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What is a data warehouse analyst?

Data warehouses aren't a new part of the data pipeline, but analyst roles to manage the repository are increasing. Here's a look at the role and responsibilities.

The words analyst and data warehouse are not typically used in the same sentence. The data warehouse analyst is an emerging role on the data team that helps connect big data and business. And the job has become more important over the last five years as companies strive for more data-driven decisions.

"They can connect departments, make them more efficient and drive better business results if done correctly," said Joe Van Tassel, managing principal at Integress, a technical recruiting service.

Van Tassel said companies often adopt data warehouse analysts as a liaison between business stakeholders and IT. Sometimes the job description requests someone to work directly with business stakeholders to understand their needs and organize and create models to answer their questions. In other cases, the role is more internally focused on the data.

Make faster decisions

"Without the data warehouse analyst, other roles aren't able to make decisions as quickly and effectively as possible," said Elaine Katz, IT data analyst II at Comporium, a telecommunications company.

She has found that business users don't just want reports, they want reports that are verified and looked at before they get them. In some cases, Katz's team receives requests for something that will not really solve their problem or answer their question.

Digging into what they're looking for and what they're going to use the information for helps to create a better, more informative report that cuts straight to the point. Otherwise, business users may end up with large, broad reports. This means they must whittle down the information and recombine it, hoping the different pieces are all referring to the same information.

"If the person doesn't understand what the differences are in the background, they will report on invalid information," Katz said.

Eliminate redundant efforts

Data warehouses are becoming more complex as they expand across legacy and new data sources.

"Data warehouse analysts help bridge the gap between the complexities of these large data sets and the business itself," said Craig Kelly, vice president of analytics at Syntax, a cloud ERP provider.

A data warehouse analyst can create, maintain and expand use and consumption of data within data warehouses, removing barriers that would otherwise prohibit business users from accessing necessary data.

Although most companies have Excel-savvy employees who can get by with extensive spreadsheets, that is not scalable or cost-effective. A data warehouse can consolidate data that helps uncover valuable business insights in a high-integrity, high-performance manner that helps to eliminate redundant efforts across data consumers.

Different from traditional database analysts

Paul Scott-Murphy, CTO at WANdisco, a cloud data migration service, said specializations of traditional data analyst roles are inevitable with the growth of data warehouses. As the enterprise data warehouse expands, the skill sets needed to feed them, manage schemas and their evolution, and translate data-driven business requirements to analytics are increasingly in demand. 

The key difference with traditional database analyst roles is that the data warehouse analyst fulfills a different function to application-specific data sets used by transactional systems. In addition, modern approaches to data intelligence have changed with the emergence of machine learning and AI capabilities.

Keeping the swamps at bay

Early data warehouse projects sometimes became data swamps or data silos due to the lack of best practices, said Ravi Hulasi, chief cloud evangelist at Tamr, a master data management platform. A data warehouse analyst can set up data crawlers and catalogs to help teams understand the usability of data assets for new projects.

Hulasi often sees data warehouse analysts working alongside system analysts, database administrators, data engineers and other IT roles on the tech side. Their internal customer is often an operations engineer, data scientist or business analyst. These customers rely on the warehouse analyst for insights into how data fits their needs.

Taming data sprawl

A data warehouse analyst can also help organizations mitigate the explosion of data growth as organizations capture and combine data in new ways. Rebecca Kelly, technical evangelist at Kx, an operational intelligence platform used in financial trading, has seen many organizations underestimate the way data can spawn more data.

Kelly said the biggest value of data warehouse analysts is simplifying the process of capturing the data needed to answer business questions such as how to improve the trade lifecycle. For example, data warehouse analysts could set up a data warehouse to capture the entry and exit times for trades within internal applications so bottlenecks could be identified for improvement in a financial trading situation.

Skills and responsibilities

At the minimum, a data warehouse analyst job description includes skills around databases, ETL tools, BI tools and statistics. Some companies may also look for candidates familiar with specific modern data warehousing technologies and analytics tools.

Many data warehouse analysts find themselves as the primary owner of one or more data warehouses internally. Kelly said typical responsibilities include ensuring the security, integrity and access to this data within the organization. They also prepare reports and analyses using this data for the business.

Data warehouse analysts are also responsible for planning, executing and managing how the data sets an organization has access to are collected, managed, analyzed and mined, Scott-Murphy said. All of this must be in support of business requirements, so they play a role between the business and developers to interpret, evaluate and guide what can be done with data.

An excellent data warehouse analyst understands what the business needs to achieve, how data can help reach those goals and how technology can be employed to those ends.

"An exceptional data warehouse analyst looks beyond the boundaries of their organization and their organization's data to influence and expand the limits of what is possible," Scott-Murphy said.

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