Citizen Data Scientists Puts Spotlight on Geospatial Tech

Citizen Data Scientists Puts Spotlight on Geospatial Tech

February 3, 2020

GeoSpock CEO Richard Baker says ubiquitous technology and availability of public data means the general public can now perform analytical tasks, giving rise to what’s been dubbed Citizen Data Scientists. Baker discusses the implications for businesses in light of this trend.

By Richard Baker

Singaporeans today are constantly “switched on” and connected, creating vast data sets relating to their movements, browsing behaviours and even purchase decisions. This allows brands to gain granular insight into who their customers are, what they do, what they like or dislike, and what they need. The advent of geospatial technology can make all the difference in the world, and data is key to understanding how consumers behave.

The sheer quantity and complexity of information can indeed be overwhelming. However, with the right tools, businesses will be able to better manage large data sets to analyse real-world consumer movements, explore consumer behavioural and purchasing patterns, and identify particular audience groups of interest for better segmentation. Those that wish to contend this digital arena must make full use of every tool at their disposal to stay ahead of the game.

While businesses have now come to realise that geospatial data enables them to scratch out their competitive edge, many still seem to struggle to incorporate it into their broader business strategies. Thus, despite their best intentions to keep up, more often than not their strategies end up being unsuccessful.

Businesses are often limited by the increasing talent gap when it comes to maximizing the potential of geospatial data they have on hand. In Singapore alone, the demand for technology jobs rose by 20 per cent between the last two years, according to a recent Michael Page Salary Benchmark 2019 report. While there is a high demand for data science talent among other roles, it is also accompanied by a shortage of supply.

To work around this, businesses tend to make the mistake of hiring a junior data scientist to start with. Between high expectations and the lack of industry experience, someone on a junior level – even a highly talented one with strong PhD credentials – can have a really hard time navigating corporate structures and defining impactful projects for the business. Business strategies differ in length and scale, so it’s important for leaders and decision makers to lock that down early on.

With strategies in place, businesses may sometimes be side-tracked with the greater returns that geospatial data has to offer and rush into the implementation stage still with their old infrastructure in place. How do organisations expect today’s data scientists to work if they don’t have the data and infrastructure needed to run their analysis?

While tools can help businesses explore data and develop predictive models, data scientists who understand how to leverage geospatial data are still needed to translate that into actionable insights for the business. Thus, it’s important to have a holistic view of a business with geospatial data at the centre of that.

There should be a balance between giving domain experts the power to apply geospatial data in their particular line of business and recruiting a dedicated data science team that sits apart. Both strategies are complementary to one another. In large corporations, we encourage data scientists to spend time becoming embedded in different lines of business. However, businesses also need data scientists to come back together to share what they have learnt. Only then is it possible to break down the siloes that create big inefficiencies and focus on how data science can take the business forward.

It’s a traditional view that only businesses can start using data to drive their strategy – but that’s starting to change. Ubiquitous technology and the growing availability of public data means the general public can now perform analytical tasks, giving rise to what’s referred to as “citizen data scientists” by Gartner. These are “power users” who can perform both simple and moderately sophisticated analytical tasks that would previously have required more expertise.

The Singapore government has already placed data science and geospatial technology in its national agenda. For example, OneMap, Singapore’s national online map platform, uses geospatial data to allow citizen data scientists to get more information about a location, including eateries, supermarkets and other amenities in an area all in real-time. With its easy-to-implement Application Programming Interface (APIs), anybody is free to download this data and perform their own analysis to identify trends that help their daily lives.

All this may be sound advice but know that no matter how well prepared you are, there will always be slip-ups on the road to transformation and adoption. It’s hard to think of any industry that will not be affected by data science in the future and it’s important to remain positive and responsive with opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. These new technologies will be incredibly disruptive and responsible for reshaping different industries and areas of business processes, and we’re excited to see what the future holds.


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