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What is a data warehouse analyst?

Data warehouse analysts help organizations manage the repositories of analytics data and use them effectively. Here's a look at the role and its responsibilities.

The terms data warehouse and analyst typically aren't used together in the same sentence. But the data warehouse analyst is an emerging role on data management teams that helps connect data assets and the business. And the job has become more important in recent years as organizations strive to make more data-driven business decisions.

Companies often adopt data warehouse analysts as a liaison between business stakeholders and IT and analytics teams, said Joe Van Tassel, managing principal at Integress, a recruiting and executive search firm. "They can connect departments, make them more efficient and drive better business results if done correctly," he said.

Sometimes a data warehouse analyst job description seeks someone to work directly with business users to understand their information needs and create analytical data models to answer their questions. In other cases, the role is more internally focused on the data in a warehouse.

Different than traditional database analysts

Specialization of traditional database roles was inevitable with the growth of data warehouses, said Paul Scott-Murphy, CTO at cloud data migration platform vendor WANdisco. As enterprise data warehouses expand, the skill sets needed to feed data into them, manage schemas and translate data-driven business requirements into BI and analytics applications are increasingly in demand, he said. 

The key difference from regular database analysts is that data warehouse ones don't work directly on application-specific data sets used by transactional systems as part of business operations. Instead, they manage sets of transactional data that are often pulled together from multiple business applications and then cleansed, consolidated and loaded into a data warehouse for analysis.

Here's how data warehouse analysts can benefit organizations, along with information on their responsibilities and the key skills they need to be successful.

Enable faster and more-informed business decisions

"Without the data warehouse analyst, other roles aren't able to make decisions as quickly and effectively as possible," said Elaine Katz, data analyst III and project manager at Comporium, a telecommunications company that operates in South Carolina and North Carolina.

Katz said she has found that business users don't just want reports, they want ones that are looked at and verified by an analyst before being delivered to them. In some cases, she added, that's a crucial step because her team receives requests for something that won't really solve the problem or answer the question that users are trying to address.

Digging into what they're looking for and what they plan to do with the information helps the team create a better, more informative report that cuts straight to the point, Katz said. Otherwise, business users may end up with large, overly broad reports that require them to whittle down the data and recombine it, hoping the different pieces all refer to the same information.

That increases the possibility of data analysis errors. "If the person doesn't understand what the differences are in the background, they will report on invalid information," Katz said.

Help eliminate redundant data efforts

Although most companies have Excel-savvy employees who can get by with extensive spreadsheets, that isn't scalable or cost effective. A data warehouse consolidates data to help uncover valuable business insights in a high-integrity, high-performance manner that eliminates redundant efforts by different end users.

But 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 managed cloud provider for ERP applications.

A data warehouse analyst can create and maintain data sets and expand the use and consumption of data within data warehouses by removing barriers that would otherwise prohibit business users from accessing necessary data -- and maybe drive them back to their individual spreadsheets.

Keep data silos and chaos at bay

Early data warehouses sometimes became data silos or chaotic jumbles of data due to a lack of best practices in building and managing them, said Ravi Hulasi, head of global presales engineering and chief cloud evangelist at Tamr, a master data management software vendor. To prevent that from happening, a data warehouse analyst can set up crawlers and create a data catalog to help business teams find data assets and understand their usefulness for analytics projects.

Hulasi said he often sees data warehouse analysts working alongside systems analysts, database administrators, data engineers and other IT professionals to manage data warehouses. Their internal customers are operations engineers, data scientists, business analysts, executives and other users who also rely on the data warehouse analyst for insights into how data fits their needs.

Tame data sprawl to simplify BI and analytics

A data warehouse analyst can also help an organization mitigate the explosion of data as growing volumes of it are captured and combined in new ways. Rebecca Kelly, a freelance data scientist who previously was vice president of evangelism at time series database maker KX, said she has seen many organizations underestimate the way data sets can spawn more and more data.

With that in mind, Kelly said the biggest value of data warehouse analysts is simplifying the process of capturing the data needed to answer specific business questions, such as how to improve the financial trading lifecycle. For example, an analyst could configure a data warehouse to record the entry and exit times for trades within internal applications so bottlenecks could be identified and addressed.

Data warehouse analyst skills and responsibilities

At the minimum, a data warehouse analyst job description includes skills around databases, data integration tools, BI software and statistical analysis techniques. Some companies may also look for job candidates who are familiar with specific data warehousing technologies and analytics tools.

Many data warehouse analysts find themselves as the primary owner of one or more data warehouses in an organization. Their responsibilities typically include ensuring the security and integrity of the data and making it accessible to users, Kelly said. They also use the data themselves to prepare reports and run analyses for the business.

Data warehouse analysts are also responsible for planning and overseeing how data sets are collected, managed, analyzed and mined for information, Scott-Murphy said. To ensure that all of those efforts support business requirements, many play an intermediary role between the business and BI developers or data science teams to interpret and evaluate data and guide what can be done with it.

As a result, data warehouse analysts must understand what the business needs to achieve, how data can help it reach those goals and how technology can be employed as a means to those ends. In addition, especially valuable ones have a broader perspective on data management and analytics that can help their organization use its data assets more effectively.

"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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