As a child, Dr. Jeffrey Bohler would cut out articles from magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics and paste them onto note cards. He would then enthusiastically share the information he collected with his friends and family.
“I guess I was a little bit of a geek or nerd long before those words were more generally used,” says Dr. Bohler. “I’d share those notes with my friends and ask, ‘Did you know about this?’ and ‘Did you know about that?’”
Dr. Bohler didn’t realize it at the time, but this youthful dedication to researching and capturing information and sharing knowledge was the start of a lifelong passion. His childhood efforts would develop into the analytics skills and expertise he now shares with his students as an Associate Professor in the bachelor’s degree program in global business with a concentration in data analytics at TROY.
What is Data Analytics?
As Dr. Bohler explains, data analytics is the science of analyzing data and extracting meaningful information that can be used to make better decisions in an organization. This is something we all start doing from an early age.
“In the beginning, we all have questions about how the world works,” says Dr. Bohler. “We want to know why the sky is blue or why we are smaller than our parents. So we start looking at the world around us and gathering, summarizing and analyzing data in a very informal way. That data becomes information; when we put it in context with other information we have collected, perhaps from school or other experiences, it becomes knowledge.”
While this knowledge has the potential to be useful, it only becomes beneficial when put into practice.
“People say that knowledge is power, but I kind of disagree with that,” says Dr. Bohler. “Knowledge is potential power, but it only becomes powerful when it is actually used. We all know how to save for retirement or how to lose weight, but knowing something and doing something about it are different things. When that knowledge is put into play, it becomes experience. From that experience, we learn about what parts of that knowledge are relevant and applicable and become wiser. We can then ask better questions, gather more relevant data and create more useful information.”
Dr. Bohler explains that almost every human activity produces data of some sort. This data provides a valuable resource to the businesses that seek to market and sell their products and services to us.
“Everything we do involves systems and processes,” says Dr. Bohler. “We buy and sell things; we eat, we travel, we watch TV, we surf the internet, we listen to music. With all this activity taking place, global businesses are drowning in data and they increasingly rely on people with good analytics skills to inform organizational decision-making.”
It’s the data analyst’s job to translate the data into actionable — and profitable — business intelligence.
“Jobs in data science are in such high demand globally because, in a competitive market, companies want to do whatever it is they do better, faster and cheaper,” says Dr. Bohler. “They’ll also want to use this data to understand where they were wasting resources. When I talk about resources, the ones that we traditionally discuss are people, time and money.”
Data can also help an organization manage risk. While Dr. Bohler suggests that predictive analytics can go a long way to reducing the exposure to the risk involved in managing an international business, for instance, he also warns that it does not completely eradicate it.
“If we only had perfect data, we would never make bad decisions,” says Dr. Bohler. “The reality is, we are never going to have 100% of all the relevant data. Most leaders are probably happy enough to make a decision with about 80% of the information they need — less than that, and it becomes a bit of a gamble. You cannot decide on expanding a business’s operations into China or India, or opening a new branch in South America, based on a coin toss.”
Using Data to Identify Problems and Solutions
The first step a data analyst will take is to identify and evaluate potential business problems and opportunities. They often start this process by using tools like The Five Ws and H: Who, What, Why, When, Where, and How.
“We ask questions like, ‘Whose problem is this?’ ‘How long has it been a problem?’ ‘When did we first detect this as a problem?’ ‘Why is this a problem?’” says Dr. Bohler. “Those questions can help us start understanding the problem.”
Dr. Bohler explains that developing a more in-depth understanding is important because, as humans, we typically tend to want to go straight from a problem to an answer. This knee-jerk reaction can expose a global business to unacceptable risk.
“We often jump to a conclusion and come up with a response before we really understand it,” says Dr. Bohler. “A lot of times, we end up just addressing the symptoms and not the real problem. These symptoms are revealed because we haven’t taken the time to go back and understand the real problem. Fix the problem at the root, and all the symptoms will go away along with our need for ‘duct tape’ solutions.”
The second step in the process is to analyze the problem.
“This is where the data analyst’s analytics skills come into play,” says Dr. Bohler. “They’ll research the problem, gathering and analyzing all the relevant data, develop an understanding of the various problems and opportunities facing their organization and use this knowledge to identify solutions.”
Analysts use their critical thinking skills to develop alternative solutions to solving a problem or maximizing an opportunity. Presenting alternatives enables business leaders to make data-driven decisions — informed decisions about optimizing strategies and outcomes based on immediate and ongoing needs and available resources.
“This requires an understanding of the systems and processes of our organizations,” says Dr. Bohler. “We need to develop at least three alternatives, looking at time, money and quality. These can be traded against each other. If you want a cheap solution, right now, it’s probably not going to be a very good one. If you want a quality solution tomorrow — bring some money because it’s going to cost you. If you want the best quality solution and can take all the time in the world, it might not cost you as much.”
Analysts will also have to take into account issues relating to society and culture. This is particularly true in relation to the international management of global business.
“All business is global now if you think about it,” says Dr. Bohler. “A perfectly good solution in the United States may fall on deaf ears in the UK because of its culture and history. Things like privacy regulations might be different from country to country and impact the way analysts handle data. Analysts must be sensitive to the needs of local cultures and laws. We are very big at TROY about global and international education, and we teach our students that their competition and customers are located globally.”
Data analysis does not bring a magic answer to every problem. Occasionally, analysts might not be able to find a new or workable solution; sometimes, the data may reveal that there is a problem, but that the solution should wait — for now.
“Maybe the solution is the status quo — we just have to live with it,” says Dr. Bohler. “Or maybe the solution to the problem is a million dollars, and it’s only a $100,000 problem. You are not going to spend a million dollars to solve a $100,000 problem. You’ll just say, ‘OK, let’s see if we can revisit this in a year and solve it better.’”
The third step in the data analysis process is communication. Once the analyst has researched and understood a problem, analyzed the data, developed and evaluated several alternative solutions, it’s their job to effectively communicate their findings to the organization’s relevant decision-makers by writing concise and clear business reports.
“Your management may or may not agree with your recommendations,” says Dr. Bohler. “However, they are going to appreciate that you went through that process and actually thought about it. You didn’t just give them an answer to a problem. You went through the proper due diligence and showed that you understood the real implications of a decision.”
Following the implementation of a decision, project management kicks in, looking at issues such as maintaining project scope, budget and timelines. Finally, there is a review process.
“You have to review,” says Dr. Bohler. “Did we effectively address this problem or take advantage of this opportunity? In this review, we are auditing and gathering more data, doing the analysis, and then deciding if we have to repeat the process to ensure success.”
Data Analytics Jobs
Not surprisingly, given the importance that data analytics plays in any organization’s health and success, data skills are in hot demand in the workplace. Professionals with good analytics skills are increasingly being sought out by companies and organizations that deal with lots of data to analyze or who want to use data to inform better decision-making. This data may come from point-of-sale and marketing activities, but it is also increasingly coming from other departments like human resources.
“Pretty much every department may need some type of data analytics,” says Dr. Bohler.
Dr. Bohler explains that as technology becomes more of a utility delivered via the cloud, companies are increasingly turning to data analytics to optimize their use of that technology. In some cases, companies are even developing their own data analytics branches.
“Technology has now gotten to the point where most people have the technology that they need,” says Dr. Bohler. “It’s how they are using that technology where the competitive advantage comes in. So instead of maybe having their own technology department, they are going to have an analytics division starting up where they’ll manage all the analytic projects of the various departments within a company.”
This shift to data analytics creates fantastic opportunities for many entry-level jobs in data science for graduates from TROY’s bachelor’s program. According to Dr. Bohler, typical entry-level jobs include data analysts, data specialists, business analysts, program analysts and data quality analysts.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, data analysts can expect to earn a median salary of $81,810 per year; with the sector expected to grow by 25% (compared to an average of just 4% across all fields) in the next decade, the outlook for job stability is good.
Dr. Bohler suggests that job opportunities in Alabama are typically centered in big cities like Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile. Dr. Bohler also highlights the tech hubs on the West Coast as being particularly attractive for the program’s graduates. Global markets such as India and China are also increasingly looking to fill large numbers of data analytics jobs, making the program increasingly popular with international students.
Dr. Bohler warns his students that careers in data science come with a commitment to lifelong learning.
“I tell my students that I have no idea what they are going to be doing in 10 years,” says Dr. Bohler. “What they will be doing when they are my age — they don’t even have a name for it yet. You will have to learn, unlearn, and relearn throughout your life if you want to be involved in information technology. The jobs you do and the value you bring to companies are going to be constantly changing.”
Developing an understanding of how the various departments work in a business and how they will increasingly call on people with good analytics skills to solve ever more complex problems is vital. Dr. Bohler believes this is an area where TROY excels, giving graduates the competitive advantage they need in the global business environment.
“We have a very good blend between the analytics side of the house and those other business disciplines,” says Dr. Bohler. “We spend a lot of time learning about the needs of the sales and marketing departments, management teams, and human resources, so students really understand a lot about how business works.”
If you like the idea of using analytics skills to solve complex problems and inform the organizational decision-making process of global business organizations, a career in data science may be the right fit for you. To learn more about how TROY’s bachelor’s degree in global business with a concentration in data analytics could help you achieve your goal, visit the Data Analytics program page on our website.
Illustration by Madelyn Flanagan ©2021 Troy University