Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Where is Data Taking Us?



I recently spoke at the Data Summit in NYC where the focus was to “Unleash the Power of Your Data”. This was a great message for the event, as we live in a time where people are extolling the virtues of data but numerous people struggle to grasp how data can change a business, how can they harness it’s power. Today’s organizations have a good handle on how well-defined data can be used to present information on how they are doing. We produce reports on sales, on costs, we find can easily discover what has happened, but the real business challenge is why and how to make the future better. Predicting the future is the real silver bullet that companies need, but one that will continue to be elusive.  The conference weighed this question in a number of different ways but all had the same undertone that data is a resource which must drive value.

In my presentation, “Analytics in the Time of Big Data”, I presented how BI and Analytics has changed over the years. The evolution from reporting for the masses which was reactive and provided summarization on what was happening to a future where results and effects can be accurately predicted and create an environment where the right decision or action can be enacted. Reporting is changing and growing and we need to understand the opportunities they provide. 

The basic type of reporting or analytics is known as Descriptive Analytics and is the most common method of reporting we encounter, but in many ways it is the most limited form of analytics. In Descriptive Analytics we provide a description of what has happened. It provides the pulse on the business and is illustrated through standard reports and dashboards. The next is Predictive Analytics which uses statistics, modeling, data mining and machine learning to analyze current data to predict what may occur. This provided a way to figure out what may happen in the future based on experiences of the many. We see this type of reporting everyday we are on the Web. We see recommendations for content and products which are based on what we do and what we read and watch. The final and most productive analytics is Prescriptive Analytics which takes predictive analytics and adds actionable data from both internal and external sources and the ability to capture feedback to then improve future analytics. In the Oil and Gas industry they use prescriptive analytics to determine the best place to drill, the best methods to use and the production that the well will produce. This progression is natural but there is significant resistance and lack of knowledge which is restricting businesses chances of evolving and this was widely discussed during the event. The change is needed if businesses are going to compete but companies need to start as the journey is not a short one.

The challenge is to provide access to the data in a form which allows for the integration of all your data in one place in a governed and controlled area.  We need to build data repositories which can support these needs, but in reality is it realistic to think all of your data will be in Hadoop or in an RDBMS. We need to find a solution which provides a federated view of all your data in a meaningful way for the business, this is known as data virtualization. The concept of data virtualization is one where the structure of the data may not be well understood at first but during the use and application we put meaning to it and create useful business definitions and relationships for use by the entire business. Consider this a Schema-on-the-fly approach which can provide flexibility while allowing the core data to be available, it also provides users with the ability to define the data that they need when they need it. It includes the merging of from both internal and external sources in a way that simplifies data access for users by hiding the complexity in the data through data virtualization. Now we have the ability to solve the integration and availability of the data but we will still need to change how we do analytics and look to our mathematicians to help us expand what we do and how we provide our services.

The evolution of reporting is underway and we need to look at how we can provide our business analysts, business users and consumers with the information they need when they need to empower them to make better and more accurate decisions.

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