Purple People: conundrum of finding business expertise among Data Scientists

Purple is the blend of Red (Business acumen) and Blue (Analytical abilities) and it is a very desired combination for data scientists.

By Somjit Amrit, Sep 18, 2013.

Over the last several months, as I looked at addressing the business needs across various industries as someone leading a team of Data Scientists, the question of domain expertise invariably cropped up.

Multiply the business problems with the numerous industries and the enormity of the challenge becomes apparent. More so since it may not be possible to be a domain expert in every possible industry. Which begs the question, is there a line between domain knowledge and domain expertise?

Is the expectation then from the prospective customer 'You need to understand my industry language (i.e. domain knowledge)' or is it 'You need the expertise to solve an industry specific problem (i.e. domain expertise)'?

How then does one manage the expectations here? A typical Data Scientist needs to be adept in understanding the business problem, have a good handle of the data on hand, and have a grasp of the algorithms which would aid him/her in the journey of discovery, design, deployment and ultimately delivering the results .

These would come in various shades across Data Scientists. As the area becomes mainstream at a furious pace, primarily driven by storage and accessibility costs, the need to balance out the three, otherwise known as the "Triangle of Intelligence", namely business (knowledge or expertise), data (content) and algorithm (thinking) will possibly decide the difference between resounding success and abysmal failure, while addressing a business problem.

The combination of business acumen and technical skill isn't easy to come by.

David Logan in his interesting blog has mentioned about the "Purple People", folks who are blessed with the business acumen and the analytical abilities. Purple is the blend of Red (Business acumen) and Blue (Analytical abilities) and we would by now know that this would be a very hard to get profile.

The only way to address this is to borrow the domain expertise from the prospective customer and build that from the base of domain knowledge one is expected to have and move forward.

More information available at technosoft-corporation.blogspot.com/

Somjit Amrit is the Chief Business Officer of Technosoft Corporation, an IT Outsourcing Services provider. Email him at somjit.amrit@technosoftcorp.com

Gregory Piatetsky: The topic of this guest blog - domain expertise and domain experts vs data scientists - was also the subject of a heated debate at KDD-2013 Panel on "Death of the expert", which I summarized in this tweet

  • From #kdd2013 panel: Who is more dangerous: Data scientist with poor domain knowledge or Domain expert with poor data science skills?