What The Heck Is... Analytics?

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Bernard Marr
Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Leading Business and Data Expert

Analytics is something any manager, leader or in fact anyone should know about. Not only because analytics is one of the biggest buzzwords around at the moment but because it will be a game changer in all aspects of life.

In today’s data-driven world analytics changes everything, not just in business, but also in fields like sports, healthcare and government. It is hard to think of any aspect of life that won’t be affected by analytics. We have seen books on analytics become global best sellers and the people who are able to apply analytics (sometimes called data scientists) are hailed as having the sexiest job of the 21st Century. So, what really is analytics?

Basically, analytics refers to our ability to collect and use data to generate insights that inform fact-based decision-making. Advances in information technology and a complete datafication of our world now mean we have (or will have very soon) data and insights on everything. This gives us unprecedented opportunities that will transform business, sports, healthcare and government. Let’s first look at the datafication of our world and then at some examples of how analytics are used to turn data into insights.
Datafication – More Data Every Day
Day after day our world is filled with more and more data and the pace of the data growth is accelerating week by week. Data on every aspect of our life is now tracked and stored in databases and analytics allows us to turn this data into insights. Here are just some examples that illustrate the datafication of our world:
1.    We increasingly record of our conversations: Emails are stored in corporate databases, our social media up-dates are filed and phone conversations are digitized and stored.
2.    Companies and organizations are creating vast repositories of data keeping a digital record of everything that is going on: Just think of all the data generated daily in our financial systems, stock control systems, ordering systems, sales transaction systems and HR systems. These data depots are growing by the minute.
3.    Our activities are tracked: Most things we do in a digital world leave a data trail. For example, our bowser logs what we are searching for and what websites we visit, websites log how we click through them, as well as what and when we buy, share or like something. When we read digital books or listen to digital music the devices will collect (and share) data on what we are reading and listening to and how often we do so.
4.    We increasingly generate data using the ever-growing amounts of sensors we are now surrounded by: Our smart phones track the location of where we are and how fast we are moving, there are sensors in our oceans to track temperatures and currents, there are sensors in our cars that monitor our driving, there are sensors on packaging and pallets that track goods as they are shipped along supply chains, etc.
5.    Wearable devices collect data: Smart watches, Google Glass and pedometers collect data. For example I wear an Up band that tells me how many steps I have taken, the calories I have burnt each day as well as how well I have slept each night, etc.
6.    A lot of photos and videos are now digitally captured. Just think of the millions of hours of CCTV footage captured every day. In addition, we take more videos on our smart
phones and digital cameras leading to around 100 hours of videos being up-loaded to YouTube every minute and something like 200,000 photos added to Facebook every 60 seconds.
7.    Internet-enabled devices self-generate and share data. Smart TVs for example are able to track what you are watching, for how long and even detect how many people sit in front of the TV.
8.    More data is made publicly available. For instance, weather data is now shared by Met Offices and governments are releasing censor data or land registry data. Also, think of all the data Google collects and makes accessible through tools such as Google Trends or Google Maps.
I guess you are getting the point by now – there is a data explosion happening right now and all of this data is the fuel for analytics.
Analytics Today
We are not only generating vastly more data but our ability to harness and analyse this data has improved massively over recent years. We can now analyse large volumes of fast moving data from different data sources to gain insights that were never possible before. Analyzing large and messy data sets is often referred to as ‘Big Data’ or ‘Big Data Analytics’, which have become buzz words in their own right. Different types of analytics approaches allow us to analyse numbers, text, photos and even voice and video sequences. Let’s look at some practical examples of how analytics are applied in practice today.
Sport: Analytics is widely used to improve the performance of athletes, sports stars as well as you and I. Here are a few real examples:
•    You can now get a baseball with over 200 in-built sensors that gives players detailed feedback on their performance. InfoMotion Sports Technologies together with researchers form the University of Michigan are refining a smart ball that tracks and analyses shooting skills and ball-handling mechanics.
•    Smartphone Apps such as Run Keeper or Nike + Running use the in-built sensors in your phone so you can track and analyse your own running performance, measuring split times, calories burnt, etc.
•    Olympic cyclists use bikes that are fitted with sensors on their pedals that collect data on how much acceleration every push on the pedal generates. This kind of data
provides detailed insights into actual performance and how to improve it.
•    In tennis we use a system called SlamTracker that records player performance providing real-time statistics and comprehensive match analytics.
•    Finally, we have all seen Moneyball – a film based on the real live story of Billie Bean - general manager at the Oklahoma As. He used analytics to identify talent that talent scouts using traditional methods were not able to spot. This allowed him to outsmart much richer teams in Major League Baseball.
Healthcare: Analytics are currently completely transforming healthcare. Have a look at these examples:
•    A hospital unit that looks after premature and sick babies is applying real time analytics based on a recording of every breath and every heartbeat of all babies in their unit. It then analyses the data to identify patterns. Based on the analysis the system can now predict infections 24hrs before the baby shows any visible symptoms. This allows early intervention and treatment that is so vital in fragile babies.

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