Things are not always what they seem – a discussion about analytics

evaluationHave you ever been in a discussion about a topic thinking you’re talking about one area but later find out it was about something else altogether?

We’ve probably all had that conversation with a child, where they say something like “That’s a really nice ice cream cone you have there.” Which sounds like a compliment on your dairy delight selection but in reality is a subtle way of saying “Can I have a bite?”

I was in a discussion with an organization about a need they had. They asked me a series of questions and I provided a quick stream of consciousness response…The further I got into the interaction the less I understood about what was going on. This is a summary of the interaction:

1) How do you keep up to speed in new data science technology? I read and write blogs on technical topics as well as read trade publications. I also do some recreational programming to keep up on trends and topics. On occasion I have audited classes on both EdX and Coursera (examples include gamification, Python, cloud management/deployment, R…)

2) Describe what success looks like in the context data science projects? Success related analytics efforts is the definition, understanding, development of insight on and the addressing of business goals using available data and business strategies. Sometimes this may only involve the development of better strategies and plans, but in other cases the creation of contextual understanding and actionable insight allows for continuous improvement of existing or newly developed processes.

3) Describe how do you measure the value of a successful data science application. I measure the value based on the business impact through the change in behavior or business results. It is not about increased insight but about actions taken.

4) Describe successful methods or techniques you have used to explain the value of data science, machine learning, advanced analytics to business people. I have demonstrated the impact of a gamification effort by using previously performed business process metrics and then the direct relationship with post implementation performance. Granted correlation does not prove causation but by having multiple instances of base cases and being able to validate performance improvement from a range a trials and processes improvements, a strong business case can be developed using a recursive process based on the definition of mechanics, measurement, behavior expectations, and rewards.

I’ve used a similar approach in the IoT space, where I’ve worked on and off with machine data collection and data analysis since entering the work force in the 1980s.

5) Describe the importance of model governance (model risk management) in the context of data science, advanced analytics, etc. in financial services. Without a solid governance model, you don’t have the controls and cannot develop the foundational level of understanding. The model should provide the rigor sufficient to move from supposition to knowledge. The organization needs to be careful not to have too rigid a process though, since you need to take advantage of any information learned along the way and make adjustment, to take latency out of the decision making/improvement process. Like most efforts today a flexible/agile approach should be applied.

6) Describe who did you (team, function, person) interact with in your current role, on average, and roughly what percent of time did you spend with each type of function/people/team. In various roles I spent time with CEO/COOs and senior technical decision makers in fortune 500 companies (when I was the chief technologist of Americas application development with HP: 70-80% of my time). Most recently when with Raytheon IT, I spend about 50% of my time with senior technical architects and 50% of my time with IT organization directors.

7) Describe how data science will evolve during the next 3 to 5 years. What will improve? What will change? Every organization should have in place a plan to leverage both improve machine learning and analytics algorithms based on the abundance of data, networking and intellectual property available. Cloud computing techniques will also provide an abundance of computing capabilities that can be brought to bear on the enterprise environment. For most organizations, small sprint project efforts need to be applied to both understanding the possibilities and the implications. Enterprise efforts will still take place but they will likely not have the short term impact that smaller, agile efforts will deliver. I wrote a blog post about this topic earlier this month. Both the scope and style of projects will likely need to change. It may also involve the use more contract labor to get the depth of experience in the short term to address the needs of the organization. The understanding and analysis of the meta-data (block chains, related processes, machines.…) will also play an ever increasing role, since they will supplement the depth and breadth of contextual understanding.

8) Describe how do you think about choosing technical design of data science solutions (what algorithms, techniques, etc.).

I view the approach to be similar to any other architectural technical design. You need to understand:

  • the vision (what is to be accomplished)
  • the current data and systems in place (current situation analysis)
  • understand the skills of the personnel involved (resource assessment)
  • define the measurement approach to be used (so that you have both a leading and lagging indicator of performance)

then you can develop a plan and implement your effort, validating and adjusting as you move along.

How do you measure the value/impact of your choice?

You need to have a measurement approach that is both tactical (progress against leading indicators) as well as strategic (validation by lagging indicators of accomplishment). Leading indicators look ahead to make sure you are on the right road, where lagging indicators look behind to validate where you’ve been.

9) Describe your experience explaining complex data to business users. What do you focus on?

The most important aspect of explaining complex data is to describe it in terms the audience will understand. No one cares how hard it was to do the analysis, they just want to know the business impact, value and how it can be applied.

Data visualization needs to take this into account and explain the data to the correct audience – not everyone consumes data using the same techniques. Some people will only respond to spreadsheets, while others would like to have nice graphics… Still others want business simulations and augmented reality techniques to be used whenever possible. If I were to have 3 rules related to explaining technical topics, they would be:

  1. Answer the question asked
  2. Display it in a way the audience will understand (use their terminology)
  3.  Use the right data

At the end of that exchange I wasn’t sure if I’d just provided some free consulting, went through a job interview or was just chewing the fat with another technologist. Thoughts???


2 thoughts on “Things are not always what they seem – a discussion about analytics

  1. Wow, that looks more like a “consultant interview” than just a friendly chat, unless you were chatting with someone who does so many interviews that that’s just how they think now. Did the other person also share anything, or was it an interrogation?


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