By Ashith Bolar , Director AmBr Labs, Amick Brown

The past decade and a half has seen a steady increase in Business Intelligence (BI). Every company boasts a solid portfolio of BI software and applications. The fundamental feature of BI is Data Analytics. Corporations that boasts large data do indeed derive a lot of value from their Data Analytics. A natural progression of Data Analytics is Predictive Analytics (PA).

Think of data analytics as a forensic exercise in measuring the past and the current state of the system. Predictive Analytics is the extension of this exercise: Instead of just analyzing the past and evaluating the current, predictive analytics applies that insight to determine, or rather shape the future.

Predictive Analytics is the natural progression of BI.

The current state of PA in the general business world is, for the most part, at its inception. Experts in the field talk about PA as the panacea – as the be-all and end-all solution to all business problems. This is very reminiscent of the early stages of BI towards the turn of the century. Hype as it may be, BI did end up taking the center stage over the ensuing years. BI was not the solution to the business problems anymore; it was indeed mandatory for the very survival of a company. Companies don’t implement BI to be on the leading-edge of the industry anymore. They implement BI just to keep up. Without BI, most companies would not be competitive enough to survive the market forces.

Very soon, PA will be in a similar state. PA will not be the leading-edge paradigm to get a headstart over other companies. Instead PA is what you do to just survive. All technologies go through this phase transition – from leading-edge to must-have-to-survive. And PA is no different.

predict the future

Having made this prediction, let’s take a look at where PA stands. Some industries (and some organizations) have been using predictive analytics for several decades. One such not-so-obvious example is the financial industry. The ubiquity of FICO scores in our daily lives does not make it obvious, but they are predictive analytics at work. Your fico score predicts, with a certain degree of accuracy, the likelihood of you defaulting on a loan. A simple number, that may or may not be accurate in individual cases, arguably has been the fuel to the behemoth economic machinery of this country, saving trillions of dollars for the banking industry as well as the common people such as you and me.

Another example would be that of the marketing departments of large retail stores. They have put formal PA to use for several years now, in a variety of applications such as product placement, etc. If it works for them, there is no reason it should not work for you.

This is easier said than done. Implementing Predictive Analytics is not a trivial task. It’s not like you buy a piece of software from the Internet, install it on a laptop, and boom – you’re predicting the future. Although I have to admit that that is a good starting point. Implementing the initial infrastructure for PA does require meticulous planning. It’s a time-consuming effort, but at this point in time, a worthy effort.

Let’s take a look at high-level task list for this project

  1. Build the PA infrastructure
  2. Choose/build predictive model(s)
  3. Provision Data
  4. Predict!
  5. Ensure there’s company-wide adoption of the new predictive model. Make PA a key part of the organization’s operational framework. Ensure that folks in the company trust the predictive model and not try to override it with their human intelligence.

Steps 1 thru 4 are the easy bits. It’s the 5th step that requires a significant effort.

Most of us have relied on our superior intellect when it comes to making serious decisions. And most of us believe that such decision-making process yields the best decisions. It is hard for us to imagine that a few numbers and a simple algorithm would yield better decisions than those from the depths of our intellect.

However, it is important to change your organization’s mindset about predictive analytics. If you are considering your business to be consistently run on mathematical predictive models, acceptance from the user community is crucial. Implementing PA is a substantial effort in Organizational Change Management.

Remember the financial services industry. They don’t let their loan officers make spot decisions on the loan-eligibility of their clients based on their appearance, style of speech or any such human sensory cues. Although, if you ask the loan officer, they might claim to be better judges of character – the financial industry does not rely on their superior human intellect to measure the risk of loan default. Generally, a single 3-digit number makes that decision for them.

The next time you go to the supermarket for a loaf of bread, and return with a shopping cart full of merchandise that you serendipitously found on the way back from the bread aisle including the merchandise along the cash-counter, you can thank (or curse) the predictive analytics employed by the store headquarters located probably a thousand miles away from you.

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