I'm not putting out a long list of 2021 predictions, but I have a couple that I will mention to you that are on my radar. First,
AI/Data Product Management Seems to be Picking Up
There seem to be more jobs appearing in product management in the AI/ML space, in particular. I am not sure why we don't see this in the analytics space, but I am seeing more jobs for this which suggests that people understand that ML solutions in particular may be best treated as software "products." I have been talking about the need treat custom analytics applications and ML/AI solutions as "products" for some time—I think this is only more true given the probabilistic nature of AI, the potential for harm/problems that can be caused when things don't go "as predicted," and the fact that significant behavior change on the part of users may be required for ML-driven applications to be fully embraced. One anecdote from the field—I have a former podcast guest looking to hire AI product managers and his biggest challenge right now? Applicants still think product management and project management are the same thing. The way I see it, nobody needs a project manager if there isn't a product strategy—so what's the difference? The product manager is in charge of making sure value will be delivered, the solution is the "right" thing to build, that the UX and design is aligned to the customer needs, and that there is a wholistic plan to drive adoption of the solution—even if that means working on "other things" (like an internal marketing campaign, or wrapping the model in some sort of handy mobile application etc.) that may have zero data science component to it, but is required to ensure the ML/AI aspects actually get into the hands of the users who matter. This is not what project managers do in my experience—they help ensure that the vision is executed, but they're not usually the ones deciding "Why are we here? What's the change we need to make? What does it look like, feel like, and act like from a UX standpoint? What is possible? How will we know if we did a good job? What does small incremental improvement look like? When is it good enough to go out?"
International Institute for Analytics 2021 Predictions Include the Importance of Software Interface Design in Data Science
- Prediction #2: Model Interaction & Exploration Come to the Forefront
- Priority (what to do about it): Integrate Design and User Interface Principles with Data Science
I saw this on the IIA webinar earlier this week (watch now via YouTube). In short, what Bill Franks talks about is that CxOs and leaders want to be able to run hypothethical scenarios with models/data to understand "what would happen to our business if....?" The point here is that shoveling analytics data at leaders is not delivering value—the value happens when the customer can get lost in the business problem/scenarios only, without worrying about how the analytics sausage is made. This not surprising to me since, as I love to state on my own webinars: nobody wants your analytics or data science. They want the RESULTS, decision support, or intelligence that these technologies "promise" them. They want an outcome—even if they don't ask for it.
This is why design, UI, and UX matter—understanding how people use technology, why they want what they want, and how they will best use it has nothing to do with statistics, data modeling, building pipelines and plumbing, or writing code. Leaders need things clear, correct, fast, and accurate—they need to be thinking ahead. And on a final note, if you're building a solution for senior stakeholders like this, it's even more critical that the design is so good that nobody even notices it, talks about it, or worries about it. It kind of reminds me of the musical theater shows I play in the pit below the stage—in the back, there are wardrobe staff, electricians, musicians, carpenters, production managers calling queues, lighting tech, sound engineering, the orchestra and conductor, sound/stage efx, motorized lifts, wireless. The average audience member does not care about any of this. They just want to hum along to that Hamilton hit they know, or perhaps "I Will Always Love You" from Whitney Houston as may be the case in the photo below (The Bodyguard Musical - Nov. 2019). Most people would not be too excited if they expected to see and hear Whitney on the stage, and instead you showed them me and my pit orchestra peeps in a dizzying array of wires in what looks like a construction zone: