The senseless war between business and IT/data
There were four startups talking about their analytics-for-big-data products. Most of the audience was on the entrepreneurial side of big data, and not themselves data scientists. Of the people on stage, there were four entrepreneur/marketing people and one data scientist.
I noticed, during the Q&A part at the end, that there was a weird vibe in relation to IT/data teams versus business teams. Not everyone present was involved, to be clear, but rather a consistent thread of the conversation.
There was a conflict, we were told, between business and data, and the goal of these analytics platforms seemed to be, to a large extent, a way of bypassing the need for letting data people own the data. The idea was to expedite the “handoff” between the data/IT people and the business people, so that the business people could do rapid, iterative data investigations (without interference, presumably, from pesky data people).
The discussion even went so far as to describe the IT/data team as “territorial” with the data, and there was a short discussion as to how to create processes so that control of the data is clearly spelled out and is in the hands of the business, rather than the data people.
All this left we wondering if I am crazy to believe that, as a data scientist, I am also a business person.
Are we in a war that I didn’t know about? Is it a war between the business side and the data side of the business? And are these analytics platforms the space on which the war is waged? Are they either going to make data people obsolete, by making it unnecessary to hire data scientists, or are they going to make business analytics people obsolete, by allowing data scientists to quickly iterate models?
Are there really such lines drawn, and are they necessary?
Personally, I didn’t leave research in academia so that I could be an mere implementer of a “business person”‘s idea. I left so that I could be part of the decision-making process in an agile business, so that I can be part of the process that figures out what questions to ask, and moreover how to answer them, using my quantitative background.
I don’t think this war is a good idea – instead, we should strive toward creating a scenario in which data scientists and domain experts work together towards forming the question and investigating a solution.
To silo a data person is to undervalue them – indeed my best guess as to why some business people see data people as belligerent is that they’ve been undervaluing their data people, and that tends to make people belligerent.
And to give a business analyst a button on a screen which says “clustering algorithm” is to give them tools they can perhaps use but very probably can’t interpret. It’s in nobody’s interest to do this, and it’s certainly not in the interest of the ambient business.
From now on, if someone asks me if they should accept an offer as a data scientist, I’ll suggest they find out if the place is engaged in an “IT/data versus business” war, and if they are, to run away quickly. It’s a mindset that spells trouble.