Converging disciplines in analytics


This week I made a quick trip to Predictive Analytics World in San Francisco. It was my first appearance at that event, and some great things are going on at it and related conferences. It was held in conjunction with the eMetrics and Conversion conferences—all put on by Rising Media. They have packaged these up into something they call “Data Driven Business Week” (which also includes a Google Analytics conference), suggesting that these diverse analytical groups are beginning to come together.

And I think they are right. I delivered my presentation to attendees from all three groups. I’d spoken at eMetrics a couple of years ago, and I mentioned this week that, at the time, I felt like an ambassador from the business analytics camp to a very different country. But this year, it felt like everyone is beginning to come together into an overall analytical community. We may not be the equivalent of the tightly-knit US yet, but perhaps something like the occasionally fractious European Community. My sense is that a lot of diverse analytical people are beginning to think of themselves less as “web analytics people” or “predictive analytics people,” and more as analytics types in general. There are several manifestations of this trend:

  • Several groups that were previously quite narrow in their analytical focus—including actuaries and operations researchers (INFORMS, the association for OR enthusiasts, was present in the exhibit area)—are arguing that they are doing, or are capable of doing, “business analytics” now. INFORMS has changed the name of one of its major conferences to that.
  • The vendors are converging. “Data Driven Business Week” had one consolidated exhibitor floor. Many of the software vendors, like SAS, are addressing all three areas of prediction, conversion, and web analytics (and many more). Many of the services vendors at the conference, including Deloitte and offshore “math factory” Mu Sigma, are doing the same thing.
  • The International Institute for Analytics, INFORMS, and several other groups I know of are beginning to address a common certification approach for quantitative analysts. The good news is that we’re all talking to each other about it.
  • There is a growing set of examples of the crossover of analytical techniques. Anne Milley of SAS keeps pointing these out to me, and promises to blog about the topic soon on the IIA website.
  • Many companies and organizations are increasing the level of collaboration and communication across their diverse analytical groups. Some are even fully centralizing them.

This is all great news for almost everyone who is analytically inclined. It means that we can increase our profile, have a greater impact, and share our ideas more easily with each other. The only group that will suffer are those analysts who liked to sit in the back room, solving the same kind of problem over and over again. Their world, as I mentioned in San Francisco, is about to be rocked.


Editor's note: As I read Tom's post, I thought also about the recent Analytics Camp in the Triangle, and how it also had a goal of converging the many different areas of analytics. It does seem to be a trend that's reflected more broadly across the industry - and not just at conferences. I wonder: How are you seeing this trend play out in your role?


About Author

Tom Davenport

Author, Analytics at Work

Tom Davenport is the President’s Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College, the co-founder of the International Institute for Analytics, a Fellow of the MIT Center for Digital Business, and a Senior Advisor to Deloitte Analytics. He teaches analytics and big data in executive programs at Babson, Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan School, and Boston University. He pioneered the concept of “competing on analytics” with his best-selling 2006 Harvard Business Review article (and his 2007 book by the same name). His most recent book is Big Data@Work, from Harvard Business Review Press.

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