Can you measure and optimize happiness?

Improving citizen happiness is an important goal for many, if not all, governments.  But what is happiness really?  Can it be objectively measured?  Can we discover the key factors that best correlate with happiness?  And ultimately, can governments implement policies and programs that maximize happiness?

Is maximum happiness nothing more than a non-linear conjugant gradient optimization?

In the late summer last year, I had the pleasure of spending about a week in the United Arab Emirates, participating as a speaker in the National Security Middle East 2016 event in Abu Dhabi.  It was the second time I travelled to the UAE last year, and I found the Emiratis to be warm, friendly and welcoming without exception.

It turns out that the Emiratis’ warmth is something they're now attempting to measure, and in some sense optimize across society.  During one of the breaks at the event, I was speaking with my SAS Middle East colleagues, and they shared with me that the UAE government had recently created a Cabinet-level agency, the Ministry of Happiness, led by Her Excellency Ohoud bint Khalfan Al Roumi. Read More »

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4 adaptability attributes for analytical success

After reading a recent LinkedIn post by Jeff Haden, "Want to Achieve Lifelong Success? An Army Ranger Says You Need This 1 Trait the Most", (spoiler alert: It's adaptability) something occurred to me. One of the reasons I enjoy solving business problems with analytics is that analytics is all about being adaptive and causing change (i.e. growth).

adaptability_blogI've learned over my career that you can either choose to change OR change happens to you. And it's almost always better to proactively choose change than to reactively respond to it.

When you're looking to use analytics, don't look for a black box approach to solving a problem, because once you implement that solution, guess what happens? Life or situations change and your analytics need to adapt and change quickly in order for you to continue to succeed.

What can you do about it? Here are four adaptability attributes for analytics success, and what they mean from a business and technology perspective.

1. Agility

  • Business: The ability to try out different ideas without having to switch to other tools, languages, or physical environments.
  • Technology: The ability to deploy analytical software capabilities quickly without the hindrance of securing new hardware resources in advance.

2. Resilience

  • Business: No more failed jobs due to "unknown system issues." The process, job, or model continues to work seamlessly without interruption.
  • Technology: Having an architecture designed for high-availability means there are fewer fire-drills, and upgrades occur with minimal disruption.

3. Speed

  • Business: The ability to fail fast, try alternatives, and evaluate the results quickly so more ideas can be researched, and the ability to move new results into production now instead of later.
  • Technology: Having an architecture that supports the requests of all users in a timely manner, and the ability to deploy insights from models into production.

4. Scalability

  • Business: Users are no longer limited in their data exploration and modeling by the size of their data. As the problem grows the ability to process grows with it.
  • Technology: Since analytical workloads are variable the environment needed to process these workloads should be able to grow and shrink as needed.  For example, a scalable environment will burst to additional compute nodes and/or spill to disk if available memory is short.

Your next step? Learn how analytical success starts with the right analytics platform.

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Digital footprints in the sand … a source of rich behavioural data

woman-163426_960_720-300x189In the word of digital marketing, one of the more controversial moves I’ve seen recently was from U.K. car insurer Admiral. The company recently announced that it would begin offering car insurance discounts to less risky customers based on voluntarily provided social media data. The insurer would analyze Facebook likes and posts, and could analyze the language and patterns. This allows it to identify behaviour and personality traits which predict a higher or lower risk compared with the average for that demographic profile.

While Admiral’s plans were eventually scrapped due to Facebook’s data privacy policies, the simple truth is that many digital footprints are already being harnessed, analysed and shared to assist digital marketing efforts (from consumer goods to political parties). It’s possible to increase conversions and reduce the cost of acquisition through understanding digital visitors better and ensuring that adverts reach the “right kind” of consumer. Read More »

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Lessons learned from customer modernization projects

522144344A number of posts on SAS Voices have touched upon the theme of modernization. This is certainly a hot topic with our customers as many of them continue to be interested in taking advantage of the evolving software landscape.

The thing is, modernization can be hard. I should know, I’ve been on some of those projects! In this post I want to take you through some of the challenges, some lessons learnt and how best to approach a modernization project.

Lesson #1: Be clear about your modernization objectives

One of the biggest challenges that I have found when we talk about modernization is resistance to change. That’s why, one of the very first things you need to do is be clear about your objectives and ensure this is communicated and well-understood by all those involved. This is very important because, by definition, modernization projects introduce a transition state into an organization (i.e. the old system and the new systems are temporarily in place at the same time). It can be difficult to support both of these states at the same time and one of the best ways to manage the situation and get buy-in is to ensure that everyone understands the project objectives. Some examples of these might be:

  1. Introduce new software to enable users with new functionality.
  2. Improve performance by upgrading the hardware.
  3. Reduce costs through infrastructure consolidation.

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Retailers use optimization to improve in-store fulfillment and keep customers satisfied

523540737Omnichannel shoppers have been disrupting retailers for years, and its likely to top the industry’s agenda of challenges for years to come. But optimization, an omnichannel analytics technology, can help harness the positives of omnichannel retailing and minimize showrooming.

Consider this everyday retail dilemma: E-commerce sales are growing, but in-store sales volumes are declining. Customers still enjoy browsing in brick-and-mortar locations, but they buy items with a mobile device a few hours later. It’s this showrooming behavior that leads to complexities such as maintaining adequate inventory and staffing levels to support in-store traffic while sales decline.

I'm headed to New York for the National Retail Federation Big Show (NRF17), and feeling a bit overwhelmed this year by all the challenges modern omnichannel retailers face in order to survive. Showrooming is one of those challenges I'm sure we'll talk about at the confernece, and I wanted to cover a few possible solutions here as well.

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Intelligent ecosystems and the intelligence of things

145073602I've long been fascinated by both science and the natural world around us, inspired by the amazing Sir David Attenborough with his ever-engaging documentaries and boundless enthusiasm for nature, and also by the late, great Carl Sagan and his ground-breaking documentary series, COSMOS. The relationships between the creatures, plants and ecology of our planet is an incredible story of symbiotic systems evolving, failing, adapting and improving, for more than 4 billion years on our own planet (which you could argue is itself just a tiny part of the longest running, deepest learning algorithm of all).

So at the dawn of this new age of autonomous connected devices and AI-enhanced software, it’s worth looking at natural systems to see if we can draw any lessons about the evolution of technology.

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The seven traits of a modern analytical platform

modern woman in front of tall, modern buildingsMuch of my recent work has been along the theme of modernization. Analytics is not new for many of our customers, but standing still in this market is akin to falling behind. In order to continue to innovative and remain competitive, organizations need to be prepared to embrace new technologies and ways of working. For example, one of my current banking customers is looking to transition their many different analytical systems into a modern, consolidated environment. This is to reduce infrastructure costs, share resources and provide a better understanding of how data are transformed in the organization for the purposes of compliance and regulation.

Modernization can be a complex endeavor, especially for an organization with a lot of legacy infrastructure - that might be the topic of another blog. In this article, I'll start by outlining some of the characteristics that underpin a modern platform for analytics. Read More »

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An era of promise and uncertainty for the energy industry

ISOs/RTOs keep the lights onIt’s no secret that the US energy landscape has undergone massive changes in recent years: the emergence of cost-effective renewables, the natural gas revolution, the wide-scale penetration of intelligence across energy delivery networks, and soon a new resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

All of these changes are impacting different pockets of the energy industry in different ways. For example, independent system operators, also known as regional transmission organizations (ISOs/RTOs) are keeping a close eye on these developments. Since ISOs/RTOs coordinate, control and monitor multi-state electric grids in the US, their viability and success are, to a large degree, dependent on how well they manage through these changes. Though there are only seven players in this space, their importance in keeping the lights on and the economy humming are critical. Read More »

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Closing out a year of transformation in the communication and media industries

It's that time of year again. Holidays, parties, gifts, cooking, closing annual business, hitting targets and preparing for 2017. 128207006Looking back on the year for the communication and media industries, it has been a year of transition for the industry and for many of the customers I work with in my role at SAS.

Communication service providers (CSPs) and media companies are wrangling with digital transformation – where traditional business models are suffering from declining revenues or becoming obsolete. As the market changes, CSP activities now span many businesses. Per PWC Strategy&: CSPs are challenged to be a network guarantors, business enablers, experience providers and global multimarketers. This is no easy feat, and the key to being successful is to innovate with analytics. For media companies, digital transformation means moving from traditional media like DVDs to new digital media, like over the top services. Plus, CSPs are buying up media companies, further changing the landscape.

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Who is and is not paying for heat this winter?

The utility industry is ripe with analytic opportunities.  Usually, when I share that perspective, thoughts immediately jump to making the energy grid more efficient. Certainly, there are efficiencies to gain with improved data about where power is being consumed and the sources that are available to support it.

However, there are also direct financial benefits to be gained in the area of revenue protection. It may surprise you, but utilities around the world lost an estimated $89.3B in revenue from individuals who do not pay their bills or who tamper with their smart meters to avoid incurring charges.

ci_tile_genericAs we get into peak season for winter heating, I'm reminded of the opportunities to ensure that utilities’ customers don’t have bill shock, which is an unpleasant situation and a drain on customer satisfaction. And keep in mind, utilities have the tools to track down those who may choose to defer payments for another time – or never.

As you see from the chart below, the largest driver of electricity consumption is “entertainment” activities. This includes our televisions, home networks, stereos, computers and household fun like beer-making.  While we are creatures of comfort, we certainly wouldn't want to miss the next episode of our favorite show just because we forgot to pay power bill last month! Read More »

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