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How to Identify and Empower the Citizen Data Professional

The shortage of data scientists has created an influx of data-literate business users assuming a bigger role in data and analytics. Access to insights is paramount to their success e. At Matillion, we recognize these employees as Citizen Data Professionals (CDPs), data-savvy knowledge workers that sit outside the IT department, who want to tackle data problems using intuitive, simple tools to load and centralize data sources for analytics and innovation.


But it has not been easy for organizations to empower individuals inside the business to prepare data for analytics. In a new pulse report, Faster Insights for All Empowering Citizen Data Professionals to Make Powerful Business Decisions, TDWI research finds that three out of four organizations (74%) say that it’s either “extremely” or “very” important to reduce the amount of time and resources spent on data preparation and pipeline development. In order to allocate development resources effectively and democratize access to data, IT professionals need to work with CDPs, providing them with lightweight a data ingestion tool enabling data self-service in a responsible, governed manner. 

Who is a Citizen Data Professional?

CDPs exist in many different functions of business, from marketing to finance to human resources. They are analytically curious, technically literate, and need tools that are easy to use that help them to do self-serve extension into advanced analytics. In addition to having an appetite for insight, more often than not, they align with the following criteria.

They are data-savvy

More people across the business want to get their hands on data. These people may not be computer scientists and they may not be programmers, but they are likely data-savvy. Often they are millennials who have grown up with an understanding of data and data structures. They may know languages like SQL and want to own and access the data. But they will still need easy-to-use tools that will guide them through that process.

They have a deep understanding of their data needs 

Citizen Data Professionals know their data needs better than anyone, which is why relying on IT to help wrangle the data sources they need is not always an easy task. Explaining, chasing, and nudging IT for help with data access could mean losing weeks of productivity. The CDP is so in tune with their data and the business challenges they are trying to solve with it that they are perfectly positioned to innovate with those insights to move the business forward.

They are not IT professionals

While these individuals have more knowledge than the average business user, they are not in IT. They won’t necessarily care about IAM roles or Linux kernel versions or things like EC2 instances. Citizen Data Professionals need IT to help them access and innovate with data. And IT needs the CDP to involve them in the selection of tools and software to ensure compliance and governance across the business. These two groups should work together, with IT providing oversight and the CDP staying within the regulatory guardrails that IT institutes. 

How IT helps the Citizen Data Professional succeed

Because CDPs are technical enough to do simple data loading and pipelining, IT can be a great ally, helping them go even further with their data initiatives. Despite being more data-literate than the average employee, CDPs often only understand data in their own context and build projects and tech stacks in an insular way. There are a few things IT can do from the onset to help set them up for success.

Help them find the right tools

The best solutions for simple data use cases will be user-friendly, no-code/low-code products that have intuitive features. CDPs still need a simplistic UX and lightweight experience to create data pipelines and load data sources. IT can help evaluate software that can ensure that CDP data projects follow the organization’s business logic and keep sensitive data secure. Ideally,  IT and the CDP work on a single data integration platform:  CDPs use it to centralize their data,  and IT audits and assist as needed.

Provide them with the right access

Lightweight tools with GUIs help streamline workflows for both CDPs and technical users. However, there will be an education curve for less technical users. For example, CDPs may not know about versioning,  which could be an obstacle to building pipelines. IT will need to be involved with setup and then will need to ensure that  CDPs work within an IT-approved environment. Both teams should expect some hand-holding in the beginning as they figure out processes and permissions. CDPs will need–and want–IT to provide guardrails and requirements before giving them access to the data they need.

Show them how to innovate

Often, business users know what data they have, but are unsure what to do with it. As the experts in the room, IT can play an important role in helping the CDP understand how to drive toward impactful analytics, generating the reports and insights that matter to the business. IT can help CDPs work backward from first understanding the business need, to identifying the data sources to inform the problem, finally arriving at the software that will help them uncover insights.

The rise of the Citizen Data Professional

For enterprises that need to compete using data, every employee needs to be armed with the insights that help them contribute to rapid business growth.  Embracing and encouraging data self-service can help businesses move faster in a more strategic, data-informed way. 

Download the TDWI Pulse Report, Faster Decisions for All: Empowering Citizen Data Professionals to Make Powerful Business Decisions, to learn more.