Here’s Why Business Leaders Need to Understand Data Science

Once upon a time, companies struggled to gain access to the information they needed to meet consumer needs and market their products effectively. These days, the tables have turned — today’s corporations are awash in so much data that they literally don’t know what to do with it all.

Over the past few years, data science has become an essential tool for businesses hoping to understand their target markets. Every day, consumers generate more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data, and in the two years prior to 2014, more data was created than in the whole of human history prior. And it’s no longer enough for managers to simply hand the reams of data over to a team of data scientists and wait for their recommendations.

Managers themselves need to understand data science to help their organizations make the most effective use of the data at their disposal. Managers are typically the ones making important business decisions, after all, so to make the right choices they need to understand what the data their teams are analyzing means. Degree programs like the William and Mary MSBA are emerging to prepare business leaders to meet the needs of companies who are more desperate for data scientist managers than ever.

Know What Data Is Most Useful

The thing about data science is that it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers without understanding what they mean or whether they’re useful to your company. To make the most use of the data that your organization has access to, you need to understand where it’s coming from, what amount of it is useful and how it fits into your business plan.

You can’t just grab data willy-nilly and hope that it will help you create your next line of stand-out products or your next successful marketing campaign. You need to know what kinds of data will be most useful for your business purposes, and how to design customer interactions to get those kinds of data. Deciding what kind of data you need to collect means identifying the problem that data can help solve, and as a leader, it’s your job to identify those kinds of problems. That’s why managers and leaders at all levels of the company need solid backgrounds in data science.

Understand How It Applies to Your Business

Not all data is the same, and just because a conclusion was reached after much crunching of numbers and creating of colorful charts doesn’t mean it’s an accurate conclusion. Without a solid background in data science, you might be lulled into believing that your marketing campaign to sell lots of winter boots was a success, when in fact there was just an unusually snowy winter. Maybe you would have sold just as many boots without the ad campaign, especially if your brand is already popular.

Of course, that doesn’t mean your marketing campaign had no influence on the rise in sales of snow boots. Data doesn’t emerge in a vacuum; it’s a result of people doing things in reaction to other things, and one of those things could indeed be your marketing campaign. If you have a solid background in data science, you’ll understand how to look for plausible explanations for the data you’re collecting, and you can draw the right conclusions to make the right tweaks to your strategy.

Let’s say, for example, that you replace some of your old, slow and clunky equipment with newer, faster and flashier models. You expect that your employees will become more efficient as a result, but data collected after the upgrade reveals that they’re actually working slower. What gives? It’s probably because they’re still learning the new equipment. Maybe younger, less experienced employees are more likely to gravitate to the newer equipment, and while they might be generally better at harnessing new technology, they’re probably also more likely to make mistakes on the job. You need to understand the principles behind data science to unravel these mysteries and take steps to solve new problems that crop up.

If you’re a business leader, it’s time you put some serious thought toward learning more about data science. Today’s corporate leaders need to know the underpinnings of data analysis, so they can more effectively guide their analysis teams in the right direction.

Ryan Kh