June 20, 2024


Moving Forward

Research Methods for Business Administrators

Modern day organizations survive — and thrive — according to the quality of the commercial information they gather, sort, analyze and put into practice.  

These days, that information is stored digitally, as data. This could include everything from financial accounts to detailed imagery of every major asset. It is also data that is infinitely sharable, thanks to technology, and can be used for collaboration and business control anywhere in the world.

Having enough of the ‘right’ data is what underpins success in businesses large and small, across every sector. That includes supporting decision making in industry, commerce, education, healthcare, charities, nonprofits and government agencies. Any company that is not controlling its data is not controlling its daily operations or future development as well as it should be and is probably trailing behind competitors.

The professionals tasked with finding, evaluating and using this data can also be those with business administrator roles. They need skills in this field whether they are the chief executive officer, head of human resources or the sales director, for example.

As data is such an essential commodity, one of the most important skills any business administrator needs is the ability to apply different research methods, as well as knowing what information is needed most by their employer. Then, they need to know how to apply data to meet current and future business goals.

Which qualification backs up research ability and agility?

As an understanding of different research methods (and their goals and applications) is vital, one may be wondering, which is best, PhD vs. DBA? This is an abbreviation for Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in business and Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).

Marymount University’s online DBA program ensures students graduate with in-depth understanding of real-world problems and essential abilities at the highest level of data analytics. In other words, the skills needed to succeed in a world where data is everything!

Business intelligence

The processes and technical infrastructure that collects, stores and analyses data is referred to as business intelligence, and sometimes the skill to use it is called ‘data literacy’. Business intelligence is sometimes further broken down into data mining, process analysis, descriptive analytics, and performance benchmarking.

What this business intelligence consists of can differ greatly from organization to organization. It can also include information from a multitude of sources.

It would be easy to think that business intelligence is something only an IT department would need to know about. That is far from the truth, as many professionals in business administrative roles are now responsible for the quantity and quality of business intelligence their employer needs.

All manner of data scientists and analyzers can be employed to optimize the huge amounts of digital information that today’s organizations are able to generate. However, they cannot operate in a vacuum — or in a separate research team that works in parallel with decision makers.

According to insight experts Gartner: “Without data-literate employees across the business, business leaders will remain unclear about what data it has, what the data could be used for and the quality of the data. As a result, organizations will fail to identify potential business opportunities.”

For this reason, professionals in data science often work closely with business administrators. Together, they pinpoint what is needed in terms of forensic, real time and predictive data. Forensic information is used for such things as evaluating what a company has done well, and where problems occurred. Having good access to real time data gives business decision makers important transparency and control over their daily operations. Predictive data analysis is what enables companies to map future developments in a well-informed and confident way.

The Internet of Things (IoT), with its array of sensors and data collection methods and advanced software systems, have created the phenomenon of big data. So, there is never any shortage of digital information to use for business intelligence.

How do organizations not get overwhelmed by this ocean of information? The answer is often down to the acumen and focus of business administrators. They play a major role in deciding what data is relevant and important, and the best places to find it. The research methods used depend on their specific role in the organization.

Market research and analysis

The most obvious data any organization needs is the buying preferences and behaviors of their own customers, as well as manufacturing production data to manage everything from stock purchasing to reliable delivery of finished goods. However, that is just part of the research and analysis that goes into running a contemporary business.

Market research and analysis is one of the most basic features of business development. It would certainly be a primary asset for a business administrator in charge of an organization’s product development, marketing or sales. This involves finding business intelligence about who a company’s customers are now, but also who they should and could be.

It can involve creating what is sometimes referred to as a customer avatar. This is a company’s ‘perfect’ customer. For example, an affluent empty nester who owns their own home, and takes international holidays, could be the embodiment of a target customer for a range of luxury suitcases. Knowing who an organization is ‘talking to’ can make sales and marketing activities far more focused and measurably successful.

Market research and analysis can also incorporate what a company’s main competitors are doing, to attract the attention of their ideal customers. Of course, a business needs to stand out, and have their own brand values, but adapting what works for their competitors is business common sense.

Management reports

CEOs and heads of departments would certainly need a strong understanding of the research methods needed to prepare management reports. This can be data from across several locations, departments, cost centers and organizational perspectives.

Management reporting ensures business leaders reach clear and confident decisions, but also gives them far greater control over the day-to-day running of their organization. Technology makes it possible to set up and optimize end-to-end streams of data — from the inventory arriving in stockrooms, to the customers’ satisfaction levels with the products or services they receive. Every machine and employee team can be measured, in terms of efficiency and output, and every order that leaves the warehouse can be monitored and measured until it arrives in a timely way.

This data creates incredible transparency across organizations. For instance, data can be used to find how to do things faster, cleaner, in a more profitable way, and with less waste. Operational data and management reports — harnessed to artificial intelligence — are what enable companies of all types and sizes to automate many of their activities and processes. This then makes them more efficient and can cut costs dramatically.

Financial reporting

Of course, the most common type of management report that a business administrator might produce on a regular basis is a financial report. There is a legal obligation for organizations to regularly and thoroughly bring together an accurate and detailed financial report. However, having constant transparency over an organization’s ‘financial health’ can be the difference between failure or survival.

Business administrators in financial teams are key to this, but it can often be a shared responsibility across all senior roles. That includes ensuring financial information is accurate, collected consistently, shared with colleagues, and seamlessly woven into decision making.

Gap analysis and KPIs

Another valuable research method that business administrators need to be familiar with is a gap analysis. This is a process that measures where an organization, department, product or service is now, and where it needs to be in the future. That is why it is also referred to as a needs analysis or needs assessment.

The importance of this is clear. Armed with an understanding of what must be done to ‘fill the gap’, decision makers can create a robust and achievable plan of action and start to work on the performance factors that must be improved. An example would be a supply chain gap analysis. If raw materials are unlikely to keep pace with future production needs, a manufacturer must quickly find new suppliers or speed up deliveries.

So, what are KPIs? This is short for key performance indicators and are used to set targets that the organization and its staff need to reach. For instance, if a certain amount of revenue is vital to keep a company’s order books healthy, the business administrator in charge of sales may give each person ‘in the field’ their own KPIs to reach, connected to specific products, customers, territories and time targets.

Human resources reports and talent mapping

Clearly then, someone qualified as a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) could potentially seek out job opportunities as a business intelligence analyst, but also an organizational development director.

There is another common job role DBA graduates can often be found in. Business administrators can become human resource directors. Being astute and agile in gathering and using data enables leaders in human resources to complete talent mapping exercises, for example.

This is when in-depth research measures the existing skills of the organization’s workforce and any current gaps. All of this is then evaluated alongside the organization’s business goals and long-term plans. The HR director can then look ahead, and identify any upskilling the organization needs, in terms of both workforce training, development and recruitment.

Research is not just about numbers

Many of the research methods and types of reports mentioned so far rely heavily on business professionals knowing how to use the latest software and systems to gather and use valuable data. It is important to note that this can involve collating, assessing and applying both quantitative and qualitative information.

For example, quantitative reports could involve knowing how many people bought luxury suitcases last year. Qualitative research uncovers why customers bought a different brand.

Qualitative reports can help to shape much of an organization’s future, such as product development, marketing and sales activities. This is the area of business research that can take the lead professional away from their technology for a while, as qualitative research can often demand interaction with other humans. For example, it can mean getting a group of potential customers in a room and asking them insightful questions about a product. This could yield important insights on their emotional reactions and value assessments.

It is not just their spoken answers that can help build vital business intelligence either. Non-verbal information can be highly insightful, and body language experts can learn a great deal about a focus group’s reaction to a product or service.

A good illustration of this would be a qualitative research method that ecommerce companies use. Data from their website tells them things like how many page visitors they had, how long they stayed on each page, and at what point they clicked away. If potential customers are put in a room with a website in front of them, eye gaze technology, body language reading and personal interaction can provide a great deal of information. That includes individual page features that grabbed their attention or lead to instant boredom.

This shows that the best business administrators may need to understand corporate anthropology, as well as data science. This is when traditional anthropology — the study of culture and human behavior — is applied to the way a company interacts with its customers and its workforce.

For example, according to one business report on the topic: “A corporate anthropologist communicates with customers and asks in-depth questions that help clarify their buyer personas, where they shop, how they pay for products and what factors are involved in their buying decisions.”

Qualifying research reports

Another type of research that business administrators would be responsible for is one focused on qualifying data. For instance, they may gather important data that appears to suggest a very clear route for the organization to take. However, insightful business administrators may need to then seek out ways to put that into a more thorough business context.

This could involve ensuring any plans are compliant with current legislation, for example, as well as ensuring business developments are in line with industry guidelines that apply to the relevant sector. Qualifying business intelligence can also involve getting third parties to verify results and conclusions. This is especially true of financial data, which often needs to be audited by specialist financial consultants and accountants. The lead business administrator would need to know when such validation was both desirable and crucial.

Applied research reports

Sometimes, an organization has a very specific problem — or opportunity — that needs to be thoroughly researched and evaluated.  For this, applied research techniques are sometimes used.

Basic research, as the name suggests, covers any generalized report creation to give senior business decision makers the information needed to expand their understanding of the legislative obligations and markets of the organization and its competitors.

In contrast, applied research is when the focus is on a specific topic, with a view to gathering information that could provide a solution. This can be further broken down into three categories of applied research.

The first is action research. So, this would be a practical business issue, and tasks to find the most realistic, cost effective and achievable solution. Secondly, there is evaluation research. This is looking at specific data, to extract a pre-agreed range of measures that can help in making an informed decision.

Applied research also includes projects to evaluate and map specific new products or services. This could be an opportunity being explored, to fill a gap in the market, or build on an organization’s existing manufacturing strength, for example.

Putting business research into practice

To be successful in their role, business administrators need to know how to put business intelligence to practical use. Data should be driving insightful decision making, about real world problems. This means business administrators also need excellent interpersonal and collaboration skills, to work alongside colleagues and experts to drive forward data-supported ideas for business growth.

They also need to have the ability to communicate that data to colleagues, suppliers and their general workforce. This can mean being good at translating research jargon and statistics into plain language that everyone can understand and respond to.

Clearly, business administrators with advanced qualifications play a vital role in many organizations.  They can often be found in the boardroom and senior management team, playing pivotal roles in operational control and business development. This is often based on their skills in commissioning, analyzing and using valuable data.