Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why Analytics is like Wine Tasting

I mentioned yesterday that I was in the Finger Lakes last week. Well, we stopped by some wineries while we were there and it is always interesting to read the tasting notes on the back of the bottle, or on the tasting sheet that the winery gives to you.

I was thinking last night about this and how great it would be if all of the data we, as an organization, create or consume came with its own “tasting notes”.  Just imagine a new set of transactions arriving from your OLTP systems, and they come with a tag that says something like “This data shows a correlation between the purchase of steaks and seasoning salt.” Wouldn’t that make the job of the data scientist / data analyst so much easier?

We also went to one winery in particular, and noted that the wine maker did not have any tasting notes, and only described his wine as “Like your favorite pair of slippers” or something like that. After talking about this for a while, we found that we actually liked this approach better. Rather than tasting and searching for what the wine maker told us he or she tasted, we were able to develop our own impression, and detect tastes on our own. Without being directed to a particular smell or taste, we used our own nose and palette to decide what we tasted, and what we liked. In the end we bought more bottles from this winery than we did from any of the other wineries that we visited.

You might be scratching your head and wonder where I am going here, so let me explain. I believe that analytics needs to be more like the second case above. You should not start with any preconceived notions on your data based on what others tell you. Analyze the data, detect correlations/patterns/trends on your own, and then check the tasting notes if you want to.  

 The goal of analytics should be to find NEW information that you can act upon, not simply find the same thing that someone else already found.

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