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Seeing the light in predictive analytics


3D Chart

It's a new year, and many organizations are mulling how and where they will make new investments. One area where many businesses will start considering is predictive analytics tools. The ability to know what may happen in the company and industry is enticing many to look at what these tools can do. TechRadar spoke with James Fisher, who said 85 percent of the organizations that have adopted these tools believe it has positively impacted their business.

"Businesses are collecting information on their customers' mobile habits, buying habits, web-browsing habits… The list really does go on," he said. "However, it is what businesses do with that data that counts. Analytics technology allows organizations to analyze their customer data and turn it into actionable insights, in a way that benefits business."

The number and need of predictive analytics in businesses will likely continue to grow well beyond this year, as Gartner reported early in 2013 that approximately 70 percent of the best performing enterprises will either manage or have a view of their processes with predictive analytics tools by 2016. By doing this, business will have a better sense of what is happening within their own networks and corporate walls, which actions could have the best impact and give increased visibility across their industries. This will give situational awareness across the business, making operating much easier than it has been in past years.

Cloud could be huge boon for analytics

Going along with these statistics are numbers from Research and Markets, which reported in its "Global Predictive Analytics Market 2014-2018" study that there will be a yearly growth of more than 30 percent in the industry from this year until 2018. Cloud-based products have been one of the selling points for businesses, the report said, but lack of awareness may be an area that initially hurts the adoption rate of the predictive analysis tools.

Fisher said predictive analytics and the cloud are sharing the spotlight across multiple industries because businesses want quick access to these new reporting abilities. Combination of the two, he said, is the next natural step.

"Predictive analytics in the cloud is gaining momentum," he told TechRadar. "This pairing allows predictive analytics to be more scalable, flexible and easier to deploy. It exploits the well-known advantages of the cloud to improve the return on investment and time to market of the most advanced analytics."

Fisher said most businesses are not currently getting as much as they could be out of these tools. A big problem has been the lack of planning and embedding of predictive analytic models into daily work tasks that carry weight as blood-issues within the organization. While there are certain areas being reported on, companies may be missing the ability to measure and fix the areas that could truly make them more efficient.

Fisher is not worried about this, as the access to this data has not been truly available until recently, and many enterprises are still working on how they can safely integrate these tools into the business. This will likely take a large amount of planning and may require a year or two before the return on investment starts coming in.

Gartner said in its report that any executives who manage business process should be accessing the need for predictive analytic tools now. This should include looking at the business case and what competitors are doing. It may not be easy to do correctly right away, but planning and measurement will go a long way with analytic tools.

Visualization software can be huge benefit for IT security


Technology Security

Security will continue to be one of the biggest issues in information technology in the coming months and years. Hackers and malware creators have more tools than ever at their disposal, but smart organizations are prepared. One such tool is business visualization software, and Dark Reading's Ericka Chickowski said it could play a big role in companies' security analytics moving forward.

There are many different types of charts that can be a big help for security teams, but the first Chickowski brought up was a hierarchical tree map. These can be useful for looking at IP addresses and designs, as color, size of boxes and location on the tree can offer a quick look at the best areas of each set of numbers. Another popular visualization for security professionals are link charts, which can help them understand fraud transactions and give a better view for network monitoring.

"Link charts can be as simple or as complex as necessary, but their purpose is to show the visual relationship between a number of different entities, which can be extremely useful in mapping networked relationships," Chickowski said.

Other useful graphs, charts and visualizations include:

  • Graph pattern matching, which can show weeks of activity and spot new trends in network and user behavior
  • 3-D visualizations, which can display simple and complicated relationships between numbers
  • Timelines, which can be important for figuring out when important events happened and how new ones may fit in
  • Geographic visualization, something that could perhaps play a big role in showing where on the planet attacks or hacking attempts are coming from

Attack prevention will be one area where security officers will be able to truly utilize business visualization well. An article by Deloitte on The Wall Street Journal's website quoted JR Reagan, a principal with Deloitte & Touche LLP, who said existing tools likely cannot answer questions about what problems a business is at risk for suffering and what may need to be put in place.

"Traditional dashboards don't typically provide the level of visualization required to solve today's complex security problems," said Reagan. "The goal is to move from reactive to proactive to preemptive and even to predictive. If organizations can identify patterns of attack, they can potentially detect an imminent breach, and take measures to thwart it."

How to best use these tools

Although many have not implemented visualization systems in conjunction with security efforts yet, Reagan told the Journal that there has yet to be significant investments by many. Visual information will soon likely be used in public utilities, the military and many other organizations on a far greater scale than it already is. The way security issues must be addressed fundamentally today is fundamentally different than the method many organizations use, Reagan said, as a manual process of looking through logs will be inefficient and not enough to keep sensitive data safe in the future.

Jon Oltsik wrote on Network World that visualization has remained simple over the years, relying on pie charts, graphs and spreadsheets over the years. A new wave of business visualization technology has been popping up and will likely bring about huge changes for security officers looking to analyze their level of risk and look to prevent large breaches from happening. Context will be an important area to keep in mind when working to visualize IT security.

"When malware targets an unpatched system it's an emergency," he wrote. "Alternatively, when malware is headed for a patched system, the situation isn't very critical at all. Over time, big data security analytics will blend threat detection/forensics with continuous monitoring to calculate risk scores associated with cyber-attacks."

Executives moved deeper into BI, analytics in 2013


Business Professionals

This past year has been an interesting one for organizations that have begun to adopt business intelligence tools. BI solutions have been utilized more heavily in the past year, as CIOs and other executives have accepted and moved into a greater level of analytic use. CIO UK spoke with executives throughout 2013 about working with BI solutions and got some interesting quotes, including one from DX Group CIO Mike Sturrock, who said data-driven solutions gave his company more insights into its business than it ever had before.

"At DX Group, we do place a fuel surcharge to the customer, but we are optimizing our routing and the number of deliveries," he said. "Can we deliver 20 items rather than 15? It is all about the efficiency of the route. At Nightfreight, all the vehicles have telemetry that monitors fuel use, but also logs throttle use, braking and idling time for fuel and safety reasons."

Peabody IT director Martin Carpenter told CIO UK that his company has been better with its data and business analytic software. It's now looking to adopt predictive analytics tools to give the company an edge as an organization. Kroger CIO Chris Hjelm told the publication that the business's data is used in a much more intelligent way in areas such as stocks, thereby giving customers a better shopping experience than they would otherwise receive.

Earlier this year, Gartner said adopting business analytic software or BI solutions is currently the top area of investment for CFOs as well.

John van Decker, Gartner research vice president, said 12 of the top 20 areas of adoption chosen by CFOs can be addressed or improved with investments in analytics, something that organizations will surely take note of in the next year or two.

Many interesting, hidden facts can be found in data


Computer Information

There are many facts that a business may not know hidden within data it already has access to. Numbers, statistics and figures that the company has in-house can be found from the use of data visualization analytics and similar tools, according to a post by Don DeLoach on Data Center Journal.

"Through a series of quickly changing, iterative questions, decision makers throughout the business can figure out why something did or did not happen and how to optimize a particular outcome in the future," he wrote. "This flexible and often iterative approach not only offers an option for performing rich, real-time data analysis with far fewer resources, but it also yields valuable insight into a host of new questions, some of which haven't even been contemplated yet."

Some examples of useful information that can be found using analytics included:

  • How Christmas promotions can be optimized using customer data during the holiday season
  • Learning why a spike in sales or revenue occurred and what a business can do to repeat that occurrence
  • What factors are hindering the campaign? DeLoach's example is paused videos, but this can also be abandoned shopping carts, an inefficient Web page and other factors
  • Why are mobile conversations happening at a certain point of the day and how can this be capitalized on?

In order to optimize business analytic software within an organization, Mary Shacklett wrote on TechRepublic that executives and workers should collaborate to figure out which hard questions are standing in the way of advancement. She said building a team and reviewing all of the elusive questions that need to be answered can be a great way to finding out what may be lost in the numbers of an enterprise.

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