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James Taylor

I will use this blog to discuss business challenges and how technologies like analytics, optimization and business rules can meet those challenges.

About the author >

James is the CEO of Decision Management Solutions and works with clients to automate and improve the decisions underpinning their business. James is the leading expert in decision management and a passionate advocate of decisioning technologies business rules, predictive analytics and data mining. James helps companies develop smarter and more agile processes and systems and has more than 20 years of experience developing software and solutions for clients. He has led decision management efforts for leading companies in insurance, banking, health management and telecommunications. James is a regular keynote speaker and trainer and he wrote Smart (Enough) Systems (Prentice Hall, 2007) with Neil Raden. James is a faculty member of the International Institute for Analytics.

Recently in Predictive Analytics Category

Cross-posted from JTonEDM

I saw this interesting McKinsey piece recently - Rediscovering the art of selling - McKinsey Quarterly - Retail & Consumer Goods - Strategy & Analysis - and I was struck by the value of analytics in this context. What retailers really need to do, according to McKinsey, is focus on hiring sales people with personality, extroverts motivated by helping customers. And they need to spend time training this folks on sales techniques, approachability, reading body language (to tell who wants to be left alone) and much more. Do this, the article says, and your closing, cross- and up-selling will be far more successful. So far so good.

But the reality of a modern retailer is that there are a tremendous number of products with lots of potential cross- and up-sells to choose from. Even someone with the skills you need might not be good at, say, color matching making it hard for them to make the right clothing choice for an outfit. Add in multiple discounts, loyalty programs and other forms of dynamic pricing and you have a complex environment. Retailers feel that have to invest resources and time in training staff about these things, reducing the time available for sales skills training, and even that they must hire for an ability to understand this complexity even at the expense of the personality and sales skills they need. A case of being between a rock and a hard place?

No, enter analytics. With decent analysis of their historical data and a focus on the decisions that have to happen during the sales process, retailers can spend their time and energy training staff on the sft skills they need and let their systems and analytics do the rest of the work. They can use business rules/analytics and decisioning to answer questions like what discount does this customer get, what's the best up-sell for this customer given their purchases, what's the best cross-sell that will complete the outfit they are buying. They can analyze sales data, loyalty card data and external data and use rules derived from this data or from their best sales people. If they adopt the "swipe first" loyalty card approach they can empower their staff to do even more by leveraging everything they know right at the start of a conversation.

Your staff don't need to be able to make all these "technical" decisions - you can build systems that act as effective advisers to them freeing them to work on their people skills, customer interactions and actually selling.

Posted November 23, 2010 9:37 AM
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A friend sent me a link to a webinar on "The End of BI as We Know It" that promised "A fresh look at what business analytics means". It wasn't clear who was speaking or what company was sponsoring but the title intrigued me (as it was meant to). But when I looked at the body of the description I was underwhelmed. There was, frankly, nothing new. The webinar promised to explain several things - presumably things that were "fresh" or not "BI as we know it". But here's the list (edited to summarize):

  • Speed to deploy, to build, to get analysts serving themselves is critical
  • Must be able to analyze data from production databases and handle millions or billions of records
  • It's critical to combine multiple data sources from the data warehouse to Excel
  • Must be able to easily and quickly build dashboards

All this is pretty mainstream as far as I am concerned - no-one wants a BI tool that is slow, that can't access data from various sources, that can't handle lots of rows or that doesn't let you build dashboards.

And there was nothing about decision making, nothing about supporting different kinds of decision-making (from collaborative, strategic decisions to high-volume operational decisions), nothing about data mining or predictive analytics, nothing that fundamentally changes how companies can put data to work improving their business.

I gave a speech some months back in South Africa called "Does BI Matter" (audio and slides here in a large PDF) and I have blogged before about Why thinking about decisions should be a BI best practice. If you think you can improve day-to-day operations by giving everyone dashboard or reports then you haven't visited your call center lately. If you think that the way your systems work, the way your website works, should not also be improved by applying analytics then you underestimate the extent to which your systems are your business. If you think the time it takes to build reports or the ease with which you can build dashboards are the critical measures of success then you are focused on means and not ends.

The reason you spend money on Business Intelligence is to provide intelligence about your business not just so you can have a BI platform. You have BI to make better decisions, to improve the way you run your business. If you don't know which decisions you are improving then you are unlikely to make progress.

If that list really counts as "fresh" and "the end of BI as we know it" then we should all be worried....

Posted October 7, 2010 9:48 AM
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Posted August 30, 2010 11:59 AM
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There was a great article this week over on the Requirements Network - Data Warehouse / Business Intelligence Requirements Elicitation. Where do You Begin? I really liked the fact that early in the discussion the author said:
After establishing these strategic objectives, make it a priority to get your users talking about their work day, struggles, obstacles, and how they make business decisions as pertains to data (my emphasis).
I think it is essential when working with data to focus on decisions and on how data and analytics might improve those decisions. I also liked the focus on data mining as one of the steps - not just reporting and "soft" analysis tools - though I would add that deploying the results of data mining needs some serious consideration also. In this vein I also wrote about data integration and the importance of keeping the decision in mind.

Posted August 24, 2010 9:46 AM
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IEEE ICDM Contest: Road Traffic Prediction for Intelligent GPS Navigation

Over the last century, the number of cars engaged in vehicular traffic in cities has increased rapidly, causing many difficulties for all citizens: traffic jams, large and unpredictable communication delays, pollution, etc. Excessive traffic became a civilization problem that affects everyone who lives in a city of 50,000 people or more, anywhere in the world. Complexity of processes that stand behind traffic flow is so large, that only data mining algorithms may bring efficient solutions to these problems.

The task of this year's ICDM Data Mining Contest is to predict city road traffic for the purpose of intelligent driver navigation and improved journey planning. The three contest problems are related to congestion forecasting, modeling of traffic jams, and smart navigation based on real-time GPS monitoring. Datasets come from a highly realistic simulator of city traffic, Traffic Simulation Framework. The competition is organized on TunedIT Challenges data mining platform by the team of researchers from University of Warsaw, Faculty of Mathematics, Informatics and Mechanics. Prizes worth $5,000 in total will be awarded to the winners.

Everyone is welcome to participate. Competition starts now and will last till September 6th, 2010.

More details here

Posted July 6, 2010 7:46 AM
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