Business intelligence professionals manage data analysis and other critical information to provide a holistic view of business operations. These careers require technical acumen to deliver data-driven business analytics that help companies fix problems and implement more efficient processes.
Potential careers for a business intelligence major include analyst, specialist, consultant, and project manager. Professionals in this field can work in the private or public sectors.
Our guide outlines more information about careers in business intelligence, including job projections and career advancement opportunities. We also highlight common courses and useful publications available in this field.
Why Pursue a Career in Business Intelligence?
Individuals who pursue careers with a business intelligence degree are typically analytical thinkers with a talent for numbers and data collection. These professionals usually work in an office environment and use computers to collect, store, and analyze data to determine the effectiveness of a business.
A career in business intelligence requires an individual to be self-motivated and possess excellent communication skills, as they must report their findings to those with less expertise in this field.
Many companies use business intelligence to reduce costs or find new customers. Business intelligence professionals might work on their own or as part of a team. Some professionals may even advance to managerial positions.
Business Intelligence Career Outlook
Salaries and job outlook data for business intelligence careers vary depending on the location of the job and the level of experience or education of the employee. Readers can find job-specific statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
For example, the BLS reported that cost estimators earned a median salary of $65,250 in 2019, and this field has a projected growth of 9% from 2018-2028. Meanwhile, market research analysts earned a median salary of $63,790 in 2019, and the projected growth for this position is 20%.
The table below shows median annual salary values for common careers for a business intelligence major based on work experience.
|Market Research Analyst||$45,880||$51,490||$56,990||N/A|
|Computer Systems Analyst||$56,120||$59,890||$71,240||$79,490|
Skills Gained With a Business Intelligence Degree
Business intelligence degrees impart a broad set of skills, preparing graduates to thrive in myriad professional settings. Aside from the competencies built through coursework, degree-seekers can hone their knowledge through internships, by joining student clubs and organizations, and by seeking relevant certification programs. Graduates develop many important skills while moving through their programs, including those listed below.
Business intelligence professionals use their analytical skills to sift through large amounts of data, interpret information, and make recommendations about how to proceed. They must know how to analyze many different types of data to work effectively.
- Written and Oral Communication
Individuals in these roles must communicate with stakeholders about complicated and often nuanced information. Therefore, they should know how to write and speak effectively to ensure they do not lose details in translation, which could compromise their reports.
- Attention to Detail
As they review large amounts of information, business intelligence professionals must identify details to help answer questions. They should possess a keen eye for relevant information and know how to stay focused during long hours of analysis and research.
Companies hire analysts to find solutions to issues such as funding shortages, managerial problems, and technology needs. These individuals must take the information provided and draw conclusions to help the company move past its problem and continue growing in a profitable manner.
- Time Management
Analysts may work on an hourly basis, so clients expect them to use their time wisely. The most effective business intelligence professionals know how to stay focused and attuned to their research questions, allowing them to deliver final projects in a timely manner.
Business Intelligence Career Paths
Because the business intelligence field covers such a wide array of disciplines and industries, it is common to find programs that prepare you for specific career paths. For example, some students may feel drawn to working in financial intelligence, while others want to work in the technology or marketing worlds. Whatever your interest, make sure you take the time to find a school that caters to your needs. The paths highlighted below give a glimpse of what's available, but this list is far from exhaustive.
- Data Management
These individuals work more on the technical side of businesses. Coursework delves into areas like data analytics, information mining, and outcome mapping. Learners also cover topics related to analytical reasoning, common database servers, and data-based decision-making.
With so much data available, healthcare organizations look for ways to properly organize, secure, and leverage this information. This career path considers how using healthcare analytics can improve patient outcomes. Coursework typically emphasizes healthcare operations, analytics models, security and ethics, and regulatory considerations.
Students pursuing this line of work learn to help companies run smoothly. They mostly focus on operations for manufacturing and/or service professions, with specific studies in regulatory considerations, managing supply chains, negotiating contracts, and improving financial outcomes.
- International Business
This career path specializes in organizational models, cross-cultural communication, global ethics, and how different types of organizations (e.g., governmental, corporate, and nonprofit) function across the world.
How to Start Your Career in Business Intelligence
Most business intelligence careers require a degree from a postsecondary institution. Market research analysts, financial analysts, and management analysts all need a bachelor's degree to gain an entry-level position. Earning a four-year degree gives graduates the necessary skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the workplace.
Some professionals may earn a master's or doctoral degree, even if the job does not explicitly require one. Advanced degrees look good on resumes and can help candidates stand out in a competitive job market. Professionals can also use a master's or Ph.D. to advance their careers, such as moving from an analyst position into a managerial role.
Bachelor's Degree in Business Intelligence
Bachelor's degrees represent the most common path into a business intelligence career. The curricula of these programs include general education topics, foundational discipline coursework, and several specialization areas. Analyst and consulting roles typically require this degree, as it provides a solid foundation for entry-level jobs or potential graduate study.
Most bachelor's programs require approximately 120 credits and take four years of full-time study to complete. BestColleges provides a guide on business intelligence degree programs at this level to help you with your search.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Business Intelligence?
- Management Analyst
Working with managers, management analysts look for ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness through leadership. After observing an organization and staff, these professionals make recommendations on how to improve outcomes, such as increased income and reduced costs.
- Budget Analyst
Budget analysts help organizations improve their financial situations. They review historical financial data, observe problems, and create solutions to improve organizational spending and revenue creation. They also develop and monitor budgets to make recommendations.
- Financial Analyst
Financial analysts work with public and private businesses and individuals to help them make sound financial investments. They recommend specific investments based on unique organizational/individual factors, monitor economic trends, and create reports with regular updates.
- Market Research Analyst
Whether working in-house or as consultants, market research analysts help companies understand current and future market trends and how these might affect the sale of a product or service. They create market forecasts, review existing marketing plans, learn more about prospective clients, and create actionable and accessible data reports.
- Operations Research Analyst
These professionals work in industries such as business, healthcare, and logistics to help organizations create more streamlined operations procedures. They gather input from employees, review operations and sales data, and speak with customers about their experiences before collating data into an actionable plan.
Master's Degree in Business Intelligence
Individuals seeking roles with more nuanced skill sets often pursue a master's degree. Master's programs in business intelligence usually require two years of full-time study, and many offer specializations. They build on knowledge gained at the bachelor's level and move from foundational studies to advanced learning. Graduates often go on to more senior-level management roles or advanced analyst positions.
If you want to learn additional information about programs at this level, review BestColleges' guides on master's in business intelligence degree programs and top online master's in business intelligence programs.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Business Intelligence?
Economists examine how goods, resources, and services are produced, distributed, and consumed among specific audiences. They collect and analyze this data alongside overarching economic trends and historical data to find ways of improving current trends.
Business intelligence professionals who find themselves drawn to the data and analytics portion of their job may enjoy work as statisticians. These individuals use their advanced knowledge of data analysis and statistical modeling to understand and solve problems in business, healthcare, and other industries.
- Survey Researcher
These professionals design surveys to collect information about particular topics, such as those related to job satisfaction or opinion/perception. They collate these answers and present them to clients.
- Financial Manager
Financial managers ensure a company's overall financial health. They create budgets, monitor spending, produce revenue reports, develop financial projections and reports, stay attuned to market trends, and work with high-level managers to inform the decision-making process. A master's degree is not always required for this position, but it can help candidates stand out.
- Political Scientist
Political scientists use their business intelligence skills to better understand how political systems interact with free economies. They study how shifts in power affect businesses and the roles these trends -- and government in general -- play in business arenas.
Doctorate Degree in Business Intelligence
A doctorate is the most advanced degree available in business intelligence. Program graduates can work in the upper echelons of the field as decision-makers, thought leaders, educators, and cutting-edge researchers -- all of whom help shape the discipline's future.
Most teaching and research positions require a doctorate; individuals aspiring to these roles should keep that in mind as they work their way through school. Most doctoral programs take 3-5 years of full-time study, although this depends on how much time students spend researching and writing their dissertations and completing other graduation requirements. Degree-seekers interested in pursuing a doctoral program should review the jobs below to understand whether this qualification serves their needs.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Business Intelligence?
- Business Professor
These individuals work within colleges and universities to educate the next generation of business intelligence leaders. They prepare lectures, assign projects and exams, advise students on courses, write recommendation letters, and present at academic conferences.
Business intelligence researchers study historic and current data. They look for new ways to analyze data and mine information that might help in these settings. These professionals write reports about their findings and publish them in trade journals or present them at professional conferences.
- Top Executive
Also known as C-level employees, these top-tier professionals lead organizations. They provide guidance to other senior staff, offer strategic planning, meet with industry stakeholders, and -- in some cases -- report to a board of directors.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
How to Advance Your Career in Business Intelligence
One of the best ways professionals can advance their career is by returning to school and earning another degree. However, those with careers in business intelligence can also find other methods of career advancement, such as by pursuing certification, continuing education, and/or networking through professional organizations. These methods typically cost less and take less time than earning another degree.
The following sections discuss a few alternative methods of career advancement. Readers should keep in mind that not all jobs set the same hurdles for advancement. Professionals should research their specific careers or talk to their employers to discover how best to increase their prospects of advancement.
Certifications and/or Licensure
Certification can provide a means for professional advancement. Certifications can offer additional training and skills and keep professionals up-to-date about the technologies and standards of their industry. Some workers in this field -- such as entrepreneurs looking to start their own business intelligence company -- may also need a license.
Professionals should always research potential certification options and ensure they meet the standards for employment in their industry and state of residence.
Financial analysts should consider earning a chartered financial analyst (CFA) certification from the CFA Institute, while management analysts should pursue certified management consultant certification from the Institute of Management Consultants. Additionally, market research analysts can find certification through the Insights Association's professional researcher certification.
Continuing education options include earning a second degree. Some professionals choose to return to college for a master's or a doctorate. Graduate degrees teach advanced and specialized skills, preparing professionals for career advancement after graduation. However, these programs can be expensive and may take several years to complete.
Professionals who want to pursue continuing education without committing to a full degree can take advantage of certificate programs or enroll in massive open online courses (MOOCs). Professional organizations or postsecondary institutions may also offer fellowships at no or minimal cost to the participants.
Certificate programs, special workshops or training, and online courses often require payment from participants. Readers should reach out to their employers to determine if their workplace will cover any professional development expenses.
Professionals in careers that require a business intelligence degree can find many ways to keep their skills sharp and develop new knowledge in their field. Beyond certification and continuing education opportunities, readers should consider other options for professional development.
Networking helps professionals connect with their peers, exchange ideas, and forge relationships that may help with career advancement. Many professional organizations offer networking opportunities for members through conferences and online forums.
Most fields feature an industry-specific professional organization. Readers should investigate options such as the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals and the Digital Analytics Association.
How to Switch Your Career to Business Intelligence
People in business-related or data-driven fields can easily transition to business intelligence. Professionals switching to careers in business intelligence may not need to return to college and earn another degree.
Most business intelligence careers require a bachelor's degree, but many will accept degrees in any business-related field. For example, management analysts might hold a degree in business, finance, marketing, or economics.
While professionals might not need a new degree, they may want to consider earning a certification for their new position or taking some courses in their new field. This provides transitioning workers a better understanding of the skills they need for their new job.
Where Can You Work as a Business Intelligence Professional?
As this guide demonstrates, careers for business intelligence degree graduates can be found in many fields, from business and healthcare to technology and finance. Learners who are still unsure of their target career path can review the common industries below to get a sense of the possibilities.
- Management of Companies and Enterprises
Individuals in these industries serve as C-level professionals who make important decisions about finances, market placement, operations, and budgeting.
- Securities, Commodity Contracts, and Other Financial Investments and Related Activities
Financial analysts, managers, and other finance professionals advise clients on making good decisions with their money.
- Management Consulting
A great fit for individuals who want to work with many different clients, these professionals sharpen their managerial skills and teach leaders to better serve their employees and clients.
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services
Tech-minded individuals often gravitate toward this industry, which allows them to analyze systems and network needs before making recommendations on improvements.
- Local, State, and Federal Government
Government offices at all levels require the expertise of business intelligence professionals to guide questions on spending, revenue, benefits, and employee retention.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Interview With a Professional in Business Intelligence
Justin MacLean -- an independent consultant working in the field of analytics for business -- boasts a background in programming, selling, strategy, and product management.
Justin spent his early career with Oracle, designing and building solutions in enterprise resource planning. He has since worked across sectors, industries, and functions, always with a focus on understanding data and using it to address business problems. He founded InkSpace Analytics in 2018 to produce outcomes with analytics.
- Why did you decide to pursue a career in business intelligence? Was it something you were always interested in?
I've been interested in computers since I was a kid and discovered business intelligence shortly after joining the professional workforce as a consultant working in logistics. I was attracted to the space because it provides a wonderful opportunity to apply technology to real business problems. I was also looking for work that allows for the daily opportunity to learn about new functions, industries, and technologies.
- What do you find to be the most exciting aspect of working in business intelligence?
For me, what's exciting is the ability of business intelligence to guide decisions in real businesses. To me, this is the central objective of the space, and it's not as easy as it looks. Very often, the business objective gets lost as we build the latest "cool" thing, and we wind up with a solution in search of a problem. What's exciting is identifying a problem, then creating a well-matched solution.
- How do you stay up to date with changes in the industry?
First, I do a lot of reading to keep up on information. I find books are great for teaching large concepts and involved or detailed topics. Blogs and newsletters are everywhere online and can be good sources for quick updates on news in the industry. I'm also a big fan of podcasts, which seem to be growing in number and quality.
Second, I put quite a bit of effort into skills development. There is a great deal of free or inexpensive education available online that I make use of. These services are really good for introducing yourself to a new tool, programming language, or business concept. Likewise, many examples of the tools used in business intelligence are open-source, or at least have free trials available, and you can't beat a hands-on experiment to get a handle on something.
- Why did you decide to move into independent consulting? Is this a common career path for individuals in the field?
Yes, it's fairly common, and seems to be following the trend toward the gig economy. Of course, there are also many opportunities doing business intelligence work inside organizations, as well. I have always wanted to start my own business, so the independent route was a good fit for me. It's not as stable as a full-time job would be, but I get to be my own boss.
- What advice would you give to those considering a career in business intelligence?
Make sure that the types of problems we solve in business intelligence are ones that interest you. The best business intelligence professionals are interested in business first. We use technology as a tool to get jobs done. For example, if you would like to spend time helping a leader understand why one sales territory is doing better than all the others, or how one product's profitability compares to others, then a career in business intelligence may be right for you.
There are also a few concepts that I find relevant to almost every task in business intelligence and would definitely recommend understanding.
First, you must understand relational databases. These are the beating heart of virtually every business software application and data warehouse. Once you understand the thinking behind these, you'll have a start toward building insights for your customers. Second, SQL is the ubiquitous language for asking questions and extracting answers from relational databases, so learning it is critical. Third, in your career in business intelligence you will encounter many different applications, database technologies, and software products. Don't get attached to any of them. There will always be a new tool to learn, a new concept to master, a new possibility to consider.
Get good at learning new things. Your career will have longevity, and you can be valuable to businesses for as long as you want to be!
Resources for Business Intelligence Majors
Business intelligence professionals can find many resources for development and continuing education. The sections below offer a brief list of professional organizations that can help your career in business intelligence; examples of free, open courseware; and a description of several professional publications related to the industry.
- Professional Organizations
Association for Financial Professionals: AFP provides training, certifications, an annual conference, regional roundtables, career development, discussion boards, a podcast, career coaches, resume services, and online profile development.
American Association of Finance and Accounting: Founded in 1978, AAFA supports executives in these industries by providing job postings, local affiliates in more than 40 American cities, career advancement opportunities, and a regularly updated blog.
International Institute of Business Analysis: Members of IIBA can take advantage of business analysis membership services, numerous certifications, global thought leadership, local chapters, an annual conference, a career center, business analysis competency models, best practices, and a knowledge center.
Institute of Management Consultants: For over 50 years, IMCUSA has served management professionals by providing local and national events, continuing education opportunities, career support, certification, mentorship opportunities, seminars and webinars, networking opportunities with more than 10,000 members, and online chat rooms.
The Society of Professional Consultants: The SPC helps individual consultants grow and scale their businesses by providing opportunities for networking, mentoring programs, continuing education, monthly meet-ups in Boston, nationwide events, and consultant directories.
- Open Courseware
Analyzing and Visualizing Data: With Power BI - Davidson College: This course teaches students to use Power BI -- a business analytics tool created by Microsoft. The program lasts four weeks and focuses on working with and visualizing data. Students learn to import and prepare data, identify types and trends within data, and prepare reports by synthesizing information.
Database Management Essentials: University of Colorado: Students learn to create databases, satisfy business reporting requests, and analyze table designs and databases for redundancies. Online learners can complete this course in about 42 hours. The program teaches students to use Oracle, MySQL, and ER Assistant to create and manage their databases.
Data Warehouse Concepts, Design, and Data Integration - University of Colorado: This course teaches students how to manage large sets of data in a data warehouse environment. The program uses Microstrategy's online analytical processing and visualization capacities. Students can complete the course in about 23 hours. Online learners focus on building business reporting and analytical processing skills.
Business Intelligence: Concepts, Tools, and Applications - University of Colorado: This program takes about 25 hours for students to complete. The course shows students how business intelligence technology and data gathering can affect the decision-making process across industries.
Business Intelligence Journal: Created by Transforming Data with Intelligence (TDWI), this quarterly publication focuses on business intelligence tools and data warehousing solutions. The data-driven journal helps data management and analytics professionals across industries. Only TDWI members may access the publication. Professionals may become a member on TDWI's website.
Analytics Magazine: This publication covers new trends and technologies in the world of business intelligence. Created by the Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences, the magazine offers information about analytics, reviews of software, and in-depth dives into topics like the evolution of pricing. Professionals may subscribe to the magazine online.
Successful Business Intelligence by Cindi Howson: Written by a business intelligence analyst, this book uses real-world examples to illustrate how business intelligence can shape industries. Readers learn about the best strategies employed by successful companies. The book also explains how to craft winning strategies to meet diverse needs and goals in business.
Business Intelligence Guidebook by Rick Sherman: This book explores business intelligence theory and teaches readers how to apply those theories in the real world. The author offers practical solutions for common business intelligence problems and includes a companion website with more references.
Big Data in Practice by Bernard Marr: This book offers real-world examples of business intelligence in action. The author explores big-name companies and how they successfully implement different business intelligence strategies. The book delves into the problems that companies seek to overcome with business intelligence and the challenges that might impede progress.
Business Intelligence Roadmap by Larissa T. Moss and Shaku Atr: This book lays out the strategies for implementing business intelligence procedures in a step-by-step progression for professionals at the start of their careers. The book walks readers through every stage, from concept to deployment of business intelligence strategies. It also includes references and helpful tools.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is business intelligence a good major?
Earning a business intelligence degree can lead to many careers in data analytics and consulting in the private and public sectors. Students can even use this major to enter other business-related career paths, such as marketing, finance, or management. Business intelligence majors develop important critical thinking and data analysis skills.
- What is the average salary for a business intelligence degree?
The salaries for business intelligence careers vary depending on factors like location, job title, and level of experience. However, the BLS found that market research analysts earned a median annual salary of $63,790 in 2019, while management analysts earned $85,260. Readers can access BLS data for specific jobs online.
- What you can do with a business intelligence degree?
A business intelligence degree allows graduates to pursue many different business-related careers. Some students might choose to work as market research analysts or financial analysts, while others might go into consulting or management. Business intelligence teaches vital skills in critical thinking and data analysis, which translate across jobs and industries.
- How do you start a career in business intelligence?
Most careers in business intelligence require a bachelor's degree. Readers interested in business intelligence should research business intelligence bachelor's programs. However, a bachelor's degree in business, economics, finance, or a related field can provide enough training and knowledge for graduates to enter the field of business intelligence.