One of the most important skills for data scientists and business analytical professionals is communications. If decision makers and managers don't understand what the numbers mean -- results won't turn into action.
Jeff Zeanah, President of Z Solutions, Inc. has been presenting on the topic of speaking “analytics” for many years. Now he’s developed a Business Knowledge Series course on the topic, Explaining Analytics to Decision Makers: Insights to Action.
I had the chance to interview Zeanah about his new course and the state of the analytics industry.
- What are some of the biggest advancements in data mining over the past 10 years?
Data and change of focus based on data. There has been a subtle, meaningful almost unspoken change from modeling populations to modeling individuals or individual events. So while there is a lot of discussion of “big data”, the reality is the data is being parsed to get to specific details (a subset of the data) that relate to the detailed investigation. I like to call this reduction in data and dimensionality moving closer to an “Actionable Truth” – details around fact(s) that we can take action on.
As such, I believe even the term Analytics is now more descriptive than data mining as it implies greater use for decisions – and that in itself is an advancement.
- What is your favorite industry to work with? Can you share a story about a problem you’ve helped them solve using data mining techniques?
I have worked in or modeled finance, marketing, software, retail, nutrition, wine-making, transportation, astronomy, utilities, heath care, automotive, river flow, fraud detection, personalization and insurance. I am not sure I have a favorite. What I do find interesting is that there is much more commonality in problems than people think. To mention one specific example, it is amazing how many problems I have applied weather data to improve the solution. But in general data structures, distributions, noise and data issues look a lot alike.
- You recently developed a course, Explaining Analytics to Decision Makers: Insights to Action. Why did you decide to develop a course around teaching people to speak “analytics”?
To be frank about it, I have seen countless bad presentations and communication failures; and have been responsible for my share of them. I have no doubt this is our next big issue with analytics. A few years ago, I gave a presentation on the topic at the SAS Analytics conference. I had the last time slot on the last day going on after 6:00 p.m. in Las Vegas, but I had a standing room only crowd. I realized I wasn’t the only one struggling with this issue. I had an additional realization this was the next direction for my consulting career.
The more I thought about this issue and the more people I talked to, the more I understood how difficult this problem is. I realized there is not perfect advice. What works well in one situation, is wrong in another. What I settled on was a structure to understand the problem, and using this structure we can come up with advice that helps students choose what is right for them.
- Any final thoughts on how you see data mining techniques changing in this data-driven world?
It is obvious data is going to continue to grow. In order to be more useful techniques to “see” what is in that data have to improve so we can find what is meaningful faster. Then we have to put those findings in front of decision makers.
Learn more about the course and join the interest list to receive upcoming information as it becomes available.
Zeanah’s new course is part of the growing SAS Business Knowledge Series. View the entire catalog of courses available July – December 2015.