The era of Big Data is upon us.
From retailers to shipping companies to marketing agencies, more businesses are using Big Data to discover patterns and trends. Many companies even have specialized teams of people who work on Big Data projects, solely focusing on analyzing and manipulating the troves of information generated and stored in the Internet age.
But who are these people behind the Big Data platforms? Typically, Big Data is associated with data scientists, the "geeks" who boast the statistical, mathematical, and database knowledge required for working with large unstructured datasets. While they are often seen as the faces behind Big Data, data scientists are not the only ones who work with data on a daily basis. In fact, there is a new type of employee emerging: the data artisan.
The term data artisan was first coined by Alteryx, a software company interviewed for this story. Data artisans are employees who possess a blend of technical skills and business acumen that enables them to extract actionable insight from the huge volumes of data that exist—despite their lack of experience with it—demonstrating that businesses don’t always need a data scientist to interpret data effectively. The qualifications and requirements of the role may vary across companies, but one thing’s for certain: the data artisan will have a significant impact on the enterprise of the future.
Some companies are already ahead of the curve. The three highlighted below are utilizing data artisans to get value out of Big Data, and it may not be long before other companies follow suit.
Mendicant Marketing, an Internet marketing firm, is leveraging Big Data to develop effective marketing strategies for its clients. The firm analyzes massive data sets to return meaningful patterns and results that can be applied to digital marketing campaigns.
Kevin Milani is a digital marketing data artisan at the company, performing data implementation and analysis on a daily basis. While he calls himself a "geek at heart," Milani isn’t the stereotypical data nerd. He spent the majority of his early career working in the business marketing industry, specializing in search engine marketing and Google AdWords. He never worked with Big Data until he founded Mendicant Marketing in 2007.
Despite his inexperience with Big Data, Milani is able to utilize his marketing knowledge to identify connections between data points. He also frequently experiments with the data to find creative ways to gain insight. By merging Big Data with his digital marketing expertise, he helps businesses target the right prospect with the right message at the right time.
"It’s incredible what you can achieve when working with data," said Milani. "Anytime you have large amounts of customer information, there’s an opportunity to use Big Data analytics to discover new things about your customers and your business."
The key to leveraging this type of data, however, is the data artisan. "Data artisans are going to play a huge role in the future," said Milani. "The profession is going to explode, and if businesses don’t keep up, they’re going to fail."
FindTheBest is a research hub that helps consumers think like experts. The site boasts hundreds of comparisons on topics from colleges to cars to ski resorts to dog breeds (disclosure: I work here).
Pooja Sohoni is a Product Associate at the company and helps design and edit the website’s health pages. She is not an engineer or a statistician but an anthropology major who has become a self-taught expert in Big Data. Since she lacks a robust technical background, she relies on her knowledge of medical anthropology to analyze health data.
In the health vertical on FindTheBest, more than 4,800 hospitals in the United States can be searched according to location, rating, and type, among other criteria. Go to the page for a particular hospital and a wealth of information appears in summaries, charts, and graphics—down to the average costs for procedures and the mortality rates for common serious conditions.
Sohoni worked on the comparison and chose which data points to include based on what would be most relevant to consumers. The data is presented in graphs and pie charts so consumers can easily understand the implications of the data.
In addition to designing the initial charts and graphs, Sohoni selects which visualizations will represent certain pieces of information. She also writes summaries and explanations for key terms. Sohoni even compiles an introductory guide, which helps the consumer further understand the topic.
"Consumers want to be able to explain why they picked the product they did," Sohoni said. "I give them the data and enable them to see the context and importance of that data."
Alteryx is a business information software company known for its analytics platform. The platform is specifically designed for front-line business decision makers—who typically lack a strong background in statistics and data analytics—so they can identify problems and opportunities more efficiently.
Dan Putler, the data artisan in residence at the company, says Alteryx is helping data artisans like himself by giving them a sophisticated analytics platform with capabilities that enable them to truly tell the story behind the data.
"Alteryx empowers data artisans to do things they haven’t done in the past with analytics tools they have never used before," said Putler. "These tools allow them to use their knowledge to develop sophisticated mathematical models and implications for the business."
As a data artisan, Putler is largely involved with both product development and high-level strategy development. He also works with external companies in sales and marketing processes, helping them to create segmentation strategies and improve their promotional material.
Putler believes all companies can leverage Big Data to discover business opportunities—and they don’t need a data scientist to do it. He predicts that data artisans will partially take over the functions of data scientists and will play an integral role in the near future.
"Data artisans allow businesses to do deeper, more predictive analytics than they would otherwise be able to do," said Putler. "This means businesses will be able to make better decisions with data artisans with greater efficiency."
—Alejandra Saragoza is a recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara, and currently serves as a marketing associate for FindTheBest, a research hub that helps consumers think like experts.
[Image: Flickr user Lawrence Murray]