How do I prepare myself to be a data analyst?

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Originally published on Quora: How do I prepare myself to be a Data Analyst?

Based on how you are framing your question, it seems that you currently don’t have “Data Analysis” Background but want to build a career in this field. Here are three things you could do:

  1. Learn Tech Skills: You will need technical knowledge to be successful at analyzing data. SQL and Excel are a good starting point. You could do a lot with these tools — then depending on the bandwidth that you might have you could explore R. How do you learn this? Here’s a learning pathway: Learn #Data Analysis online – free curriculum ; Also search for free courses on Coursera or other platforms.
  2. Learn Soft/Business Skills: This is as important as tech skills (if not more!) when it comes to Data Analysis. Finding Insights from your data is half the battle, you will need to put the insights in a context/story and influence business decisions and sometimes influence business change. we know change is always hard! So your soft/business skills will be very important. Also, you will benefit a lot from learning about how to break down problems, communicate your solution by using “business” language vs tech-speak.
  3. Apply them (and keep improving): Now that you have picked up some tech and soft/biz skills, apply them! Get an internship, Help out a non-profit in your free time (Data Kind, Statistics Without borders, Volunteer Match are good resources to find a non-profit) and start applying your skills! It would also help you get some “Real” world experience and applying what you have learned while “learning-on-the-job” is arguably the BEST way to pick something up!

Hope that helps!

“4W” framework for assessing your Analytics Maturity:

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Most organizations could benefit from Analytics but before you set the Analytics road-map for your organization, it’s important to figure out your current stage and then build the road-map to achieve your vision. So how do we figure out the analytics maturity of an organization? Let me share a framework to think about this:

I have blogged about “Business Analytics Continuum” before — it’s a great framework to think about Analytics maturity in an organization — BUT the issue is that it’s harder for business people to remember the stages: Descriptive -> Diagnostics -> Predictive -> Prescriptive — And so there’s a simpler (but equally effective) framework that I have been using over past few months (What -> Why -> What’s next aka “3W” framework). And recently at a Microsoft Analytics conference, I saw this framework with an extra “W” which makes total sense that I liked a lot! So i thought I will share that with you all. So here you go — 4W framework:

Stage 1: What Happened?

Stage 2: Why did it happen?

Stage 3: What will happen?

Stage 4: What should I do?

Analytics Framework What Why Whats Next HOW

Credit: Microsoft Data Insights Summit

I hope the framework as you think about your organization’s analytics vision/road-map and stages that you need to go through to help your org succeed with data!

Recommendations:
Building data driven companies — 3 P’s framework.

Are Dashboards dead?… #Analytics

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Let’s think through:

Are Dashboards Dead?

With lot of vendors pushing for democratizing analytics (a.k.a self-service), it may seem that the dashboards would soon be dead!

You need two things to make a org data driven. 1) Push 2) Pull.

“Pull”

…is where most of the analytics vendors are focused right more — it’s set of technologies that the business users want. The big idea here is to enable business users to pull whatever data they want, whenever they want without having to wait for Analytics/IT. Note that the business users are doing the heavy-lifting in analysis (of course you need a data platform to enable this but still it’s the business users using the platform and doing their analysis)

“Push”

…is where there are dashboards which are built by central IT/Analytics and are ready to be consumed by the business users. This should be a governed environment where a lot of effort has been invested by Analytics/IT to make that the metrics are standardized & accurate. This is key to making this work — if the metrics on the dashboard are accurate and metrics are standardized then business users would trust these dashboards more than the self-service dashboards. This would also be their one-place to go view all key performance indicators for their org/department and then if they see something “interesting” (or better yet — get an alert!) then they can dive into the self-service environment and do their thing. You see, “Push” strategy is really great at getting the data to all business users and then “pushing” them to do use the self-service analytics platform.

[BTW: Putting bunch of reports in a grid layout is not what I am talking about here. I am limiting my definition of dashboard which have KPI’s and directs users to where they should be focusing on]

(Again, two things to do here to make sure the push strategy succeeds. 1) Having standardized & accurate data = earn trust! 2) Having KPI’s that align with the strategic plan of the org/dept)

Dashboards Push Pull Analytics Strategy

So now having understood what these strategies are let’s take a minute to put them to use to answer the question:

Are Dashboards Dead Yet?

So let’s imagine a scenario where a org does not a Push Strategy. They have implemented a self-service platform and are focused on evolving that. Now there are two problems that they will run into:

  1. For “casual” users — How do they get them the training they need? OR support that they need?
  2. For “power” users — Once they start creating their own calculated metrics then how do they make sure that they are standardized across what other power users are doing? (also, how do they validate if what they are analyzing is accurate?)

You see both of those problems can be partially (if not completely) solved by having Dashboards:

  1. Dashboards are a great way for casual users to look at their KPI and then they can figure out where they would focus on
  2. Also, Dashboards are a great way to provide standardized & accurate metrics so everyone could trust the number that they are looking at
  3. Note that it shouldn’t require you to start from zero! You should be using the data modeling layer built for your self service platform for the dashboards as well

And that’s why I think Dashboards are not dead yet.

PS: You might see some vendors that are pushing for a different approach where the platform would auto-magically go through the data and get you the “insights” — I think it’s a great approach. Usually they would target dashboards but I would argue that they compete more with “Pull” strategies rather than “Push” because now the business user won’t have to explore so many different variables but the platform could do that heavy-lifting and get them quick insights.

Building data driven companies — 3 P’s framework.

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Data Driven Comapnies need Process Platform People

Data Driven Companies — 3 P’s framework

People:

To build data-driven organization, you need decision makers to use data instead of anything else. So you need to help built a culture where data-driven decision-making thrives — usually this is most efficient if you have executive buy-in. Example: A CEO who is a stats-junkie! Of course, not every company would have this. It could be that you find yourself in an organization where the CEO is known to make huge bets just using “gut” — in cases like this, an organization could have some of the best platform and processes but unfortunately, it won’t do any good.

Now just having people who make data driven decisions is not enough — you (as a data professional) need to deliver “data” to them. To do that you need 1) Processes 2) Platform. So let’s talk about them:

Platform:

A platform in this context is the data and analytics platform used by the organization to get the data they need, when they need it. If the organization is small (e.g. less than 15 or so) then the platform could be excel and engineers/analyst writing ad-hoc queries but as you grow (= team size expands) then you need better platform to serve the data needs of the organization. Some tools are better than others and you would usually wind up using multiple vendors in your analytics stack — but remember that jut having a great analytics platform is not enough. You need the “people” and the “processes” to go with that. So, with that let’s talk about process:

Process:

Process is everything between Platform and People. Let me expand on this. Here are few things where having a defined process is key for building data-driven organizations.

  1. How to prioritize the analytics request? It will be great to have a process where you/team will work on projects that closely align with the strategic objective of the company
  2. What does the analytics org-structure look like? Do you have analyst embedded in each team or do you have a centralized team or do you go for a hybrid approach?
  3. What is the process to justify investment in analytics?
  4. Which is the “right” metric definition? (There needs to be a process that keeps the metric definition standardized in an organization)
  5. What is the process to clean data? (Maintaining data integrity is key. You could put this on “Platform” bucket as well)
  6. How do users get “help”? (Is there a ticketing system that they should use? Is it just another “IT” ticket? Who responds to tickets? What’s the SLA around analytics queue tickets? etc)
  7. Who owns “analytics”? There needs to be someone on the team owns analytics like analytics manager, VP of analytics and he/she should be reporting to someone on management team (CIO, CFO, COO, Chief of Staff, CEO) who is held responsible as well.

The list goes on…but I hope you get the point. Having a well-defined processes in an organization is important — usually, this stuff gets less attention and org’s/teams tend to focus just on “platform” which might not be the best thing to do.

Having shared the 3 P’s, let me share few tips on

How to go about implementing the framework:

Three tips:

  1. Identify the “P” that has the best ROI
  2. It’s an iterative process!
  3. Refine as needed

On #1. To help you identify the “P” that has the best ROI, your first step could be to create a matrix to help you evaluate where your organizations falls. I have shown an example below:

Building Data Driven companies 3 Ps framework matrix

If you want to build analytics from scratch then you would love working at early stage startups (bottom-right) but if you like advanced stuff (data-science) then Top-right corner is great! Also, For org’s in Top Left where you have the platform and processes but lack data-driven people — it would be wise to crank up your efforts to drive adoption. (since you already have the right platform and process than any additional investment here would yield little to no ROI).

On #2. Understand that it’s an iterative process. You are never done optimizing any of these P’s! It’s a journey and not a destination.

Continuos Improvement Process People Platform

On #3: Just like with other frameworks, you’ll need to refine and adjust this based on your needs. You may have noticed that I focused on “Org-wide” framework but you could be heading up an analytics function for a department and in that case, not all of the things here would help. “People”, “Process” and “Platform” would still apply on a high level but it might just be that you don’t have “control” over the platform. So, you may need to refine/adjust this as needed.

I hope the framework is a great tool for you to think about building data driven companies!

Best,
Paras Doshi

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Doing Data Science at Twitter — A great read!

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Doing Data science at Twitter

Doing Data science at Twitter

Why is “Doing Data Science at Twitter” a great read?

This is an insider’s perspective from someone who is working at a company that I classify as having the highest level of analytics maturity — In other words, Twitter is known to apply knowledge gained from data science into their products and business processes.

It’s also important to recognize that every company is different and the analytics/data-science tools/techniques/processes that would be implemented would also vary based on the analytics maturity — I love that this was one of the key insights shared in this article.

Also, the article talks about two types of data scientists…I thought it was great way to classify them because there’s a lot of confusion in the industry around what a Data scientist does. With that, Here’s the URL:

My two-year journey as a data scientist at twitter

Best,
Paras Doshi

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500 posts! New Blog Domain name = InsightExtractor.com!

500 blog posts paras doshi
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A new milestone for this blog — 500+ posts! To commemorate this, I decided to change the domain name from ParasDoshi.com to InsightExtractor.com — my goal was two-fold:1) provide an easy to remember name 2) representative of the work that we all do: we help extract insights from data.

Remember to subscribe to this Blog via Email or RSS.

RSS:

http://insightextractor.com/feed/

Email:

Best,
Paras Doshi

How to change the Data Source of a SQL Server Reporting Services Report (Native Mode)?

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Problem:

You have your SQL Server Reporting Services environment in native mode — and you want to modify the data source of a report there.

Solution:

  1. Navigate to Report Manager.
  2. Navigate to the Report that you want to Manage and run it
  3. After the report renders, you will have a breadcrumb navigation on the top right
  4. Click on the Last Part of the Breadcrumb NavigationSSRS properties report native mode
  5. It should open up the “properties” section of this report
  6. On the properties section, you should be able to manage the data source
    SSRS Manage Data Source Native Mode Shared
  7. Make the changes that you wanted to the data source settings of this SSRS report — and don’t forget to click “apply”
  8. Done!

Author: Paras Doshi