Ten Levels of Analytics

What is the Ten Levels of Analytics framework?

Nearly all businesses in today’s environment are looking to maintain and further their competitive advantage using analytics. Analytics is often used as an umbrella term and ranges from the simple reporting of key facts to the complex prediction of new events. The proliferation of the amount of data and the ability to extract insights from diverse sources such as time series, spatial, and graph data have accelerated the predictive power of analytics.

Elder Research created a framework to help business leaders understand various techniques and stay on top of the rapidly-advancing field. We delineate these techniques into ten ranked levels and fit them into four broad categories based on the level of human input and volume of data.  By sharing our insights, we hope to help people identify 1) the level in which they operate now, 2) the next level to attain to achieve their goals, and 3) how to best get there.

Here, we excerpt a brief portion of our Ten Levels of Analytics eBook.

Four Categories of Modeling Technology

We divide modeling technology into four categories based on the type of knowledge required for use:

  • Descriptive – deterministically summarize data
  • Expert-Driven – computationally encode expert opinions and assumptions
  • Data-Driven – induce new rules or formulas from data
  • Data+Expert – combine deductive and inductive reasoning to determine causes from measured effects

Expert-driven modeling is deductive – it reasons from theory to specific cases.

Data-driven modeling is inductive – it reasons from specific cases (data) to a theory (model).

These sources of knowledge – data or expert – are independent; a modeling technology can rely on either or both, to varying degree.
Though there are potential pitfalls at all levels, we believe the accuracy and quality of the answer improves as you move up the levels. We grade data-driven inductive modeling approaches superior to expert-driven ones, as the inductive techniques allow unknown rules or relationships to be discovered from the data and are less susceptible to the biases and misconceptions common to human reasoning. On the other hand, expert-driven approaches are preferred if the data is filtered or poorly represents the full situation. Ideally, it is best to employ analytic approaches which combine both expert-driven and data-driven modeling.

The Ten Levels of Analytics Framework

There are further distinctions within each of the four categories of modeling technology that are useful for applying algorithms to specific problems. We have identified ten increasingly complex levels of analytics. Very often, higher levels depend on techniques from lower ones; for example,data-driven analytics techniques often rely on optimization and simulation techniques when learning structure or parameters.

The figure below summarizes the ten levels, with complexity (and with it, power and danger) rising from the bottom to the top, as well as increasing from left to right. The upward dimension changes when moving from simple Descriptive analytic tasks to more Predictive and Prescriptive, and from Business Intelligence to Advanced Analytics. The position from left to right reflects the intensity and complexity within a category.

Optimization is shown as the most advanced form of expert-driven technique, as domain knowledge is essential to creating a useful simulation or equation to optimize. But the search for parameter values is usually automated, so it can be considered a transitional form to the next level category that is data-driven.

Each level of the data-driven approaches increases complexity and power over the previous one. Parameter learning employs optimization to find the best parameter values for a fixed model structure. Structure learning performs an additional search over a large set of possible model structures. Ensembles combine multiple models having different strengths and weaknesses into a single model, which is typically more accurate and stable than any of its components. This combination of strengths makes ensemble methods the highest form of data-driven modeling.

Causal modeling draws from both data-driven and expert-driven techniques. It is like an automatic scientist using theory and data to refine a hypothesis. Expert-driven modeling depends on the expert knowing the cause, and data-driven modeling can reveal a possible cause, but only causal modeling can confirm a cause-and-effect relationship by combining both forms of knowledge to rule out alternatives. This framework can be used to help teams understand where they are operating and what approaches are best for the analytic challenge they are facing. As one moves up the levels, the complexity, and power of analytics increases. This makes possible greater accuracy when it’s done right, but more danger if done wrong! Successful analytics teams know how to combine data-and expert-driven approaches to maximize insight and value.

Want to learn more?

Explore more on the Ten Levels of Analytics framework and the extension of the levels to encompass emerging data types such as time series, spatial data, and graph data.
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