Don’t Second Guess – Depend on Prescriptive Analytics


I don’t know why I’m on this medical theme lately – maybe it’s because my parents are aging. They talk about bits falling off, take lots of naps and describe how body parts don’t work like they used to. They’ve gone to pre-packaged pills – dividing up their medications by day and time of day by the local pharmacist. It’s helped a lot. I’ve got a lot more confidence that my Dad won’t (again!) take a sleeping pill, first thing in the morning - before he gets in the car to drive. Ugh.

Confidently knowing what action needs to be taken because it’s pre-packaged is very appealing to many aspects of business too.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know that front-line workers make all their decisions in a particular situation based on expert advice that includes organizational policies and requirements? Even when it’s not people, but other systems or even devices making decisions.  Like in the Internet of Things, isn’t it necessary for those things to base action on situational understanding - triggering a specific (and appropriate) action for a particular scenario? Yes, particularly when we turn our decisions over to machines to make them for us.

Pre-packaged pills
Pre-packaged pills

Taking prescriptive actions includes the benefit of:

  • Consistency – under the same scenario conditions the same action is take
  • Repeatability – when the same situation arises, you can reuse the same logic
  • Efficiency – no additional energy is spent investigating the action to be taken, it’s prescribed.

And together, these things reduce the risk of the wrong decision being made and an inappropriate action being taken.

So where do you get the expertise in the prescribed action? My parents get it from a subject matter expert - the pharmacist, who, based on his training, directions from the doctor and knowledge of current medications defines which pills go into which sealed envelop. In fact, their pharmacist was able to decrease their medications – simply because of his perspective on the buffet of pills they’d been prescribed over the years.

The Wrinklies
The Wrinklies

Organizations get the expertise from a few places. From their analytical experts who examine operational data to assess the pros and cons of different factors influencing behaviors and outcomes – summarized in advanced analytic models. From business analysts, who consider situational conditions, organizational policies, regulatory controls and analytical model scores in relation to decision objectives. They develop the business rules that define the conditions under which an analytical model is relevant. From their IT departments who have spent time collecting, cleansing and normalizing operational data to ensure currency, accuracy and availability. And from corporate executives who determine organizational policies and mandates to align stakeholder and compliance requirements.

In a recent IIA Research Brief the difference between predictive and prescriptive analytics is detailed. The paper also goes into more depth of how you gain (likely untapped) prescriptive insight from unstructured text data – it’s amazing the direction that is often included in narrative. Going beyond the data discussion, it describes how prescriptive actions are codified using the discipline of enterprise decision management. And lastly, it explores the impact of big data in the form of streaming data – necessitating more operational and tactical decision discipline.

The Wrinklies (my nickname for my folks) have taken some of the guess-work out of their routine and we all agree, they are better off for it. Giving you more confidence, what operational activities in your organization would you like to see prescribed?


About Author

Fiona McNeill

Global Product Marketing Manager at SAS

With a background in applying analytics to real-world business scenarios, McNeill focuses on the automation of analytic insight in both business and application processing. Having been at SAS for over 15 years, she has worked with organizations across a variety of industries, understanding their business and helping them derive tangible benefit from their strategic use of technology. She is coauthor of the book Heuristics in Analytics: A Practical Perspective of What Influences Our Analytical World.


  1. Thanks for this article. I am seeing more online discussions trying to tackle the differences/similarities between Predictive and Prescriptive analytics. It's good to have more clarification around these new terms.

    I wonder how Prescriptive Analytics fits in with Decision Support Systems (DSS)?

    Are they the same? Does the act of doing Prescriptive Analytics result in DSS? Is Prescriptive Analytics a branch of DSS?

    All these new terms likely don't help consumers. Is there an entirely new set of tools now that companies are expected to invest in to ride the Prescriptive Analytics train?

    It's times like these when I still prefer the good old DIKW pyramid....

    • Fiona McNeill

      Great feedback Jared, Thank You. I'd agree that a number of these terms are getting at similar things - and from what I've seen how they are interpreted depends on perspective. DSS in my mind is a broad category of technology which supports decision making activities, as does analytics. The extent to which the action is defined explicitly within the DSS system seems to be one way to distinguish between predictive (eg. a likelihood to be) and prescriptive (eg. with instructions to take this action). You may be relieved that technologies that are more prescriptive have emerged more recently because of the increase in data volumes, more pervasive analytics and the increase in connections between entities and their networks. SAS Decision Manager is the focus of a pending SAS Talk - where we get into how this more prescriptive approach has come about, and how the technology operates. We've got a video series on this topic too, if interested: . Of course other technologies can be considered prescriptive too - like the IIA paper this blog points to describes.

  2. Mary Grace Crissey on

    Pre-packaged pills - what a fantastic idea - and very practical solution!
    Just curious - what fee does the the pharmacist charge for this extra service? does insurance cover it - if not they should. Wonder how we could convince the insurance companies the value of this extra benefit coverages? Certainly don't want to wait until Mr Wrinkles falls asleep at the wheel to elevate the need for this wonderful service!

    Isn't it fun when analytics provides a new way of viewing lifes challenges (aging for example) and can clarify problems in such a way (confusion and forgetfulness as symptons that complicate proper medical doseage compliance.) Once we SEE the issues with our analytic lenses then we may stumble on an innovative solution! .

    • Fiona McNeill

      Hi Mary! Thank you for reaching out. You are right as rain - analytics influencing lifestyles and with the IoT, that's only getting started. The innovations are you suggest have started and are expected to accelerate. In answer to your question, there is a small handling charge every four weeks and it’s paid for by insurance once they exceed an annual pharmaceutical cost threshold (which my Dad easily does - has a lot of meds). All the best.

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