How your citizen developers can help in big data projects

End users are important in the implementation of big data projects. Here are some ways you can use them to create good outcomes.


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With self-service becoming a mantra of IT across the enterprise, more companies have explored using citizen developers for their big data. Unfortunately, challenges with data consistency, lack of standardized practices and tools, and lack of training and understanding still frustrate the efforts of companies to engage citizen developers with big data.

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Nevertheless, there is a place for citizen developers in big data development—if companies know how to position these individuals for success.

What we already know is that success isn’t going to come if citizen developers and user departments go off on their own to buy business intelligence tools that they don’t know how to use. But there are ways that citizen developers can become integral, value-added participants in corporate big data efforts.

Defining, designing and revising dashboards

In other words, what citizen developers excel at is the business indicators that their departments look for to ensure health of the company. For instance, it might be just as important for a manufacturing supervisor to know the status of machines and processes on the production line as it is for him or her to know the number of accidents that have occurred in the plant over the past ten days.

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IT won’t necessarily know these metrics—but it is fully capable of finding, preparing and processing the data that needs to be summarized for the dashboard. 

Creating business use cases where big data can solve important business problems

In a recent IBM RXN demo in Zurich, Switzerland, IT didn’t define the use case for researching, constructing and developing molecules. Scientists did. The business use case was to speed production of new chemical compounds, materials, vaccines, etc., for commercial use. 

Citizen developers are often the “super users” who are adept at defining strong business use cases where big data can play an important role. IT’s role in this case should be as a technology enabler.

Ensuring the analytics work being done is aligned with the business

IT is great in developing code and cultivating data for user analytics, but business changes and so do analytics needs.

SEE: Data analytics’ big problem: ‘The tools are nice, but how do you get people to use them?’  (ZDNet)

Citizen developers can help this process by providing regular feedback to IT and data science practitioners on changes they want to see in their analytics reports so the reports stay aligned with the business.

Eliminating reports that have outlived their useful lives

For years, standard reports have piled up that are no longer used because the business has outgrown them. When this happens, it’s time to get rid of these reports and move on. IT usually performs report reviews with users on an annual basis to determine those reports that have been seldom or never used so those reports can be sunsetted or eliminated

What hasn’t been done is a similar practice for big data reporting. The big data discipline is now mature enough that dashboards, analytics reports, etc., should all be reviewed with end users each year to determine what to keep and what to discard. Citizen developers can play major roles in this exercise, since they have their hands on both the reports and the end business, and they know what’s relevant. 

Identifying new big data sources that can be used for analytics

End users and their citizen developers are the ones who attend the industry seminars and become aware of new big data sources that the company can import into big data work. IT is far less likely to be aware of these new sources. By engaging actively with citizen developers to identify new sources of big data, IT and data scientists can improve big data reports and the value that these reports return to the business. 

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