Data science combines math and statistics, specialized programming, advanced analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning with specific subject matter expertise to uncover actionable insights hidden in an organization’s data. These insights can be used to guide decision making and strategic planning.
The accelerating volume of data sources, and subsequently data, has made data science is one of the fastest growing field across every industry. As a result, it is no surprise that the role of the data scientist was dubbed the “sexiest job of the 21st century” by Harvard Business Review (link resides outside of ibm.com). Organizations are increasingly reliant on them to interpret data and provide actionable recommendations to improve business outcomes.
The data science lifecycle involves various roles, tools, and processes, which enables analysts to glean actionable insights. Typically, a data science project undergoes the following stages:
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Data science is considered a discipline, while data scientists are the practitioners within that field. Data scientists are not necessarily directly responsible for all the processes involved in the data science lifecycle. For example, data pipelines are typically handled by data engineers—but the data scientist may make recommendations about what sort of data is useful or required. While data scientists can build machine learning models, scaling these efforts at a larger level requires more software engineering skills to optimize a program to run more quickly. As a result, it’s common for a data scientist to partner with machine learning engineers to scale machine learning models.
Data scientist responsibilities can commonly overlap with a data analyst, particularly with exploratory data analysis and data visualization. However, a data scientist’s skillset is typically broader than the average data analyst. Comparatively speaking, data scientist leverage common programming languages, such as R and Python, to conduct more statistical inference and data visualization.
To perform these tasks, data scientists require computer science and pure science skills beyond those of a typical business analyst or data analyst. The data scientist must also understand the specifics of the business, such as automobile manufacturing, eCommerce, or healthcare.
In short, a data scientist must be able to:
These skills are in high demand, and as a result, many individuals that are breaking into a data science career, explore a variety of data science programs, such as certification programs, data science courses, and degree programs offered by educational institutions.
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It may be easy to confuse the terms “data science” and “business intelligence” (BI) because they both relate to an organization’s data and analysis of that data, but they do differ in focus.
Business intelligence (BI) is typically an umbrella term for the technology that enables data preparation, data mining, data management, and data visualization. Business intelligence tools and processes allow end users to identify actionable information from raw data, facilitating data-driven decision-making within organizations across various industries. While data science tools overlap in much of this regard, business intelligence focuses more on data from the past, and the insights from BI tools are more descriptive in nature. It uses data to understand what happened before to inform a course of action. BI is geared toward static (unchanging) data that is usually structured. While data science uses descriptive data, it typically utilizes it to determine predictive variables, which are then used to categorize data or to make forecasts
Data science and BI are not mutually exclusive—digitally savvy organizations use both to fully understand and extract value from their data.
Data scientists rely on popular programming languages to conduct exploratory data analysis and statistical regression. These open source tools support pre-built statistical modeling, machine learning, and graphics capabilities. These languages include the following (read more at "Python vs. R: What's the Difference?"):
To facilitate sharing code and other information, data scientists may use GitHub and Jupyter notebooks.
Some data scientists may prefer a user interface, and two common enterprise tools for statistical analysis include:
Given the steep learning curve in data science, many companies are seeking to accelerate their return on investment for AI projects; they often struggle to hire the talent needed to realize data science project’s full potential. To address this gap, they are turning to multipersona data science and machine learning (DSML) platforms, giving rise to the role of “citizen data scientist.”
Multipersona DSML platforms use automation, self-service portals, and low-code/no-code user interfaces so that people with little or no background in digital technology or expert data science can create business value using data science and machine learning. These platforms also support expert data scientists by also offering a more technical interface. Using a multipersona DSML platform encourages collaboration across the enterprise.
Cloud computing scales data science by providing access to additional processing power, storage, and other tools required for data science projects.
Since data science frequently leverages large data sets, tools that can scale with the size of the data is incredibly important, particularly for time-sensitive projects. Cloud storage solutions, such as data lakes, provide access to storage infrastructure, which are capable of ingesting and processing large volumes of data with ease. These storage systems provide flexibility to end users, allowing them to spin up large clusters as needed. They can also add incremental compute nodes to expedite data processing jobs, allowing the business to make short-term tradeoffs for a larger long-term outcome. Cloud platforms typically have different pricing models, such a per-use or subscriptions, to meet the needs of their end user—whether they are a large enterprise or a small startup.
Open source technologies are widely used in data science tool sets. When they’re hosted in the cloud, teams don’t need to install, configure, maintain, or update them locally. Several cloud providers, including IBM Cloud®, also offer prepackaged tool kits that enable data scientists to build models without coding, further democratizing access to technology innovations and data insights.
Enterprises can unlock numerous benefits from data science. Common use cases include process optimization through intelligent automation and enhanced targeting and personalization to improve the customer experience (CX). However, more specific examples include:
Here are a few representative use cases for data science and artificial intelligence:
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