Citizen Analysts: Why Companies Should Train All Employees to Become Data Experts

More heads, more ideas, more qualified insights. Citizen Analysts increase companies’ analytical capacity and thus create added value from data. The following is a brief portrait of a dynamic profession.

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October 24, 2022
minutes read
Data Culture
Data Science

The future viability of modern companies depends on a functioning digital transformation strategy. At the heart of this strategy is data-centric, and thus informed, decision-making. However, to gain the insights required for this from the extensive and varied Big Data stream, specially trained personnel are needed: Citizen Analysts. They are experts in the use of advanced analytical tools and have the necessary business knowledge to interpret the insights gained in the most useful way.

First and foremost, Citizen Analysts are experienced business users with a high level of practical experience. In production, for example, they know all individual work steps, the specifications of the machines and even the costs of the materials used. Unlike highly specialized Data Scientists (who also work on specific analytics issues in addition to their model development tasks), Citizen Analysts do not require lengthy and cost-intensive scientific training. Extensive programming skills are not necessary – just a basic affinity for mathematics and data science is sufficient.

Citizen Analysts use their special combination of skills to quickly identify the correlations and trends relevant to their business area and, because of this, they can decide which specific data sets should be investigated as a matter of priority. They can make well-founded conclusions as to whether increased customer interest in a product is, for example, due to increased social media attention or improved product features.

As well as hands-on experience and an affinity for Data Science, the soft skills of Citizen Analysts are just as important:

  • They’re curious about discovering patterns and connections within large data sets.
  • They translate gained insights into a language that can be understood by colleagues and decision-makers.
  • They can assess the relevance of their findings and represent them externally.

As a result, Citizen Analysts can contribute to a more productive use of collected data, both for their specific area of work and across different departments.

Citizen Analysts are not usually located within the IT Department, their workplaces are at their respective departments. They utilize user-friendly advanced or business analytics applications – such as the Decision Intelligence (DI)-focused tools from Paretos – which enable them to analyze data and prepare or make decisions themselves, even without specialized programming knowledge. This makes them the perfect link between IT and decision-makers – concrete analytical tasks can be clarified at departmental level without burdening IT resources. Questions about the structure and modeling of data sets, on the other hand, are discussed directly between Citizen Analysts and IT’s Data Scientists.

A basic prerequisite for the use of Citizen Analysts within the corporate environment is to identify all data pools that are relevant for achieving the formulated corporate goals and make them accessible to all. For example, the desire for more intensive end-customer relationships could involve providing key social media figures such as engagement rate or customer satisfaction score in addition to target group statistics and sales.

In order to evaluate this data as efficiently as possible using analytics tools, the format and structure of the raw data must also match the input options of the tools in such a way that the Citizen Analysts can process and interpret the output with minimal effort. Depending on company structure and legacy, this could be just a simple adjustment by IT or it could require more complex streamlining of the data sets.

It must be clear to whom the Citizen Analysts report (especially in larger companies with a widely ramified or steep hierarchy) so that all information is pooled in the best possible way for all stakeholders. This means that work orders will not be assigned more than once, the insights gained are quickly available to other departments for further use and Citizen Analysts and Data Scientists can make optimal use of synergies.

Well equipped for the future with Citizen Analysts

At the moment, the field of activity of Citizen Analysts is not formalized by a vocational training or a degree program, so suitable employees are usually qualified in-house or via external training courses where they are taught how to handle the analytics tools used and basic knowledge of Data Science. Experienced business users with the above-mentioned soft skills and a basic knowledge of statistics are suitable for such training measures.

As further development tends to create even more data to be collected and analysed for decision-making, the advantages of Citizen Analysts for companies are clear: A larger number of qualified employees and increased analytics capacities in the company make it possible to handle more concrete analytics questions over less time. This improves the quality of planning and also relieves the IT department of non-specialist tasks so that it can devote more time to the further development of methods and models. Companies that have expanded their options by utilizing Citizen Analysts in this way can position themselves at the top of the field wherever fast and efficient insights derived from large data streams represent decisive competitive criteria.

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