I was reading an article, Data analytics could create 21,000 Irish jobs – Forfas report, the other day and it got me thinking about how times have changed since I started out in a business role, many years ago.
Quote from RTE News:
“Data analytics is the science of making sense of and examining large volumes of raw data with a view to drawing conclusions and extracting value from it.
Jobs in the sector usually involve proficiency in areas like maths, statistics and management science, as well as other IT skills.
Due to rapid growth in the area, there is currently a shortage of professionals with the required skills to fill direct high end positions in the field of data analysis around the world.
In particular, the research says there is a shortage of people with in-demand “deep analytical” skills.”
Is it a fallacy that in this technology-rich era, you need a proficiency in the areas mentioned above to become a competent data analyst in your line of business? Can you develop deep analytical skills without a degree in Mathematics, IT or Statistics?
The Old Way
Before the advent of user friendly Information delivery platforms, it was indeed the case that an organisation needed a whole raft of people with different specialist skills to bring together data and present it back to a management team in a format that was meaningful. It may not have been timely, but they could usually get there in the end.
You had your database specialist, and your programme developers; you had your systems analyst and your report writers. As an end user you had meetings with all of them to decide whether the information was available; how you could get the information; how long it would take to get it (usually several days and sometimes weeks). And any changes to the original format agreed upon would take a similar amount of time.
You also had your standard reports that churned out pages and pages of hard copy information that you had to sift through to find the relevant piece you were looking for. If you were lucky. If you weren’t, you would ask for the change, have the report “run” for you again and this time you might actually find what you were looking for. You used to circle the relevant bits in biro and stick little page tabs into the pages to bookmark them. You would carry half a tree around with you into meetings.
But you were the one with the business knowledge: you knew what you needed to know, and you needed to know it now. You were frustrated that you didn’t have a clue about data tables, index keys, hierarchies, query languages. You had to rely on a lot of other people who seemed to be pulled in all directions and who didn’t really seem to understand the business relevance of the data they were extracting, the reports they were writing or the urgency of the situation.
The New Way
Now that’s all changed – thanks to the myriad of user-friendly BI software that gives the power back where it belongs – back to the business user, owner or manager. You don’t have to be a specialist mathematician to work out how to break down annual data into weeks or months in a report, and compare the same periods with previous periods or last year. The user interface does it for you. Granted, a bit of technical savvy might come in handy – i.e. knowhow in using Windows. But you don’t need to be a statistician to create a trend chart or a deviation from the mean – the software does it for you.
Good business users these days know that they can be their own specialists without very much training – a few mouse clicks and they are there. They understand their roles, and they know what they need to find out and they go for it. Sometimes they need a little help from experts who can show them what it’s possible to do, but do it themselves they certainly can.
Mr or Ms Frustrated transforms into Mr or Ms Effective within a few short days of a BI Platform implementation. Days of effort are shaved off their workload, spreadsheet hell is a thing of the past. Weekly meetings are full of incisive information instead of a long To-Do List of new issues to research, new reports to scope out. Actions resulting from current data insights are agreed – instead of going round in circles talking about gut feelings. It used to be a huge achievement just getting at data a week or a month after it had been written. Now they can get at it seconds after it is written.
A few automated routines to create a variety of data sets are all that is needed to give them access to entire data models to play with; interrogate; carry out what-if scenarios; create refreshable reports or charts. And they can put it all on the web, to view it on tablet, or mobile phone, wherever and whenever they like!
Don’t Throw Out the Baby
Yes, by all means keep training the mathematicians and the statisticians, the computer programmers and the database managers – without these we would have no user-friendly BI Technology! We would never progress. But business owners have no excuse for not understanding that the key to making the right decisions is at their own fingertips – they can be their own data analysts– all it takes is a little investment for a huge return.