Analytics: The Internet’s GPS

Converting raw data into insights

EDMONTON, AB, Mar. 1, 2012/ Troy Media/ - Not all data is worth the same.

The average person is bombarded with data during almost every waking moment: TV shows and ads, text messages, radio broadcasts, various print media, and a whirlwind of instant messages, pop-up ads, videos, and sound-bytes on the internet. Some may be accurate, most not, some may be applicable to our purposes, most not: most of us do not have the time, training or inclination to sift through the drek to discover the nuggets that will help us achieve our results. The internet provides us with access to vast amounts of text and other types of raw data, data that can used in business practices, communications, governmental processes, personal interactions, and so on.

The road to nowhere

No one can accurately process or make use of all of that information. Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, the world’s largest index of the Internet, estimated the size of the internet to be over five million terabytes. That is over five trillion megabytes. Welcome the “inundation age.”

In other words, the “information superhighway” is often a road to nowhere or to chaos and indecision. And that’s where analytics – data-driven applications as aides for automating decision making – comes in.

Highly-advanced computer algorithms process both structured data (which allows you to select specific pieces of information based on columns and rows in a field organized and searchable by data type within the actual content), and unstructured data (data that is not part of a database) to identify and analyze patterns that lead to targeted insights for supporting decisions. These algorithms allow us to take a “big picture” perspective of the data, which we in turn can organize and process in a way that the human mind could not hope to comprehend by itself.

Aristotle theorized that government was the greatest human endeavour because it influences and controls . . . well, everything. That same logic can be applied to the implications of analytics, which has emerged as a universally applicable method for aiding and making all manner of decisions.

Analytics can assist the decision-making process in virtually any field, discipline, or industry, making it one of the most commonly used and relied upon methods to inform wide-ranging leadership. Because of this, it is not unrealistic to imagine that analytics may become the primary method for all major world organizations to craft their policies and plans of action.

Perry Kinkaide

Dr. Perry Kinkaide, Chair of the first Canadian “Analytics, Big, Data, and The Cloud” Conference, to be held April 23 to 25 in Edmonton, said “The implications for knowledge-based professions, government and consumer-driven companies, will be extraordinary. Never has the following mantras been more relevant: ‘He who knows his customer best has no competition.”

“Knowledge without relationships has no value.”  Kinkaide added. “The power of analytics enables corporations, government and the professions to align their services with the expectations of the consumer.”  This is truly evolutionary.”

Analytics is being applied to a vast number of areas of knowledge: business, ecology, healthcare, sports, government policy, city planning, technological development, medical research, and practically every scholarly discipline imaginable. Analytic systems are already being used all over the world to increase the efficiency and success of some of the most important endeavours on the planet: air traffic control, disease control, water and utility operations, evacuation planning, food and utility distribution, auto traffic planning, medical diagnoses, banking, mortgage processing, and more.

In theory, technology is only as good as the people who create and program it. Fortunately, the analytics field has attracted some of the most brilliant technological minds in the world to ensure accuracy. Reliable studies have shown that companies that use advanced analytics as an integral part of their decision-making greatly increase their productivity and their profits. Other research has yielded similar results, indicating that the accuracy of analytics application is considerable.

Of course, nothing is infallible, especially when it comes to predicting the future. Predictive analytics, however, have shown a high degree of accuracy. Generally speaking, analytics have proven to be highly accurate, including important, practical applications that depend upon high degrees of precision such as air traffic controlling, utilities, medical applications, etc. All of these applications have resulted in spectacular success.

But the variety of applications of analytics technology is only one aspect of analytics overall versatility. It is also versatile in terms of its use when considering Cloud analytics. By utilizing cloud-based analytics systems, users have more options, and more protections, than ever before.

Users can have full access to all services from any computer, anywhere on the planet. They are also free from many of the problems that plague users of conventional computer systems: limited memory, limited storage, loss, theft, accidental damage, viruses, and various other complications and catastrophes.

As the ICT industry adopts cloud-based, wireless systems, the world’s global economy will transition into a sleeker, faster, more mobile, and more flexible work environment for all industries. Massive amounts of information will be analyzed through cloud systems, enabling us to tackle more complex, wide-ranging problems and questions than ever before. The unlimited versatility of such a system indicates a quantum leap beyond merely plugging in and surfing the net. Technology of this level is a prelude to a world in which advanced research and thinking are possible on levels that have never been imagined.

Analytics provides practical insight

While the “information age” gave people greater access to raw data than ever before in history (whether accurate or inaccurate), the “analytics age” goes beyond the mere presentation of jumbled data and provides something that is far more valuable: insight and practical application. Everyone, from policy makers and business owners to private citizens may soon be able to log onto any computer anywhere and run sophisticated, customized analytics programs to gain new perspectives on a number of issues pertinent to his or her life and work.

Analytics does something amazing. It converts titanic amounts of raw data into accurate, useful, applicable insights, the next evolution of the information age.

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Analytics Paving the Way to Better Health Care

Detecting problems before they occur

EDMONTON, ON, Apr. 22, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Analytics is changing the face of the health care industry, whether determining the risk of premature infants to contract life-threatening illnesses, decreasing the fall risk of patients, or ensuring that emergency responders are within a reasonable distance from your home.

Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, for example, is testing a new analytics system that can predict more accurately than ever before which premature babies are at most risk for disease and infection.

And the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) is using IBM’s InfoSphere Streams software to correlate thousands of real-time data sources and analyze the information being collected from the over 400 premature infants that were monitored at the hospital. The system looks more closely at data, such as heart rate, temperature, blood saturation, and blood pressure levels, which is then streamed to the system 24/7 to provide a look at the babies’ health in a way never seen before. So far, the InfoSphere streams have captured two decades worth of data in just 400 patients though constant monitoring.

UOIT analyzes the data in many ways, including, they hope, to discover the onset of sepsis and various other conditions before these problems occur, says Dr. Carolyn McGregor, the Canada Research Chair in Health Informatics at UOIT. It hopes to be able to detect if the baby is about to develop any life-threatening infections 24 hours before visual onset. While medical personnel have traditionally used indicators such as body temperature to monitor for the onset of infection, analytics is providing “a much richer environment,” McGregor says, to analyze a wider variety of conditions that babies can develop.

Premature infants are not the only patients, however, reaping the benefits of analytics. In a case study performed by IBM, Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society (ELGSS), in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, used advanced case management to analyze data patterns that improved business processes and enhanced patient care.

Rustan Williams, the VP of information systems and technology systems and CIO for ELGSS, says one specific area it uses analytics for is to determine if a patient may be a fall risk. If the patient is determined to be at risk, special measures can be taken to ensure the patient’s safety.

The use of analytics in the medical community extends beyond the hospital. Ambulance services in many areas are now starting to use analytics to help increase efficiency. Companies such as Canada-based Darkhorse Analytics are using its analytics to offer assistance to these companies in a wide array of areas.

“Healthcare in Canada,” Daniel Haight, a founding partner for Darkhorse Analytics says, “has started taking over ambulances, so all services have a computer-aided dispatch system, unless they are really small. It is through their own database that they collect every call that comes in. The data is broken down into very detailed intervals of performance. We collect all the data and mine it for insight.”

Darkhorse identifies where problems are occurring and then helps come up with a plan of action. Haight explains that each problem area has different issues. Some municipalities have plenty of emergency vehicles but not enough stations, while others have plenty of stations but not enough vehicles. Through data analysis, Darkhorse is able to make suggestions on where stations should be located, how many vehicles should be housed at each, and the hours the stations should be more heavily staffed.

Efficient data collection partnered with intelligent analytics is a recipe for higher quality health care overall and is the road to the future, he adds.

Learn more about how analytics is transforming the health care industry at Canada’s largest analytics conference. Dan Haight will be speaking at Analytics, Big Data and the Cloud will be held April 23rd-25th in Edmonton, Alberta.

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Analytics is Changing Sports

Analysing statistics to create a winning team

EDMONTON, AB, Apr. 23, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Moneyball isn’t just for pro baseball players and Brad Pitt anymore.

Executives in virtually every professional sports league, from the NHL to the NFL, are finding ways to incorporate analytics – the actual term used to describe the techniques popularized in the recent hit movie – into their particular game.

The recent film, based on the best-selling 2003 non-fiction book by Michael Lewis, has helped demonstrate just how important the role of statistical analysis can be in sports. The smart use of data analysis helped the Oakland A’s, a subpar and struggling baseball team, win a record 20 consecutive games and their division championship while competing with teams that have as much as three times their payroll.

Skeptics became true believers

The A’s success using analytics converted skeptics everywhere into new believers.

The Boston Red Sox went on to win two World Series after adopting the same data analysis methods. And baseball isn’t the only sport where the edge gained by the use of analytics is spreading.

Marc Appleby with Powerscout, a hockey analytics company, is part of the movement on the ice. There are lots of performance statistics that are available in hockey, but determining what those statistics mean is the hard part, he said.

Knowing how many goals a team averages is good, but, Appleby explains, “There are other aspects besides goals and assists that are important. PowerScout has researched key statistics from over 14,000 NHL games over a 13 year period where we’ve discovered winning trends that can be modeled today to help build a winning team. Ultimately, our mission is to help teams maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses, which is of growing interest to hockey teams at every level.”

“When building a team we know what components provide you the best probability of winning based on key findings uncovered in our extensive research. That is what we do at PowerScout,” he said. “Often teams are looking at small situations but not the whole picture. Many times they are looking at player performance on a game by game basis but Powerscout tracks how each player is contributing to help his team win based on his position and his skills.”

Companies like Powerscout are giving coaches and front-office executives a better look at the complete picture when they are assembling their teams during the off-season. Instead of just focusing on one specific player, analytics helps determine which types of players work best together.

Engineers with Formula 1 racing teams are even finding ways to apply analytics to gain an advantage over the competition during an event.

Formula 1 racing team Lotus F1 collects data as a race progresses. The information about the car, the weather, and the competitors is sent in real time to teammates on and off the track, reports Kevin Casey of InformationWeek. A mobile app is used for the driver and information that can give a competitive edge is streamed real-time.

This gives an exclusive edge and could possibly be used in a number of other sports. For instance, a football coach using analytics software streaming to a handheld device during game play could help him determine what plays have the highest statistical edge.

Football teams are presently using analytics in the same way hockey teams are. Robert Bedetti, a blogger for the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, recently employed analytics to help determine which draft picks are the riskiest.

“When evaluating first-round draft picks, history can tell us a lot about how different positions are valued and how they tend to live up to (or fall short of) expectations,” he said. “The data from past drafts can be invaluable to the evaluation and selection process that no team has yet to master.”

Through Bedetti’s analysis, he found that the quarterback position is one of the riskiest early-round picks. If you pick a quarterback in the first or second round you were more likely to end up disappointed, whereas, a linebacker in the first or second round is shown to be a relatively safe pick.

Analytics is also used by the sports fan. Fantasy football players are relying on data gleaned from statisticians to get the upper edge.

In Papa Chakravarthy’s research, “Optimizing Draft Strategies in Fantasy Football,” data was collected from ESPN and Pro Football Reference’s websites to determine the best auction draft strategy that relies on accurate risk estimation in a fantasy football league.

Analytics determines risk level

The study considers several draft styles including points-based drafting, value-based drafting, risk-averse drafting, and risk-neutral drafting. It attempts to determine the risk level that provides risk-neutral drafting, as well as the ways risk neutrality can increase a team owner’s utility, where utility is directly related to the fantasy point output of a team.

Regardless of if you are a team manager looking to draft the best possible team combination, a sports enthusiast building a fantasy football team, or a team looking to use real-time analytics, we can expect to see a lot more from the sports analytics field in the coming years.

Or, as Pitt’s character in “Moneyball” puts it, “We’ll change the game. That’s what I want. I want it to mean something.”

Learn more about how analytics is transforming the health care industry at Canada’s largest analytics conference. Dan Haight will be speaking at Analytics, Big Data and the Cloud will be held April 23rd-25th in Edmonton, Alberta.

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Analytics could help tackle Canada’s labour shortage

Help your current workforce reach its true potential

EDMONTON, AB, Apr. 3, 2012, Troy Media/ – It’s no surprise to anyone that Canada is suffering from a shortage in skilled labour. But it may surprise you to learn that analytic software and programs could be a key component to overcoming it.

James Freeman, Chief Marketing Officer for Calgary-based Zedi Inc., a premier provider of analytics and data services, applications and technology for the oil and gas industry, sums up how analytics could play an integral role in the future of labour shortages in Alberta and Canada as a whole in two words: Increased efficiency.

Realizing potential

“Since 2008, the production operations side of the upstream oil and gas industry has lost a lot of experienced people. Through Analytics, we can help producers realize potential and become more efficient with the less-skilled labour they have, particularly where gas prices are very tight” he said.

Essentially, analytics programs analyze data captured from the producing assets in the field, and trigger alarms or flag trends of interest that may deviate from normal operating conditions. Based on these flags, companies can then focus productive effort to minimize downtime and cost, and maximize labour efficiency.

Unfortunately, human resources (HR) and production management in Canadian companies are lagging behind when it comes to implementing core analytics programs into employee performance. In fact, in 2006, an Accenture High-Performance Workforce Study reported that nearly 40 per cent of companies surveyed have no formal measures for determining HR impact on workforce performance, while another 39 per cent have such measures but only for some HR initiatives.

But the study found that 78 per cent of companies that are leaders on human performance criteria are able to demonstrate, with quantitative measures, the impact of the performance of the top three workforces on the organization’s overall financial performance. Similarly, 35 per cent of the leading businesses have formal, business-focused metrics – analytics – to gauge the impact of all of their HR activities on workforce performance.

According to these studies, successful companies are more likely to use analytics to link HR-related initiatives to business performance. The ability to develop business management plans from this data, to ensure that the workforce is working at its fullest potential, can help make up a portion of the labour shortages. Just as the development of manufacturing machinery reduced the labor force needed to make certain products, analytics application can reduce the required labor force by improving efficiency in almost any industry.

Coordination needed to solve labour shortages

Bringing new workers to the skilled labour force is important, of course, but focusing on using the current workforce to its fullest potential may be a better way to dramatically ease the burden of the labour shortages that are plaguing Canadian industries. If all of the reasonable methods of dealing with this problem are coordinated together – greater efficiency through analytics, expansions of skilled labour programs, and occasional temporary international hiring – Canada may overcome this impending economic obstacle, and forge on into an ever-more-prosperous future.

Learn more about the crucial role that analytics is playing in Alberta’s infrastructure and ever-evolving industries. James Freeman and other leading professionals will share their insights about the future of analytics this spring at Analytics, Big Data and the Cloud – Canada’s largest analytics conference being held April 23 to 25 at Edmonton’s Fantasyland Conference Centre.

What is the extent of the problem?

A C-Suite survey of Canadian corporate executives reported that, despite the high level of unemployment in Canada, companies just can’t get all the people they need to fill the skilled positions that are available. Two-thirds of executives said they are having difficulty finding qualified employees, and one-third said the labour shortage is so severe that it is stunting their companies’ growth.

Unfortunately, the problem is not one that is going to see an end any time soon. According to the Calgary Economic Development study, the demand for skilled labour in Alberta is expected to increase by more than 600,000 workers by 2021. If nothing is done to increase the number of skilled workers, who are ready and willing to occupy these job openings, there will be about 114,000 unfilled vacancies.

If steps are not taken to prepare for this severe shortage of trained workers, Canada could face a number of long-term economic problems that will affect thousands across the nation.

So what can be done about this impending economic threat? The Canadian government have explored a number of options. Many initiatives have focused on obtaining more foreign workers from the United States, Ireland, and U.K. to fill these vacancies.

Alberta Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford was in Chicago early this year to discuss the labour shortage and look into possibilities of bringing skilled workers to Alberta from the U.S.

“We’ve had discussions with a number of labour organizations in Chicago who’ve been doing work with decision-makers in the United States – and with the Canadian and U.S. ambassadors – to try to find avenues where we might be able to accelerate access of skilled labour into Alberta,” she said.

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program was implemented to attempt to deal with the labour shortage head-on, allowing Canadian companies to hire foreign workers temporarily to fill these vacancies.

Though bringing in foreign workers on a temporary basis may remedy immediate labour needs, it does not address the labour shortage in the long term. Mike Rowe, an advocate for American investment in trades, believes the biggest problem stems from the lack of young people interested in skilled labour jobs, and the stigma associated with these trades:

“Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as ‘vocational consolation prizes,’ best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree,” he said. “And still, we talk about millions of ‘shovel-ready’ jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.”

By focusing efforts on training programs in skilled trade through vocational education and apprenticeships, Canada could find more youth going down a skilled trade career path. If skilled trades could be legitimized and popularized in the minds of Canada’s young people, the influx of students pursuing skilled apprenticeships could help ease some of the stress on industries that rely heavily on these positions.

However, getting more students to pursue careers in skilled trade will not happen immediately. So what can companies do now to help address the labour shortages?

Analytics could transform the construction industry

Houses are still built the same way they were 100 years ago.

EDMONTON, AB, Mar. 28, 2012, Troy Media/ – According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), an estimated 8,000 lbs. of waste is created with the construction of a 2,000 square foot house.

The majority of that, Klaas Rodenburg, CEO of Alberta Centre of Excellence for Building Information Modeling (aceBIM), a not for profit organization dedicated to introducing the benefits of BIM into industry, comes mostly from the on-site building process and consists of wood, cardboard and drywall. Framers, for example, will take the first 2 x 4 that they see and cut it to fit their specifications. They then discard the unused piece of 2 x 4 and grab a fresh piece and repeat the process. At the end of a job, the site is littered with a large stack of discarded and unusable pieces of framing and drywall.

But that is about to change.

Homes: still built one brick at a time

The housing industry has remained relatively unchanged in its production methods for the past century. And while home builders are using modern materials, new design methods, and state-of-the-art technology, the actual building of the house has not changed much over 100 years ago. They are still build one brick or piece of wood at a time.

While there has been an increase in labour productivity in most non-farming industries, the same cannot be said for construction. What went wrong? According to Rodenburg, the reason lies in the use of technology. While technology, he said, is “widely accepted in most non-farming industries . . . technology is not being readily accepted in the construction world. We have come a long way in using technology for design aspects of construction, but use it very little elsewhere in the industry.”

One technology that can be used by the housing industry is called lean manufacturing. Professor Lauri Koskela, a leader in lean manufacturing theory, says lean manufacturing helps “design production systems to minimize waste of materials, time, and effort in order to generate the maximum possible amount of value”.

Building Information Modeling (BIM), is a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility which can transform the housing industry into a lean manufacturing force.

BIM allows companies to utilize the waste created during the building process. All waste material is added to the digital knowledge base – or BIM system – and can then be re-routed to another project for utilization. The wood and drywall can even be cut to specification in a factory in advance and assembled at the site in only a few days. This cuts waste significantly in both energy consumption and overall wasted materials.

To go a step further, many lumber yards and contracting facilities have lumber and other expensive housing components lying around for extended periods, waiting to be used. During this time, materials can be damaged or ruined. BIM acts as an inventory control system to ensure material is used in a timely manner.

Duplication is another issue that plagues the housing industry. According to Rodenberg, “There are people out there (who) are saying we can reduce the cost of buildings by 50 per cent by not duplicating things and doing things over and over again. Especially when you start looking at energy, how much does a bad decision cost you over 30 years?”

A company using a BIM system based on lean manufacturing theory will only have materials on hand for upcoming projects. They will not have expensive product lying around. They know when they will need certain components and when to order them. The process of materials distribution and management is much more contained in a BIM system. Duplication is also not an issue. Since most components are completed in factory, there is less room for error.

Landmark Group of Builders in Alberta, Canada, is one building company using BIM principles and lean manufacturing to tackle these issues head on. It is using analytics to transition traditional building design methods to a virtual level: Two-dimensional drawings are turned into a three dimensional world. With the current advances in analytics and software, companies now have the ability to add intelligence to the building process. BIM analytics know almost every aspect of the building inside and out, before it is built. BIM can even tell you where pipes are located and how much water will be flowing through them.

You can even set up scenarios to test how a building will withstand earthquakes or if you moved it to another part of the world into a different climate. You can also monitor how minor changes in design – such as adding solar panels or sun shades to certain parts of the building – effect energy consumption.

Analyzing all the variations of the data provides companies, like Landmark Group, the ability to create sustainable and efficient homes of exceptional quality. But not only will the homes be efficient, they can be built in a fraction of the time of a conventional builder can.

But it doesn’t end there. BIM measurements are so exact that they are within one 16th of an inch in accuracy, according to Rodenberg, allowing for very precise building specifications. Materials can be cut and assembled in a factory and delivered to the building site pre-built.

While similar concepts exist with modular or manufactured homes, BIM buildings are still partially constructed on-site and are held to the same standards as a traditional on-site built home.

In 1993, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency did a study called Building Performance after Hurricane Andrew. The study found that panel-built and modular homes and BIM-style homes that had portions built in factories weathered the hurricane far better and outperformed their conventional counterparts.

Industry still hesitant to use BIM

FEMA stated that the reason for the difference came down to quality of workmanship. Both Modular and BIM-style factory manufactured parts had an inherently more rigid system that performed significantly better than conventionally-framed homes. FEMA was surprised to find that even rafters remained intact because of the rigid design structures.

The BIM model provides homes that are sustainable and of higher quality standards than traditionally built homes. BIM has created a truly industry changing process. However, the adoption of this process by the industry has yet to occur.

Learn more about BIM and these emerging trends by attending the upcoming Analytics, Big Data and the Cloud Conference where Klaas Rodenburg will be speaking.

This article is FREE to use on your websites or in your publications. However, Troy Media, with a link to its web site, MUST be credited.