I read an interesting article recently that suggested analyst and data scientist job positions may be on the way out. The author argued that analytics are being incorporated more and more heavily into operational systems, making “analytic capabilities” more readily accessible to business users without the involvement of a data scientist.
Being a data scientist and a manager of an analytics team, this insinuation definitely gave me pause.
It is true that operational systems, in an effort grow their business and stay competitive, are continuing to focus on added built-in analytics for their solutions. Honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve come across an operational system that doesn’t offer some form of data visualization or dashboard capabilities.
For example, Workday announced in late 2014 that it would be introducing analytics tools into its ERP applications for HR and Finance, which will provide business users with built-in predictive analytics models. Even SAS has also developed a product called Rapid Predictive Modeler® that allows non-data scientists to quickly build analytics models.
What does all this increase in automatic analytics technology mean for today’s statisticians, analysts and data scientists? At first glance, it can feel intimidating; however, all these advances can actually be a good thing for the data science field.
Holistically, one of the missions of an analytics team is to foster and develop a culture of analytics within the organization. With all the focus on analytics by operational vendors, executing on that mission is getting easier every day!
So, where does the data scientist fit in? Will you still have a need for data scientists? Over time the data scientists job will continue to evolve.
Depending on the level of analytics used within a company, I've noticed business stakeholders will often request help from data scientists for data exploration (i.e. data visualization) as well as advanced analytics. With the increase in built-in data visualization and analytical model prototypes offered by operational systems, data scientists will likely continue to shift more heavily into advanced analytics.
Why you still need data scientists
If you're looking for more concrete reasons why data scientists will continue to be in high demand, below are some additional reasons I think companies still need data scientists:
- Enhancing built-in analytics. Built-in analytical models are a great start – meaning they are light years ahead and more powerful than not having anything at all. However, as we data scientists know, we can always do better. Applying more advanced statistics can help enhance these models to increase their accuracy. I have seen quick, low-touch analytical methods provide decent levels of accuracy (which means what you predicted came true within a decent amount of the time), but really fine tuning and providing more predictive accuracy requires higher statistical skills and a deeper interaction with the data.
- Integrating and connecting data from disparate systems. Built-in analytics only work with the data in that operational system. Again, this is a good start and is better than nothing. However, predictive analytics often requires data that is spread throughout a company in various systems and even in various formats (some structured and others non-structured). For example, if we try to predict what causes workers to quit their jobs, looking at their worker data in the HR system is a great place to start. But as we all know, the reason a worker chooses to leave a company may not have anything to do with the data that is stored in their HR record. To truly assess how your company can increase it's worker retention rates, a separate analytics engagement would be needed outside the HR system.
- Staying ahead of the competition. The drive to stay competitive will continue to push companies to move beyond the basics offered by these out-the-box analytical capabilities. Companies are always looking for ways to stay relevant and to get ahead of the competition. As nearly everyone takes advantage of the standard analytics capabilities in these operational systems, companies will need to look for something more advanced to stay ahead of their competitors.
Overall, as data scientists and advocates for analytics, we should embrace and be thankful for the continued focus on analytics within the industry and also know that our jobs are here to stay!
Learn more about data scientists – and read profiles of other data scientists – in our new data scientist series.