Why data as a career?

Strong data security measures are crucial for maintaining the health of business data, making data scientists the business doctor for the information age.
Nicky Pantland
By Nicky Pantland, Data analyst, PBT Group.
Johannesburg, 10 Jul 2024
Nicky Pantland, data analyst at PBT Group.
Nicky Pantland, data analyst at PBT Group.

Given my professional field, a question I get asked often is: “Why did you choose data as a career?” This question is particularly relevant today given the focus on, and investment in, data-related infrastructure and talent.

The simplest answer that I normally opt for is to remark on how I love puzzles; however, the truth is much deeper than that. Yes, I do love puzzles, but for me data is to business as medicine is to humans. Let me explain.

Just as the human body is made up of many linked and interdependent systems, so is the data environment within a business. And just as data has emerged as the pivotal element in business, the lifeblood of a business if you will, so too is medicine an indispensable element in human health.

At its core, medicine ensures the human body functions optimally. From general practitioners to specialists, medicine is applied in various forms to maintain health, treat ailments and enhance overall well-being.

Just as the human body relies on various systems working in harmony, businesses depend on integrated data systems.

Similarly, data serves as the diagnostic tool, the treatment plan and the preventive measure that drives business success. Neglecting medical advice can lead to severe health consequences, and ignoring data insights can result in substantial business setbacks. This analogy between data and medicine extends beyond a mere metaphor; it reflects the profound and multifaceted ways in which both are integral to the systems they support.

The process of collecting data can be likened to gathering medical information. In healthcare, doctors collect symptoms, medical histories and test results. Similarly, businesses collect data from various sources, such as customer transactions, social media interactions and market research.

Just as the human digestive system ingests and breaks down food into nutrients that the body can use, data integration systems combine data from different sources, transforming it into a unified format that can be easily analysed and utilised.

Effective data integration ensures businesses can leverage all available information, just as proper digestion ensures the body can absorb all necessary nutrients.

The raw data collected, much like unprocessed medical data, needs to be carefully analysed to extract meaningful insights. In both cases, the quality of the information gathered is paramount; poor data can lead to incorrect diagnoses and ineffective treatments.

Data analysis in business is comparable to the diagnostic processes in medicine. Data scientists and analysts examine business data to identify patterns, uncover opportunities and make informed decisions.

Through data analysis, businesses can uncover insights about customer behaviour, market trends and internal process efficiencies. This diagnostic capability enables businesses to respond promptly and appropriately, just as a correct medical diagnosis leads to effective treatment.

Once a diagnosis is made, the next step in medicine is treatment. The treatment plan is tailored to the patient's specific needs, ensuring the best possible outcome. In the business realm, data-driven strategies are the equivalent of medical treatments.

Data provides the foundation for developing strategies to address identified issues or to capitalise on opportunities, enabling businesses to customise their strategies, much like personalised medicine, to achieve optimal results.

Preventive medicine is another critical aspect of healthcare, focusing on maintaining health and preventing diseases before they occur. Similarly, in business, data is used for preventive measures to avoid potential problems.

Predictive analytics can forecast future trends, allowing businesses to prepare and adapt proactively. Regular data audits ensure the information used for decision-making is accurate and up to date, much like regular health check-ups ensure ongoing well-being. By leveraging data for preventive strategies, businesses can avoid crises and maintain smooth operations.

Just as the human body relies on various systems working in harmony, businesses depend on integrated data systems. The human body’s circulatory, nervous and immune systems must function together seamlessly for optimal health. Similarly, businesses need their data management, analytics and operational systems to be well co-ordinated.

Comparing the elements of data work to the systems of the human body can provide a clear and intuitive understanding of how various data functions contribute to the overall health and performance of a business.

The circulatory system in the human body is responsible for transporting blood, nutrients and oxygen to cells. Similarly, data flow within a business ensures information is distributed to the right places at the right times.

Data engineers ensure data flows smoothly between different systems and departments. They work to prevent blockages and ensure the data pipeline is efficient and effective. Just as blockages in blood flow can lead to serious health issues, disruptions in data flow can cause significant operational problems.

The nervous system controls and co-ordinates all bodily functions by transmitting signals between different parts of the body. In a business, data processing systems act as the nervous system, transmitting information and co-ordinating activities across various departments. Advanced data processing capabilities enable real-time decision-making, much like the rapid responses of the human nervous system.

The immune system protects the body against harmful invaders like viruses and bacteria. In the business world, data security systems serve a similar function, protecting sensitive information from cyber threats and data breaches. Just as a robust immune system is essential for health, strong data security measures are crucial for maintaining the integrity and trustworthiness of business data.

In conclusion, the above comparisons sum up why I chose data as a career – because I am the equivalent of a business doctor for the information age.

Understanding these parallels can help us appreciate the complexity and importance of data in the modern business world, reinforcing the idea that data is truly the lifeblood of business, much like medicine is to human health.