data analytics vs business analyticsIf you look at data-related job postings right now, you’ll see companies using “data analytics” and “business analytics” in different ways (sometimes even within the same ad).

Because data science fields are relatively new, jostling is still taking place when it comes to terms like “data analytics,” “business analytics,” “data science,” “business intelligence,” and so on. As a result, professionals and employers who want to become more data driven are sometimes unsure whether a data analytics program or a business analytics program is better for upskilling.

Luckily, we’re here to help—and we brought in an expert. Professor Alan Montgomery is program head of the Tepper online Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA). He has spent considerable time deciding what goes into the business analytics curriculum and how that degree stands apart from one in data analytics.

In this article, we’ll look at some similarities and key differences between the two areas. We’ll also talk about what you can do with a master’s in business analytics compared to a master’s in data analytics.

Data Analytics and Business Analytics Compared

Data analytics professionals and business analytics professionals both use data to make more accurate decisions by employing statistics and software tools.

Students in either degree program get hands-on experience with analysis techniques such as multiple regression and logistic regression, as they learn how to find critical patterns within datasets.

Other areas of overlap include:

  • Courses: Both master’s in data analytics programs and master’s in business analytics programs include machine learning, statistics and data visualization courses.
  • Applications: Data analysts and business analysts both use applications like Excel and Tableau.
  • Languages: Professionals in both fields need to be comfortable using R and Python.
  • Technical ability: While some might assume that data analytics would be more technical, the two areas require about the same level of technical ability.

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How is a Data Analytics Master’s Program Different From a Business Analytics Master’s Program?

The main difference comes down to context and content.

A data analytics degree teaches students how to turn raw data into insights. A business analytics degree has a similar goal but is more focused around business; it teaches students how to turn raw data into a competitive advantage for an organization.

Schools like Tepper design their MSBA curriculums so that all courses tie back to business decisions. In contrast, a data analytics degree may have one dedicated business analytics course or a handful of related courses like finance or operations.

“In a data analytics program, you’re not likely to see content addressing, ‘how do I develop the right investment strategy?’ Or, ‘how do I improve my promotional strategy using data?’ Or, ‘how do I use LinkedIn data to hire and retain specific employees?’” said Montgomery.

There are other key differences:

  • A data analyst may work with a wider variety of data, such as data collected from an astronomy lab or images from MRIs. Business analysts focus on information that has a business purpose, such as data collected from sales reports or customer feedback.
  • MSBA coursework emphasizes leadership and communication skill development so that analysts can convey results and get buy-in from managers or clients.
  • The current job outlook and average salary for business analytics professionals are stronger than for data analytics professionals. The labor database site reports that business/management analysts are more in demand by 5% and they make almost 8% more than data/data mining analysts.

Is One Degree More Difficult Than the Other?

Notice that “level of difficulty” isn’t on the list differences above: “For those that are thinking that business analytics is watered down from data analytics or data science, that’s not the case,” Montgomery explained.

Whether a particular degree is going to challenge you and push you to develop the very best of your abilities comes down to the quality of the program itself.

“At Tepper, our MSBA program is very rigorous,” Montgomery said. “You’ll get the same skill set that you would get at other leading machine learning, AI, data science and data analytics programs. The main difference is that we think about how you’re going to use those skills to solve business problems.”

Who Can Benefit from a Data Analytics Master’s?

You want to be a generalist who switches industries.
Because data analytics does not have a business focus, these programs are more likely to equip you with a broad, general toolkit of technical knowledge. A data analyst may spend time in financial services, then move to a job at an astronomy research lab, and then jump to the pharmaceutical industry.

If you need the flexibility of being able to completely change industries, you may want to consider a data analytics degree.

You are part of a large organization that wants you to focus on data, not decisions.
Some employees need to increase their technical abilities without spending time on leadership, communication or problem-solving skills. This might apply to those working at companies with substantial data teams that have separate, specialized roles.

This may also include highly experienced managers who don’t want coursework that includes accounting, finance, operations and marketing, and instead only want to focus on analytics.

Who Can Benefit from a Business Analytics Master’s?

You know that a better understanding of business can boost your career.
Understanding the theories and best practices that drive business gives you a better sense of how to add value to your organization. Think of it like training on a new system: you learn the specific language and structures of the environment and that allows you to get better results.

If the thought of taking “business classes” gives you pause, Montgomery said to consider this: “Think about who’s going to be employing you. Oftentimes, the companies hiring you are focused on commerce. So even though you might not have an interest in business, your employer is in business, and it’s likely that they’ll want you to have some knowledge and skills to aid them in their decision-making process.”

Many of the problems data scientists may be asked to solve require business acumen. For example, being able to optimize shipping routes, identifying tax fraud, or developing a digital ad campaign are all data analytics tasks that focus on business. Instead of trying to learn the business context during the project, an MS in Business Analytics can prepare you before the analysis begins.

One of the benefits of this education is that you can appreciate which type of business problems are well suited for analytical methods.

You want to have a say in your organization’s decision-making processes.
Employers admire business analytics professionals for their problem-solving abilities. They know that when a business analyst or senior analyst contributes to the discussion, they bring sound, data-backed advice to the table.

This is especially true for organizations that are starting up or newly launching their analytics teams.

“They are going to want the people to be able to dig in immediately on the problems. Having knowledge of the business environment is going to be really critical to create value,” explained Montgomery.

Deciding Between a Data Analytics Degree and a Business Analytics Degree

Ultimately, anyone weighing the two degrees needs to think most about their career goals. If you think that you’ll end up in a business environment, a master’s in business analytics will be the best path for you.

One more thing to consider as you look forward in your career is the prospect of automation. While tools like algorithms and AI have made data professionals more productive and allowed them to focus on big-picture thinking, there are worries that we are training our digital assistants to become our replacements. That’s why those still distinctly human skills, like creativity, critical thinking, teamwork and interpersonal communication, are more important than ever.

About Tepper’s Online MS in Business Analytics

If you want to develop skills that will keep you competitive in your career, the online Master of Science in Business Analytics from the Tepper School of Business provides a potent combination of front-line technological expertise and in-depth business domain knowledge.

Our students obtain robust, practical experience that they can immediately put to work. They also gain access to one of the best-ranked career services centers in the world, where career advisors provide outstanding one-on-one coaching.

U.S. News & World Report ranks the Tepper School of Business #2 for business analytics and Carnegie Mellon University #26 overall, meaning that employers take notice when they see a CMU degree.

Explore a comprehensive MSBA curriculum that encompasses data visualization, machine learning and optimization, large-scale data management and more.