I've been helping with an initiative to establish a Data Analysis Special Interest Group where our focus will be on providing our consultants engaged in Data Analyst roles with the necessary, tools, tips, and techniques to help them succeed. As I was doing some research, I came across this blog published back in 2004, and I was surprised to find the content and questions as still being relevant. The blog is titled: "A Data Analyst's Typical Day". Even though it had been almost a decade since the blog was published, it's interesting to see the ambiguity in the role/title of 'Data Analyst' still exists, as evident in the variety of comments posted by readers.
In my 10+ years of experience as an IT Consultant, I've been engaged on projects in various Analyst roles such as Business Analyst, Systems Analyst, QA/Test Analyst, and Data Analyst. One thing I've noticed is that such titles carry different job descriptions across various industries, and I doubt if anyone can find two companies which have a consistent definition of the duties/responsibilities of a Data Analyst. Fortunately, for Business Analysts, Systems Analysts, QA/Test Analysts, there are governing bodies and industry established norms for those roles as defined by the IIBA, ISO, ISTQB, etc. In my experience, I've seen the Data Analyst role vary the most, with the most significant difference being between the FTE Data Analyst at a company vs the IT Consultant contracted to temporary fill a Data Analyst role.
Though a full-time employee may be staffed as a 'Data Analyst', their roles can be geared more towards routine maintenance operations in a steady-state cycle; perhaps providing analysis or reporting on a daily, weekly, monthly, or any other incremental frequency. However, a Data Analyst role for an IT Consultant can involve gathering requirements for a BI Report or ETL Interface Implementation project, for which one would need to document the source-to-target data mapping along with all of the logical and physical names of the fields with their specific data types and field lengths. This would be one of the most essential deliverables a Data Analyst can provide. It can be stored in a repository for knowledge management to be leveraged as a training resource, and it is to be referenced by the architect and/or developer of the BI Report or ETL interface being implemented.
In the traditional sense of requirements gathering, this would typically be a role filled by a Business Analyst, however engaging a Data Analyst, having a fundamental technical understanding of Data Architecture, may prove to be an optimal-fit since they often find themselves developing data dictionaries, mappings, and models. Also, in environments where Data Governance is established, they can be engaged as Data Stewards defining, observing and enforcing the principles and best practices set in place. Additionally, when the scope of the project itself is Data-centric, like Big Data implementations, the demand for Data Analysts continues to grow as well. Given the positive momentum in this growing field, many have even attempted to define the specific credentials for a Big Data Analyst.
It is very interesting how different job descriptions are for the same title of ‘Data Analyst' across different companies and various industries. However, if you are an IT Consultant staffed on project in any ‘Data Analyst' type of role, you will have hopefully gained some insight into what to possibly anticipate.