysts will need to focus on continual improvement, improving their knowledge and their people management skills as well as their understanding of how their specific field or market operates. To improve these skills, analysts should focus on upskilling through data analysis short courses, look at strategies to improve their management skills and constantly stay up-to-date with the industry.
The increased demand for data analysts has been influenced by the rise in the use of technology, greater access to data, rising customer expectations and the need for better data-driven decisions. The pandemic has since influenced this demand, which is yet to be seen whether that is increasing it further or decreasing it. What is clear is that data analysts are still in demand and need to be able to provide excellent analysis and communicate this clearly in the future to best guide business decisions.