A Brief Primer on Data Science and What It Can Do for Your Business
With all of the data available on the internet, a new area of study emerged called data science, which is a spinoff of old business analytics but with a twist of machine learning. It’s not a new concept, but having a data science team that works with developers wasn’t common a decade ago. Now, a data science team is a beneficial part of a group of developers. It’s an expensive addition to your development team, so here is a brief explanation of the data science process and what data models can do for you.
What is Data Science?
A simple definition of data science is that it’s the study of analyzing information and predicting outcomes. The predictions are mainly made using machine learning, but just one model can take months of data extraction, cleanup, coding, and deployment.
Data science requires much larger reservoirs of data than a standard application using basic algorithms. You can’t use a few dozen stored records to analyze data accurately. You need millions of records to build and test a model. The first step for a data scientist to work with any organization is to gather and clean data. You’ve probably heard of “big data” and may even use the technology in your current applications. Big data is unstructured, but it’s perfect for data science.
Unstructured data technologies grab as many records as possible and store them in a database such as MongoDB. This data can be anything, but just as an example consider a website and each of its pages. A crawler finds pages on a website and stores its text, images, and links in an unstructured record. You can scrape an entire site and get its data without worrying about structuring the data as you crawl as long as you use a database that supports unstructured formats.
The next step is to clean the data, which is probably the most tedious part of data science. Most scientists clean the data and load it into a CSV file, which is a comma-delimited list of values. These files are easy to import either into another database or code, and any operating system supports them.
After collecting the data, it’s time to figure out its functions. The data scientist first analyzes the data he has and asks a question. For instance, maybe you want to know what products are more likely to attract customers. You could take data from your e-commerce store and use previous customer orders to determine which products are most popular and which ones could be popular during the holidays to improve your sales and focus marketing efforts. Data science models could answer this question for you and make predictions using machine learning to contribute to improving your sales.
Building a Model
After the data scientist and the business determine the question to be answered, it’s time to build a model. A model is a unit of code that represents the “answer” to the question. The answer is usually represented in a graph to make it easier for the public to consume and understand the information. The visuals are typically a part of a library imported into the project, but the data scientist must ensure that the analysis that transforms data to a graph is accurate.
One of two main programming languages often is chosen to create the models. R is the language of math and statistics, so is the likely choice if your scientists have a mathematics educational background. More people understand Python, which is suitable for other development projects and is more popular among data scientists. Colleges teach Python, and because of its wide use within programming circles, you might find it easier to implement with a smaller learning curve.
The data scientist creates the model with the question in mind. Using the e-commerce example, here’s how it works: The data scientist would review the data and set it up as rows and columns to import into Python code, which then calculates and displays it as a graph. The graph can be any number of plots, charts, and even visualization tools such as Excel or PowerPoint. The visual output is used to present information to the business for them to sign off on the results. Once the analysis is shown to be accurate, the data scientist can move on to the next step, which is creating the model.
The foundation for the model is logistic code that takes the data stored in a CSV file and runs it through the data scientist’s algorithms. The algorithms could be open-source or custom made by the scientist. It’s not uncommon for a developer to also dive into the analytics to better understand what must be deployed.
Although every model is different, you can just think of them as a module of code that represents the answer to a question. The business asks the question, and the data scientist develops a solution in the form of a model.
Statistically, most models never even make it to the application. Developers are hesitant to deploy machine learning code into an application without fully understanding what the code does, but it’s necessary for the business to take advantage of each model.
A good example of a machine learning module and local applications is in the finance industry. When you go to a cashier and want credit at the department store, you give her some information about yourself without telling your life story. From just your social security number, name and birth date, an algorithm can decide whether or not to give you credit. These financial decisions are made using data science models.
The question that the model answers is: “Are you a trustworthy candidate for credit, and does your data history indicate that you will pay the money back?” You know that the response to a credit application is either yes or no. Data models written by data scientists make this decision, and they use machine learning to pick up on patterns within millions of records.
Integrating Data Science into Business Code
Building a new data team is costly, takes time, and there is a learning curve for your developers. The benefits far outweigh the disadvantages, and you can work with project managers and agencies to help get you started.
If you’ve thought of taking your business analytics to the next level, adding a data scientist to your current IT team is the way to go. Your developers will learn new skills, your business will make more money, and you can take advantage of the latest in code design and database storage technologies.