The Value of Citizen Data Scientists (and how to empower them)

In the past few years, demand for employees with data-based skills has increased. In fact, Tech HQ notes that between 2013 and 2018 demand for data scientists jumped 344%, and IBM predicts that by 2020 demand will rise 28%. But there’s a problem: there are not enough data scientists to meet this demand. Due to this industry shortage, companies have begun to upskill citizen data scientists to fill in the gaps. 

What is a Citizen Data Scientist?

The term was first coined by Gartner who defines a citizen data scientist as “a person who creates or generates models that use advanced diagnostic analytics or predictive and prescriptive capabilities, but whose primary job function is outside the field of statistics and analytics.” 

In other words, a citizen data scientist is someone who is not an expert in data or statistics, their primary role is more closely related to business rather than IT. Behind a citizen data scientist is typically an advanced analytics platform that empowers them to question the data in front of them and uncover new insights. The citizen data scientist does not likely create the analytics platform or design applications, but with the rise of self-service analytics, citizen data scientists have developed the knowledge  required to work with these existing programs and the data that lies within. 

A citizen data scientist often pursues learning about data as a hobby or as a mechanism to grow  individual professional skills. While not in their job description, it enables these employees to better perform  job roles in the company. For example, a marketing director who combines and draws insight from prior marketing campaign data– social media, email, and print –together into a single, comprehensive database subset would be considered a citizen data scientist. This uses data-based skills to understand how to optimize future marketing strategies to reach a specific target audience, ask questions about the information, and uncover new trends. The marketing director in this example has an above average understanding of how to use a given database or the business intelligence tools available to them.

These kinds of employees are attractive to companies because professional data scientists can be difficult to come by. As one article describes, “The idea is that organizations can leverage internal skills to bring the basic data science expertise in-house for advanced analytics while minimizing the burden on organizational resources.” 

What About Data Scientists?

Will citizen data scientists take the place of data scientists? Not at all! Data scientists wield advanced skills in data analytics and statistics that citizen data scientists do not. Citizen data scientists can delve into new data and analyze existing databases, while data scientists are necessary for performing end-to-end data analytics tasks, designing a new database, creating custom reports, or building and training new algorithms.

Because of their expertise, data scientists are in high demand. This is often problematic for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) that have trouble competing with larger companies with more attractive employment opportunities. Because of this,  citizen data scientists play an integral part in the growth in SMEs. However, they do not replace the role of data scientist – managing and working with data is a complicated science after all. 

How do Citizen Data Scientists Benefit Businesses?

Citizen data scientists play an important role in businesses because of their ability to bridge the gap between business and IT. This helps to promote discussion between various departments as they make decisions and go about day-to-day work. 

Citizen data scientists help increase productivity within the company. While collaborating with the IT department remains essential, when employees can familiarize themselves with company data, reliance on the IT department is reduced. This enables IT to spend time on more important, large-scale projects for the company while transferring lower level analytics tasks to citizen data scientists. 

Large retailers are discovering how citizen data scientists can enrich their company. Sears recently realized that there was “a gap between needing a data scientist – a really highly trained scientist who can do [Big Data derived] segmentation – and an analyst, which they had a lot of.” The company provided an opportunity for 400 data analysts to move from performing business intelligence operations to analyzing big data from  customer service segmentation– work that had formerly been performed by data scientists with PhDs. Sears provided tools and data literacy courses to enrich the existing skill-sets of employees. It is speculated that this move has saved Sears hundreds of thousands of dollars by transferring the work to  employees within the company rather than undergo the costly process of hiring and onboarding professional data scientists. 

Shaping Your Own Citizen Data Scientists

If employees within your company show an interest in learning more about the company’s data or if your business needs an extra set of hands to manage its data, consider starting from the ground up and providing training tools for motivated employees to grow into citizen data scientists. 

When investing in citizen data scientists, it is crucial to establish relevant data governance criteria ahead of time. If the company has a great deal of private or sensitive client info, it’s important to determine whether citizen data scientists will have access to that information. Deciding what materials citizen data scientists will have the ability to access is key to safeguarding the security of your data.

One step companies can take to shape their own citizen data scientists is to supplement the skills of employees with self-service analytics tools. Qlik® is one such platform that encourages employees to hone existing skills and explore areas of data analytics that they’re passionate about. Qlik has a large library of data literacy courses to enable those at any level to learn more about how to use the platform. If you want to learn more, you can download a free trial of Qlik Sense® for your desktop. Follow this link, fill in your information, and experience how Qlik Sense can help you gain new insights from your data.

Empowering Existing Citizen Data Scientists

If your organization is looking for techniques to support current citizen data scientists, there are steps to nurture current employees’ skills.

The most important way to support citizen data scientists is by fostering a data driven culture throughout the company. This both supports citizen data scientists and provides benefits for the entire company. Throughout the business, employees (and citizen data scientists) will benefit from the ability to make  informed decisions across organization levels as well as enhanced efficiency as they work and collaborate with others. 

…a conversation [with data] beats a monologue every time.

Implementing natural language generation (NLG) is another mechanism you can employ to encourage the growth of citizen data scientists. NLG, a subset of artificial intelligence, transforms data into simple language. Through an extension created by Narrative Science, Qlik Sense users can add NLG functionality to generate text narratives from complex data. This extension simplifies complex data visualizations and queries, lets users interact naturally with data sets, and aids in the discovery trends that might have otherwise been missed. As one blog writer at Qlik states, “Qlik Sense demonstrates how we are moving ever closer to naturally interacting with our data, creating a genuine dialogue between us and the data. And that immediacy and fluidity makes all the difference when it comes to getting the best insights for decision making. After all, a conversation beats a monologue every time.” 

If you’re looking for a new approach to support citizen data scientists or have questions about analytics platforms on the market, look no further! As a Qlik authorized solution partner, our expert team at VanData would love to chat with you about platforms like Qlik that you can use to empower citizen data scientists. Qlik offers a true end to end data solution including  data storage, data analysis, intuitive AI programs, and data visualization tools. Have questions about whether Qlik is right for your company? Message us today to set up a free consultation.

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