Originally published - June 15, 2006
Predictive analytics has helped drive business intelligence (BI) towards business performance management (BPM). Traditionally, predictive analytics and models have been used to identify patterns in consumer oriented businesses, such as identifying potential credit risk when issuing credit cards, or analyzing the buying habits of retail consumers. The BI industry has shifted from identifying and comparing data patterns over time (based on batch processing of monthly or weekly data) to providing performance management solutions with right-time data loads in order to allow accurate decision making in real time. Thus, the emergence of predictive analytics within BI has become an extension of general performance management functionality. For organizations to compete in the market place, taking a forward-looking approach is essential. BI can provide the framework for organizations focused on driving their business based on predictive models and other aspects of performance management.
We'll define predictive analytics and identify its different applications inside and outside BI. We'll also look at the components of predictive analytics and its evolution from data mining, and at how they interrelate. Finally, we'll examine the use of predictive analytics and how they can be leveraged to drive performance management.
Overview of Analytics and Their General Business Application
Analytical tools enable greater transparency within an organization, and can identify and analyze past and present trends, as well as discover the hidden nature of data. However, past and present trend analysis and identification alone are not enough to gain competitive advantage. Organizations need to identify future patterns, trends, and customer behavior to better understand and anticipate their markets.
Traditional analytical tools claim to have a 360-degree view of the organization, but they actually only analyze historical data, which may be stale, incomplete, or corrupted. Traditional analytics can help gain insight based on past decision making, which can be beneficial; however, predictive analytics allows organizations to take a forward-looking approach to the same types of analytical capabilities.
Credit card providers offer a first-rate example of the application of analytics (specifically, predictive analytics) in their identification of credit card risk, customer retention, and loyalty programs. Credit card companies attempt to retain their existing customers through loyalty programs, and need to take into account the factors that cause customers to choose other credit card providers. The challenge is predicting customer loss. In this case, a model which uses three predictors can be used to help predict customer loyalty: frequency of use, personal financial situations, and lower annual percentage rate (APR) offered by competitors. The combination of these predictors can be used to create a predictive model. The predictive model can then be applied and customers can be put into categories based on the resulting data. Any changes in user classification will flag the customer. That customer will then be targeted for the loyalty program. Financial institutions, on the other hand, use predictive analytics to identify the lifetime value of their customers. Whether this translates into increased benefits, lower interest rates, or other benefits for the customer, classifying and applying patterns to different customer segmentations allows the financial institutions to best benefit from (and provide benefit to) their customers.
Components of Predictive Analytics
Data mining can be defined as an analytical tool set that searches for data patterns automatically and identifies specific patterns within large datasets across disparate organizational systems. Data mining, text mining, and Web mining are types of pattern identification. Organizations can use these forms of pattern recognition to identify customers' buying patterns or the relationship between a person's financial records and their credit risk. Predictive analytics moves one step further and applies these patterns to make forward-looking predictions. Instead of just identifying a potential credit risk, an organization can identify the lifetime value of a customer by developing predictive decision models and applying these models to the identified patterns. These types of pattern identification and forward-looking model structures can equally be applied to BI and performance management solutions within an organization.
Predictive analytics is used to determine the probable future outcome of an event, or the likelihood of a situation occurring. It is the branch of data mining concerned with the prediction of future probabilities and trends. Predictive analytics is used to analyze automatically large amounts of data with different variables, including clustering, decision trees, market basket analysis, regression modeling, neural nets, genetic algorithms, text mining, hypothesis testing, decision analytics, and so on.
The core element of predictive analytics is the predictor, a variable that can be measured for an individual or entity to predict future behavior. These predictors are based on models that are created to use the analytical capabilities within the generated predictive models. Descriptive models classify relationships by identifying customers or prospective customers, and placing them in groups based on identified criteria. Decision models consider business and economic drivers and constraints that surpass the general functionality of a predictive model. In a sense, statistical analysis helps to drive this process as well. The predictors are the factors that help identify the outcomes of the actual model. For example, a financial institution may want to identify the factors that make a valuable lifetime customer.
Multiple predictors can be combined into a predictive model, which, when subjected to analysis, can be used to forecast future probabilities with an acceptable level of reliability. In predictive modeling, data is collected, a statistical model is formulated, predictions are made, and the model is validated (or revised) as additional data becomes available. One of the main differences between data mining and predictive analytics is that data mining can be a fully automated process, whereas predictive analytics requires an analyst to identify the predictors and apply them to the defined models.
A decision tree is a variable within predictive analytics that allows the user to visualize the mapping of observations about an item and compare it to conclusions about the item's target value. Basically, decision trees are built by creating a hierarchy of predictor attributes. The highest level represents the outcome, and each sub-level identifies another factor in that conclusion. This can be compared to if-else statements, which identify a result based on whether certain factors meet specified criteria. For example, in order to assess potential bad debt based on credit history, salary, demographics, and so on, a financial institution may wish to identify multiple scenarios, each of which is likely to meet bad debt customer criteria, and use combinations of those scenarios to identify which customers are most likely to become bad debt accounts.
Regression analysis is another component of predictive analytics that allows users to model relationships between three or more variables in order to predict the value of one variable in comparison to the values of the others. It can be used to identify buying patterns based on multiple demographic qualifiers such as age and gender which can be beneficial to identify where to sell specific products. Within BI, this is beneficial when used with scorecards that focus on geography and sales.
Practical applications of all of these analytical models allow organizations to forecast results to predict financial outcomes, hopefully increasing revenues in the process. Within BI, aside from financial outcomes, predictive analytics can be used to develop corporate strategies throughout the organization. What-if analyses can be performed to leverage the capabilities of predictive analytics to build various scenarios, allowing organizations to map out a series of outcomes of strategic and tactical plans. This way, organizations can implement the best strategy based on the scenario creation.
How Predictive Analytics Are Used within BI, and How They Drive an Organization's BPM
Data mining, predictive analytics, and statistical engines are examples of tools that have been embedded in BI software packages to leverage the benefits of performance management. If BI is backward looking, and data mining identifies the here and now, predictive analytics and their use within performance management is the looking glass into the future. This forward-looking view helps organizations drive their decision making. BI is known for its consolidation of data from disparate business units, and for its analysis capabilities based on that consolidated data. Performance management goes one step further by leveraging the BI framework (such as the data warehousing structure and extract, transform, and load [ETL] capabilities) to monitor performance, identify trends, and allow decision makers the ability to set appropriate metrics and monitor results on an ongoing basis.
With predictive analytics embedded within the above processes, the metrics set and business rules identified by organizations can be used to identify the predictors that need to be evaluated. These predictors can then be used to shift towards a forward-looking approach in decision making by using the strengths from the areas identified above. Scorecards are one example of a performance management tool that can leverage predictive analytics. The identification of sales performance by region, product type, and demographics can be used to define what new products should be introduced into the market, and where. In general, scorecards can graphically reflect the selected sales information and create what-if scenarios based on the data identified to verify the right combinations of new product distribution.
What-if scenarios can be used within the different visualization tools to create business models that anticipate what might happen within an organization based on changes in defined variables. What-if analysis gives organizations the tools to identify how profits will be affected based on changes in inflation and pricing patterns as well as the impact of increasing the number of employees throughout the organization. Online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes can be created to identify dimensional data, and patterns within changing dimensions can be compared over time to contrast scenarios using a cube structure to automatically view the outcome of the what-if scenarios.
Using predictive analytics helps organizations identify forward-looking trends based on identified data patterns. Predictors and models can be used to discover sales patterns and detect high risk credit card holders. They can also be leveraged and embedded within BI and BPM solutions. Organizations using BI and performance management tools should take advantage of the built-in predictive analytics tools to perform what-if scenarios, create regression models, and build decision trees to benefit from the patterns identified within the data mining tools that are embedded within BI.
Performance management initiatives within an organization can help drive forward-looking business decisions. Whether for the finance department, government compliance, call center performance management, or an organization's sales and related shipping patterns, developing what-if scenarios and using predictive models, the use of these techniques within performance management has changed the face of BI.
Selecting the appropriate predictive analytics tools is not a simple task. The following capabilities must be considered before implementing a predictive analytics tool: algorithm richness, degree of automation, scalability, model portability, web enablement, ease of use, and the capability to access large data sets. The more diversified the business, the more functions and unique models that are required. Model portability is important even within different business units in the same company. The scalability of the solution and its ability to handle expanded functionality should also be verified and based on the growth of a business.