Data drives the success of most modern businesses and is a critical corporate asset, according to a 2016 report from McKinsey. Data generated in real time can consist of consumer buying patterns, demographic representations, client retention and customer churn. Data security also presents a primary concern for corporations, with sensitive customer details and proprietary information constantly at risk.
Individuals interested in working in data-driven industries and careers may want to explore two options of degree: an online Master of Science in Information Management and an online Master of Science in Business Analytics. Although the programs typically have similar introductory subjects and several courses in common, the specific skills acquired and career paths available to graduates diverge. Reviewing the similarities and differences between these two degrees may help students understand which program best suits their long-term career aspirations.
Data management and analysis
Both a master’s in information management and a master’s in business analytics should contain courses in analysis and strategy, preparing professionals for careers at the intersection of business and technology.
“There is a strong element of analytics in an MSIM program, just as there is one of IT management in an MSBA,” says Alan Simon, senior lecturer at the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU. “The reason for that is anybody in the IT field today, regardless of where their career path takes them, will encounter some aspect of analytics and IT management. It’s almost always going to be part of what they do.”
Additional subjects can include enterprise systems and business decision modeling. After separating into more specific areas of focus — technical intelligence for MSIM and quantitative analytics for an MSBA —students can acquire the expertise needed to progress into leadership roles, including senior- or director-level positions and eventually those at the VP or C-suite levels.
Online Master of Science in Information Management
Information management examines how digital innovations can enhance or replace existing business models. Focusing on all forms of data — physical and electronic — as well as digital transformation, professionals in this field use analytics tools to manage enterprise systems, assess data management and storage processes, seek opportunities for business intelligence use within their organizations and beyond.
Coursework for a Master of Science in Information Management teaches current and future information management professionals IT services and project management, business process management, and information security and controls.
“Students will learn about different aspects of analytics to work with quantitative analysis professionals and make intelligent choices. They’re responsible for understanding the whole IT ecosystem that surrounds analytics,” says Simon. This type of program can also cover adoption and implementation of emerging technologies. Coursework in areas such as information-enabled modeling, artificial intelligence applications in business and data management can further provide an analytics core to the overall curriculum.
Information manager job responsibilities
Information managers have to consider business intelligence, data analytics and emerging technologies from a holistic perspective. They use digital tools to streamline workflows for data use and storage. In leadership roles, they also use their knowledge to provide recommendations for company-wide software rollouts and implementations as well as select analytics and information systems that address organizational needs to align with current or desired business models and competitive strategies.
On a daily basis, information managers’ job responsibilities can include the following:
- Determining how the business can use information to solve problems, such as big data analysis for evidence-based strategy recommendations
- Monitoring of cloud and on-site data access and transfer
- Overseeing the construction of an enterprise data warehouse or data lake
- Exploring emerging technologies, including semantic web and mobile platforms, to implement new IT-enabled solutions within the organization
- Establishing data use as well as storage policies and parameters while coordinating across departments to ensure enforcement of standards and policies
These responsibilities also require information managers to regularly evaluate workflows and policies to seek improvements and pivot to align with changing data management laws and regulations. One recent example is the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was implemented in 2018. Information managers ensure employee education about these rules and determine or recommend how the organization should adjust its practices to remain compliant.
Information manager career paths
Positions often held by graduates of an online master of science in information management program can include top management roles at companies across many sectors. The most sought-after of these careers are executive positions, for which a graduate degree is often required. These positions include:
- Information technology security managers who oversee company networks and data storage, promote a culture to help keep information secure, develop internal protocols and supervise investigations in the event of a data breach.
- Information technology directors who manage IT departments, ensure the availability of data and network services, and hire IT personnel.
- Chief information officers who determine an organization’s information goals and direct the technological implementation required to achieve those goals.
- Chief technology officers who evaluate new technology for potential value to their organizations, recommend technological strategies and follow through with implementation.
Data is a vital asset in many organizations, according to the Association for Information and Image Management International. Information managers ensure the appropriate use and health of data. Students can acquire the skills they need to oversee and protect these assets with a master of science degree in information management.
Online Master of Science in Business Analytics
Big data is growing rapidly as more devices collect and generate information. These sources include the internet of things, social media platforms, smartphones and more. Companies need IT professionals who can collect, prepare and visualize data to inform decision-making that drives an organization toward its goals and creates a competitive advantage. “Professionals who are intrigued by analytics and data mining and who love the quantitative side of data are the perfect profile for an MSBA,” says Simon.
A master’s degree in business analytics can create pathways to multiple career opportunities with this orientation of focus, including business intelligence analysts who review an organization’s data in depth to make effective company decisions. To prepare students for such roles, coursework from an online master’s degree in business analytics typically covers data mining, machine learning, data-driven quality management, business analytics strategy and analytical decision modeling. The curriculum may also cover emerging innovations, such as deep learning. Technical competencies students should have or become familiar with include programming and coding as well as several software languages, such as @RISK, Palisades, Decision Suite, Tableau and AzureML.
Business analyst job responsibilities
A business analyst’s job is to evaluate data and present the findings to clients, supervisors or other stakeholders, so these professionals must be able to effectively communicate the value of data. Their objectives are to prepare future financial projections, develop strategies for productivity improvement and process streamlining, and formalize plans to increase revenues and reduce operational costs. Specific tasks can include the following:
- Evaluating financial data, such as revenues and expenditures
- Analyzing employee data, including employment reports
- Developing solutions for processes that don't work well, such as a bottlenecked accounts receivable department or an off-schedule supply chain
- Recommending organizational updates, including new systems and procedures
- Creating successful marketing campaigns to attract new business
While the majority of this work revolves around data collection, profiling and quality analysis, business intelligence analysts are often able to work on exploratory or discovery analytics from the data.
“It’s like here’s a mountain of data, determine what’s important out of this," says Simon. "And this is where, as the name would imply, one would be exploring or discovering. This is where the whole discipline of analytics comes into play. How do you set up? How do you formulate the right hypotheses? How do you make the right assumptions to then figure out if you are building the right models, and how do you understand or interpret the results? How do you know if your results are valid?”
Simon went on to say this aspect of data analytics is more open-ended and engaging. Calling on their expertise, business analysts working on these types of tasks consider not just what the data needs to do for their organizations in the short term but also what it can do in the long term.
Business data analyst career paths
Opportunities for business analysts can include technical and nontechnical positions. Many roles can be explored within functional departments. For instance, there is high demand for analytical skills in marketing, finance, supply chain, human resources and more.
Master’s in business analytics careers include:
- Business intelligence analysts who mine, segment, analyze and draw insights from all of the data at a company’s disposal, extracting high-value information to support critical decision-making.
- Marketing managers who use data analytics to identify target demographics, create ad campaigns and increase customer loyalty.
- Business operations managers who implement internal policies based on data analysis to boost productivity and improve workflows.
- C-suite executives who oversee entire aspects of a company, including information, technology, operations and marketing.
Business analysts are change agents at all levels of organizations, according to the International Institute of Business Analysts. Whether they want to provide strategy recommendations, create enterprise architecture or lead their organizations by determining new company goals, students can improve their qualifications for these responsibilities through a master of science degree in business analytics.
Making a choice: Information Management or Business Analytics
Prospective students must decide which approach to data leads to their preferred career path before choosing between a master’s degree in information management and a master’s degree in business analytics. While both programs cover analytics and data management, the difference is based on how deep they go into the data.
“If you are an applicant or prospective student interested in analytics as part of an entire IT ecosystem, sort of like a peer into all these other data analysis systems, MSIM is the way to go," Simon says. "If you want the sum of your experience to be highly quantitative and highly analytical, that’s more on the MSBA side."
An online master’s in information management can help prepare students for technical and managerial employment. The career paths this degree offers may appeal to students who are:
- Intent on pursuing a C-suite position
- Knowledgeable of information systems and infrastructures
- Fascinated by the IT ecosystem surrounding analytics
- Interested in working with data scientists
An online master’s degree in business analytics is designed to help students pursue a career in intelligence analysis. The career paths this degree offers may appeal to students who are:
- Seeking a career on the data sciences track
- Intrigued by data mining and analytics
- Interested in programming and modeling
- Captivated by the quantitative side of data analysis
"The metaphor I use is I draw a T: Where the cross piece and the down piece meet, that’s the analytics side," Simon says. "If you’re interested in the left and right side of that, across the top, that’s MSIM because there’s always your ecosystem and your peer disciplines, if you will. If you’re interested in taking the analytics stuff and really going deep with it, sort of down the T, that’s your MSBA.”
Whichever career field professionals select, an advanced degree can expand their technical knowledge and position them for success in their chosen fields.
Earning a graduate business degree from ASU Online
For those intent on a career in a data-driven field, ASU Online offers two programs that can help students pursue their interests: a Master of Science in Information Management and a Master of Science in Business Analytics. Through the flexible online formats, students can work toward either degree while managing their current professional and personal commitments, providing a way to earn a master’s degree while obtaining crucial work experience. Graduates can then use the data-centric skills and knowledge they acquire through these programs to pursue the careers they are passionate about.
ASU Online - Online Master of Science in Information Management
ASU Online - Online Master of Science in Business Analytics
The Age of Analytics: Competing in a Data-Driven World by McKinsey
Average Information Management Specialist Salary by PayScale
What is Information Management? by the Association for Information and Image Management International
What is Business Analysis? By the International Institute of Business Analysis