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Peter TasalaNov 27, 2023 12:14:55 AM2 min read

Beyond SQL and Dashboards: The Real Challenge for AI in Data Analysis

In the data analytics space, there's a growing conversation about the role of Generative AI and its potential to automate the tasks of data analysts, for example, utilzing AI-powered tools such as CHAT WITH YOUR DATA™. While the prospect of AI-driven analytics is exciting, it's crucial to peel back the layers and understand the true complexity the role of a data analysts.

The Misconception of Automation in Data Analysis

The common belief that AI can completely automate data analysis stems from a misunderstanding of what data analysts do. Writing SQL queries and creating visualizations, often seen as the essence of data analysis, actually represent just the tip of the iceberg. The reality is, these tasks are just the most visible and arguably the simplest part of a data analyst's responsibilities.

The Unseen 90%: Navigating the Data Maze

The bulk of a data analyst’s job is far more complicated. It involves:

  • Assessing Data Trustworthiness: Analysts spend considerable time evaluating the reliability and quality of data sources. AI, as of now, struggles with understanding the nuances of data credibility.

  • Clarifying Semantic Meaning: Understanding what data signifies, especially when dealing with varying terminologies and definitions across databases, requires human intuition and context.

  • Resolving Data Discrepancies: Confronting situations where the same data point shows different values across databases is a routine challenge. Analysts must unravel these mysteries, often without (clear) documentation.

  • Historical Data Analysis: Understanding how and why data has evolved over time is crucial for accurate analysis. This often involves digging through layers of legacy systems and outdated processes.

  • Navigating Legacy Systems: Many organizations still rely on legacy data systems, which are riddled with complexities that only seasoned analysts can navigate.

  • Interdepartmental Coordination: Analysts frequently liaise with engineering and other departments to gather information, a task that requires interpersonal skills beyond AI’s current scope.

  • Data Contextualization: Perhaps the most critical, analysts contextualize data, turning numbers into data stories that inform business decisions. This requires a deep understanding of the business context, which AI lacks.

The Real Challenge: Addressing Data Debt

The term "data debt" refers to the accumulated costs associated with the maintenance, repair, and updating of data systems. It encompasses outdated technologies, undocumented databases, and inefficient processes. As long as this data debt exists, any AI-driven analysis will be limited, akin to "polishing the surface of a rusty car."

The Path Forward

For AI to genuinely revolutionize data analytics, it must address these underlying challenges. It needs to evolve to understand context, interpret semantic meanings accurately, and navigate complex, undocumented data landscapes.

Final Words

While AI brings promising advancements in data processing and visualization, its ability to replace the nuanced, context-driven work of data analysts is still a distant goal. The focus should be on reducing data debt and improving data systems, paving the way for AI to complement rather than replace the human expertise in data analysis. Until then, the role of the data analyst remains irreplaceably human – a blend of detective, interpreter, and storyteller, turning data into meaningful business insights.

How can we help you?

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Peter Tasala

As Data Strategist at Vidalico Digital, he is a hands-on problem solver and turnaround manager with over 20 years of experience in data analytics and digital transformation.