Today in the world of analytics, the big buzz word being thrown around is “Data Scientist”. It seems like every day new articles are published about Data Scientists, the ever growing need for them and the importance of these roles within an organization. While the term is loosely used in industry, according to NC State’s Institute for Advanced Analytics very own Dr. Michael Rappa, data science is a blend of fields including statistics, applied mathematics and computer science. While this is certainly true, these fields prepare a person to become a data scientist and better enable them to crunch through tons and tons of data to solve complex business problems. However, I believe one aspect is being overlooked when describing what makes a Data Scientist.
As much as organizations need people who can analyze data and draw conclusions from that data, they also need people who can paint a picture from these conclusions for management to easily understand and take action on the findings. I call these people Data Artists! The real value of analytics comes when the results can be used to form a business plan. The easier it is to interpret results, the easier it is to get people within the business onboard to form a business plan around the analysis. Data Scientists should not only make an effort to broaden their skills with new methods and learning software, but to also become Data Artists and broaden their skills on how they use visualizations to present data to more effectively communicate their findings so everyone in the audience can understand what is going on.
For example, our clients are continuously asking us to analyze customerbehavior on a county or state level to see what, if any, spatial correlations exist for certain product consumption. The old way of doing this analysis would include matching customer records back to zip codes or county and state names and creating a spreadsheet with the aggregated data. Depending on the reach of the clients products across the country or world, this spreadsheet can get very lengthy in size and can take hours to sort through and analyze to draw conclusions. As Data Scientists, we should be thinking about how we can creatively display these results so we can see the big picture more easily. Given the nature of the business problem, a Data Artist using analytic tools can move away from the “old school” spreadsheet and provide the client with a solution that is much easier to understand such as a geographical map. A map presents geographical data trends in a much easier way for management to consume and interpret. As Data Artists we turned a spread sheet with a couple of thousand rows into a one page picture that can be easily understood. The beauty of the map is that trends can be seen that are not as obvious from looking at a spreadsheet. From my experience our clients get excited when they see a map that describes their product trends and they ask for them more and more. The same holds true for other visualizations we create such as moving bubble charts, polar histograms and calendar heat maps.
The most successful Data Scientists will be the ones that can not only do complex analysis but who can paint a picture of the results for everyone to see and understand easily. Accompanied with knowledgeable strategists who help define the business problem or help translate the analysis, great visualizations will not only excite a management but can also provide great insight into a business solution. I always like to say a one page picture or graph is more effective than a spreadsheet with a couple of thousand rows of data. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.