Data science for the people

Published on the 04/09/2018 | Written by Heather Wright

Tableau citizen data scientist

You don’t need a PhD to discover the value of data…

With data scientists in short supply, Australian and New Zealand companies are beginning to embrace citizen data scientists, with technology helping fuel the rise of the new data champions.

Mac Bryla, Tableau Software APAC technology evangelist, says he’s seeing rapid growth of citizen data scientists – business people combining their traditional job skills with some of the expertise of a data scientist – locally.

“They might be in marketing, HR, whatever area of the business, but they are learning and skilling themselves up to use data science skills to do their job better because they have no one else to pass those questions to,” Bryla says.

Carlie Idoine, Gartner research director for business analytics and data science, says many forces are aligning “for a ‘perfect storm’ feeding the potential disruptive and transformative power of this emerging citizen data scientist role.

“Organisations are increasingly prioritising the move into more advanced predictive and prescriptive analytics. The expert skills of traditional data scientists to address these challenges are often expensive and difficult to come by. Citizen data scientists can be an effective way to mitigate this current skills gap.”

Both Bryla and Idoine say technology is a key enabler of the rise of the citizen data scientist, with AI and machine learning helping in areas including data preparation – a crucial, and often lengthy, process to ensure data is clean before use – and augmented data discovery.

“When we talk to customers they often say they don’t know what questions they should be asking, what way they should be looking and exploring,” Bryla says. “Technology can suggest things to them: Have you noticed this looks strange, for example, or have you noticed a high percentage of your sales are coming from this area. It can highlight areas you should be interested in.”

Says Idoine: “Technology has gotten easier for non-specialists to use. Analytic and BI tools are expending their reach to incorporate easier accessibility to both data and analytics. Technological developments also include augmented analytics, approaches that incorporate ML capability to automate data preparation, insight discovery and data science.”

But Bryla says it’s not enough for companies to rely on a handful of citizen data scientists.

He says studies show 54 percent of c-level executives don’t use data for decision making because they don’t understand the data.

“That’s quite scary. Data is going to be an absolute given for companies. You have to rely on data and everyone in your organisation should be on board with it.”

While schools are introducing data literacy skills to their curriculums, the challenge lies in the multitudes of people already in the workforce.

“They all need to be brought up to speed around data literacy. But even the concept itself is a little misunderstood. People think data literacy is just reading a chart, but it goes deeper than that,” Bryla says.

He likens data literacy to standard literacy – the magic comes not just from being able to read, but from being able to write, or in the case of data literacy, from being able to create their own content from data and find insights.

“The magic with data literacy will be when more people are able to contribute and express their ideas in what I would consider the new language of data.”

That language of data will provide a common language for business people and data scientists – citizen or otherwise – to talk to each other.

But while Bryla says companies across A/NZ are embracing data and buying into new technologies, their thinking often lags behind, leaving companies trying to solve problems in ‘an old fashioned way even though they have bought into the technological advances’.

He cites the example of companies buying new interactive data visualisation products but still wanting to print reports for board meetings.

“A PDF is a place data goes to die. You can’t touch it, you can’t ask further questions. Yet some companies, even though they have technologies that enable them to create a fully interactive dashboard, with rich visuals so they can understand the data and fully interactive so you can drill down into anything in the report, are asking if they can have the report printed…

“The technology is here to solve problems in new, fresh ways, but sometimes it’s the humans holding us back a little.”

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