Disclosure: IBM sponsored my attendance at their Analytics For All event.
I had the privilege recently to attend the 1st birthday of IBM’s Watson Analytics at their Analytics for All conference, which was a terrific event showcasing how the tool has progressed over a year. One phrase stuck in my mind, however, that I want to dig into more deeply here: the rise of the citizen analyst.
If you recall in the early days of social media and content marketing, much was made of the rise of the citizen journalist, the independent participants who report alongside traditional media. We don’t hear much about this trend any more because the smartphone turned everyone into a citizen journalist the moment they opened the camera app. Citizen journalism isn’t a trend any longer; it’s now the default.
The rise of the citizen analyst potentially could follow a similar trajectory. 5 years ago, doing heavy statistical analysis required the use of SPSS and probably one or more serious database servers. In the enterprise, these would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and deploy.
Fast forward to today, where we have access to enterprise-grade analytics for nearly nothing. If you’ve ever used SOFA Stats, R, or Watson Analytics, you know how cheaply you can obtain the same kind of computing power that enterprises forked out six figures for not too long ago.
The democratization of these tools means that the rise of the citizen analyst is a reality. Citizens can download large public datasets from Data.gov and similar services, then crunch their own numbers and find out the deeper story behind numbers they see in the news or in their workplaces.
As we saw with citizen journalism, the citizen analyst presents its own opportunities and threats. If citizens use their power for good, they can multiply the analysis capabilities of our society as a whole. They can fact check media, politicians, and corporations. They can bring analysis into their workplaces, from the mail room to the board room. They can use data to drive decisions of every kind, from personal purchases to enterprise strategy. Most important, the democratization of analytics means that the barrier to entry for students, for young professionals, for small businesses, for anyone who has drive and ambition but not a huge budget, is within reach.
The threats that citizen analysis present are the same ones we see in citizen journalism, only magnified. Citizens performing analysis of data with no statistics or analytics backgrounds are liable to misunderstand or misinterpret data. This can create instances of the Chinese Robber Fallacy and other misunderstandings that have the surface patina of “science” even though the underlying analysis is deeply flawed. After all, citizen analysts will undoubtedly provide lots of charts, and charts (regardless of their content) are more persuasive to the untrained reader.
The world needs more analysts who are skilled and capable, and is compensating analysts accordingly. Recent studies by Manpower Inc. and other employment agencies have made the claim that data science and analytics jobs are the fastest growing, highest paying jobs in marketing and technology. The rise of the citizen analyst is the first step on that path if you want to pursue it as a career.
This is the greatest benefit to us marketers. To the extent that we can encourage and foster the citizen analyst, we will grow thousands of people with skills and talent our industry desperately needs. Right now, someone is pouring coffee or making fries that has the latent skills we’re looking for, potential untapped because they grew up in an environment without access to these tools. If the citizen analyst movement takes off, we may be able to find these individuals and help unlock their potential.
It’s incumbent upon those of us who are more experienced marketers, more experienced analysts, to provide as much guidance as possible to the citizen analyst as she or he makes their way into our companies. Set up analytics practices in your own company, no matter how big or small, and start learning the basics of statistics and analysis. Get the free or low cost tools mentioned above and see what you can find for yourself. Attend conferences, read books, and get skilled up. Volunteer for STEM programs at local schools, especially in underserved areas.
Is your company prepared for the rise of the citizen analyst? Are you positioned to take advantage of the trend of democratized analytics tools and yet-to-be-trained members of the public who have the drive and interest in analytics? If you aren’t, I can virtually guarantee a competitor is.
Disclosure: IBM sponsored my attendance at their Analytics For All event by paying my travel and expenses to the event. Full disclosures including potential financial conflicts of interest here.
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