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The rise of the citizen data scientist

Katherine Noyes | April 8, 2016
The concept is gaining ground, but not everyone is convinced: 'Would you trust your teeth to a citizen dentist?' one analyst asks.

Platfora's Zintak says built-in corporate governance structures can address that issue by controlling security and access levels, for example. At Sears, two weeks of training for the company's 300+ citizen data scientists have helped as well.

'Data is viral - everybody wants it'

Sears finalized its migration from a DB2 relational database management system to a Hadoop data lake in 2015. It had already adopted Platfora for a small group of specialists, but it wasn't long before the need for broader availability became clear.

"Data is viral -- everybody wants it," Pickett said. "It quickly became apparent that we had to solve for the volume of data requested by people by enabling them to become self-sufficient."

Focusing on the 300 or so people who handled many of the reporting needs for their teams, Sears' own in-house experts conducted the training to bring those users up to speed. Topics covered included nomenclature and data-set manipulation, for example.

Today, those employees request data, not reports, he said: "That's when we knew this was starting to take shape."

Now freed up from the bulk of the company's ad hoc reporting needs, Pickett's team can focus on higher-level tasks such as data curation, model building and governance.

'Start small and just do it'

Overall, Pickett touts decentralized decision-making as one of the chief benefits of the citizen data scientist model.

"It's not just about reducing reliance on us," he said. "It's empowering people to become more capable with their own data, and that's enabling them to think about their business in new ways."

If Pickett had to do it all over again, he'd make the transition to the citizen data scientist model sooner, he said.

"There's no easy way to make this paradigm shift, so rather than try to plan everything out, start small and just do it," he advised. "Once people understand what's available to them, the adoption becomes viral. They'll have tons of questions, and that's awesome."


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