Ever wished you could predict the future? Right now, data scientists in every sector of the global economy are using business analytics to do just that.
Take the competitive world of supermarket retail, for instance, where companies like Coles and Woolworths are applying advanced analytics to look further ahead in their battle for customers. With the expertise of data scientists, they’re predicting trends and targeting customers with the right offer, at the right time, using the right channel.
We spoke with Coles data scientist and La Trobe postgraduate student Michelle Lugton to discover what it’s like to work as a data scientist and what analytical techniques you need for your big data career.
Before I started my Master of Business Analytics at La Trobe, I’d been in the analytics industry for over three years. I was working then as a strategy analyst at Crown Resorts. Back then, data science had become the newest buzz word – in fact, data scientist was coined as the sexiest job of the 21st century. So I wanted to be a data scientist. And doing this course made me qualify for a job as a data scientist at Coles.
As a data scientist, I solve business problems by applying statistical and machine learning techniques. A typical day for me is meeting with stakeholders, understanding different challenges and opportunities for the business, then brainstorming with colleagues to see how we can use statistical and machine learning techniques to solve these problems.
I love seeing the power of numbers and how they can support or discredit a business claim. I also love that more and more companies understand the importance of business analytics, which means increasing demand for analysts and data scientists.
Having an understanding of which technique to use for which business problem is extremely important. The business problems that I worked on as an analyst were mostly descriptive (‘What has happened?’) and prescriptive (‘What should we do?’), but as a data scientist the problems are more predictive (‘What could happen?’) and prescriptive. My data scientist role also involves more coding and more advanced statistical techniques.
The most important skill I learned through the Master of Business Analytics was predictive analytics. It’s an advanced form of analytics that uses statistical and machine learning techniques to forecast future events. At Coles, we use predictive analytics in multiple projects. One of them is weather analytics, where we predict demand for a product category depending on the weather. Another example is to estimate the financial impact of a product being deleted and estimate to which products sales of the deleted product would transfer to.
At Coles, I also manage the Analytics Graduate Program and lead the R Mentoring Program. The Analytics Graduate Program aims to recruit young talent to our Advanced Analytics team and provide opportunities for university students to do work-integrated learning through industry placements. The R Mentoring Program is an initiative that aims to upskill Coles team members by teaching them to use R. I led and designed the structure of the program, including sessions for beginners on data manipulation and data visualisation. Over 30 team members from different teams at Coles have participated in the program so far.
Postgraduate study has kept my knowledge up-to-date with the latest trends in analytics and data science. Working full time, I’ve loved the flexibility of being able to do the course online, while knowing that I also have the option to attend classes after work. The campus is in the Melbourne CBD, which makes it convenient to go to uni if I require a consultation, or when there are events and opportunities to meet my lecturers and classmates.
If you’re fascinated by the power of data and analytics, then the Master of Business Analytics at La Trobe is the course for you. If you’re currently working, you don’t have to worry, as one of the best things about doing this course at La Trobe is the flexibility. You don’t even have to be in Melbourne to do the course. The academic staff are accommodating and always happy to help if you have any questions. There’s nothing you can’t achieve if you put your mind into it.
Want to align your career with a global big data future? Apply now to study a degree in data science or business analytics at La Trobe in Semester 2, 2018.