For the month of October, SAS, is putting the spotlight on Analytics.
We invite you to take a journey with us and explore the possibilities , opportunities and discoveries that can be achieved through analytics.

Giving enterprises a survival instinct

Assessing the probability of something happening is a skill humans (and animals) have had for as long as they have existed. Without this ability, the chances of survival would have been slim.

Data analysis for survival

To be able to accurately determine the likelihood of an event that could be beneficial or harmful has meant the difference between life and death. Being able to quantify the probability of there being food in a tree or a predator behind the next rock is based on our past experience and our analysis of a range of clues in the present. This data is analysed by the brain almost instantaneously to process what is seen, heard and smelt in the moment, and to question: "Has something similar occurred before and what was the outcome?"  

We are then able to predict the likelihood of a particular outcome ("There is a good chance this predator will attack me!") and know whether to proceed or to retreat. As new experiences are added, we are able to improve the accuracy of our forecasts. Because this advanced processing takes place so rapidly, we are not aware of the processes and might describe our accurate guesses as ‘hunches'. But, in reality, they are probability forecasts.

Science looks to the odds

Scientific study of probability is a relatively new development, dating back to around the 16th century, when mathematicians such as Cardano, Huygens and Pascal began to develop the theories around determining probability. Work by the likes of Laplace and Kologorov built on these foundations, leading to modern probability theory. The ability to link modern probability theory with unprecedented volumes of structured and unstructured data from around the world; to connect the combined experience of everyone in a particular field, and all recorded outcomes, gives us the potential to create solutions capable of an advanced version of the brain's analytical abilities.

Instinct for business survival

Whether in everyday life or in business, having a means of accurately quantifying probabilities is a hugely important survival tool.

But, while the human brain is a super powerful computer, with over 250 000 neurons acting simultaneously in order to make decisions, produce thought or assign the odds of something happening, the human brain does not have access to all the data in the world. If we have only 10 variables, each with 10 different values, nearly 10 billion potential combinations are possible. Larger numbers of variables are beyond most our abilities to process accurately.

Enter advanced analytical technologies. Capable of collating and storing massive volumes of data and crunching vast numbers in near real-time, modern analytics tools are essential for enabling better ‘hunches' based on more accurate data, available from everywhere.

Advanced big data analytics are giving organisations new capabilities to better understand their environment, forecast trends and predict the likely outcomes of their actions. The more data is added and the more accurate that data is, the better the guesses will become.

Do we have all the answers?

Nothing is ever certain. Only if all the underlying conditions in a deterministic universe are known, would there be no more probabilities and only certainty of a specific outcome. Can we ever come close to fully knowing all the underlying conditions and causes and their values, to absolute certainty of anything but the simplest events around us? Not a chance.

What we can do, however, is model cause and effect, and understand associations, loose connections, linkages, patterns and correlations or anything else that would incrementally and cumulatively increase our odds of knowing what will happen in a given period of time, based on how similar scenarios played out before. This ability alone takes organisations a long way toward improving its odds of survival.

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03 Nov 2014   Tracy Burrows

Modern analytics tools are essential for enabling better ‘hunches' based on more accurate data, available from everywhere, says SAS.

15 Oct 2014   Goran Dragosavac

There may be issues with data quality and access, skills shortages and a lack of analytical technologies, but the biggest challenge is the lack of motivation.

13 Oct 2014   Goran Dragosavac

While collection and analysis on big data hold great promise, quantity doesn't always translate to quality.

01 Oct 2014   Goran Dragosavac

It's hard to find an area of human endeavour where analytics have not been used.