Interview: Operationalisierung von Data Science

Interview mit Herrn Dr. Frank Block von Roche Diagnostics über Operationalisierung von Data Science

Herr Dr. Frank Block ist Head of IT Data Science bei Roche Diagnostics mit Sitz in der Schweiz. Zuvor war er Chief Data Scientist bei der Ricardo AG nachdem er für andere Unternehmen die Datenanalytik verantwortet hatte und auch 20 Jahre mit mehreren eigenen Data Science Consulting Startups am Markt war. Heute tragen ca. 50 Mitarbeiter bei Roche Diagnostics zu Data Science Projekten bei, die in sein Aktivitätsportfolio fallen: 

Data Science Blog: Herr Dr. Block, Sie sind Leiter der IT Data Science bei Roche Diagnostics? Warum das „IT“ im Namen dieser Abteilung?

Roche ist ein großes Unternehmen mit einer großen Anzahl von Data Scientists in ganz verschiedenen Bereichen mit jeweils sehr verschiedenen Zielsetzungen und Themen, die sie bearbeiten. Ich selber befinde mich mit meinem Team im Bereich „Diagnostics“, d.h. der Teil von Roche, in dem Produkte auf den Markt gebracht werden, die die korrekte Diagnose von Krankheiten und Krankheitsrisiken ermöglichen. Innerhalb von Roche Diagnostics gibt es wiederum verschiedene Bereiche, die Data Science für ihre Zwecke nutzen. Mit meinem Team sind wir in der globalen IT-Organisation angesiedelt und kümmern uns dort insbesondere um Anwendungen von Data Science für die Optimierung der internen Wertschöpfungskette.

Data Science Blog: Sie sind längst über die ersten Data Science Experimente hinaus. Die Operationalisierung von Analysen bzw. analytischen Applikationen ist für Sie besonders wichtig. Welche Rolle spielt das Datenmanagement dabei? Und wo liegen die Knackpunkte?

Ja, richtig. Die Zeiten, in denen sich Data Science erlauben konnte „auf Vorrat“ an interessanten Themen zu arbeiten, weil sie eben super interessant sind, aber ohne jemals konkrete Wertschöpfung zu liefern, sind definitiv und ganz allgemein vorbei. Wir sind seit einigen Jahren dabei, den Übergang von Data Science Experimenten (wir nennen es auch gerne „proof-of-value“) in die Produktion voranzutreiben und zu optimieren. Ein ganz essentielles Element dabei stellen die Daten dar; diese werden oft auch als der „Treibstoff“ für Data Science basierte Prozesse bezeichnet. Der große Unterschied kommt jedoch daher, dass oft statt „Benzin“ nur „Rohöl“ zur Verfügung steht, das zunächst einmal aufwändig behandelt und vorprozessiert werden muss, bevor es derart veredelt ist, dass es für Data Science Anwendungen geeignet ist. In diesem Veredelungsprozess wird heute noch sehr viel Zeit aufgewendet. Je besser die Datenplattformen des Unternehmens, umso größer die Produktivität von Data Science (und vielen anderen Abnehmern dieser Daten im Unternehmen). Ein anderes zentrales Thema stellt der Übergang von Data Science Experiment zu Operationalisierung dar. Hier muss dafür gesorgt werden, dass eine reibungslose Übergabe von Data Science an das IT-Entwicklungsteam erfolgt. Die Teamzusammensetzung verändert sich an dieser Stelle und bei uns tritt der Data Scientist von einer anfänglich führenden Rolle in eine Beraterrolle ein, wenn das System in die produktive Entwicklung geht. Auch die Unterstützung der Operationalisierung durch eine durchgehende Data Science Plattform kann an dieser Stelle helfen.

Data Science Blog: Es heißt häufig, dass Data Scientists kaum zu finden sind. Ist Recruiting für Sie tatsächlich noch ein Thema?

Generell schon, obwohl mir scheint, dass dies nicht unser größtes Problem ist. Glücklicherweise übt Roche eine große Anziehung auf Talente aus, weil im Zentrum unseres Denkens und Handelns der Patient steht und wir somit durch unsere Arbeit einen sehr erstrebenswerten Zweck verfolgen. Ein zweiter Aspekt beim Aufbau eines Data Science Teams ist übrigens das Halten der Talente im Team oder Unternehmen. Data Scientists suchen vor allem spannenden und abwechselnden Herausforderungen. Und hier sind wir gut bedient, da die Palette an Data Science Anwendungen derart breit ist, dass es den Kollegen im Team niemals langweilig wird.

Data Science Blog: Sie haben bereits einige Analysen erfolgreich produktiv gebracht. Welche Herausforderungen mussten dabei überwunden werden? Und welche haben Sie heute noch vor sich?

Wir konnten bereits eine wachsende Zahl an Data Science Experimenten in die Produktion überführen und sind sehr stolz darauf, da dies der beste Weg ist, nachhaltig Geschäftsmehrwert zu generieren. Die gleichzeitige Einbettung von Data Science in IT und Business ist uns bislang gut gelungen, wir werden aber noch weiter daran arbeiten, denn je näher wir mit unseren Kollegen in den Geschäftsabteilungen arbeiten, umso besser wird sichergestellt, das Data Science sich auf die wirklich relevanten Themen fokussiert. Wir sehen auch guten Fortschritt aus der Datenperspektive, wo zunehmend Daten über „Silos“ hinweg integriert werden und so einfacher nutzbar sind.

Data Science Blog: Data Driven Thinking wird heute sowohl von Mitarbeitern in den Fachbereichen als auch vom Management verlangt. Sind wir schon so weit? Wie könnten wir diese Denkweise im Unternehmen fördern?

Ich glaube wir stecken mitten im Wandel, Data-Driven Decisions sind im Kommen, aber das braucht auch seine Zeit. Indem wir zeigen, welches Potenzial ganz konkrete Daten und Advanced Analytics basierte Entscheidungsprozesse innehaben, helfen wir, diesen Wandel voranzutreiben. Spezifische Weiterbildungsangebote stellen eine andere Komponente dar, die diesen Transformationszrozess unterstützt. Ich bin überzeugt, dass wenn wir in 10-20 Jahren zurückblicken, wir uns fragen, wie wir überhaupt ohne Data-Driven Thinking leben konnten…

Einführung und Vertiefung in R Statistics mit den Dortmunder R-Kursen!

Im Rahmen der Dortmunder R Kurse bieten wir unsere Expertise in Schulungen für die Programmiersprache R an. Zielgruppe unserer Fortbildungen sind nicht nur Statistiker, sondern auch Anwender jeder Fachrichtung aus Industrie und Forschungseinrichtungen, die mit R ihre Daten analysieren wollen. Die Dortmunder R-Kurse werden ausschließlich von Statistikern mit langjähriger Erfahrung angeboten. Die Referenten gehören zum engsten Kreis der internationalen R-Gemeinschaft. Die angebotenen Kurse haben sich vielfach national und international bewährt.

Unsere Termine für die Online-Durchführung in diesem Jahr:

8., 9. und 10. Juni: R-Basiskurs (jeweils 9:00 – 14:00 Uhr)

22., 23., 24. und 25. Juni: R-Vertiefungskurs (jeweils 9:00 – 13:00 Uhr)

Kosten jeweils 750.00€, bei Buchung beider Kurse im Juni erhalten Sie einen Preisnachlass von 200€.

Zur Anmeldung gelangen Sie über den nachfolgenden Link:
https://www.zhb.tu-dortmund.de/zhb/wb/de/home/Seminare/Andere_Veranst/index.html

R Basiskurs

Das Seminar R Basiskurs für Anfänger findet am 8., 9. und 10. Juni 2020 statt. Den Teilnehmern wird der praxisrelevante Part der Programmiersprache näher gebracht, um so die Grundlagen zur ersten Datenanalyse — von Datensatz zu statistischen Kennzahlen und ersten Visualisierungen — zu schaffen. Anmeldeschluss ist der 25. Mai 2020.

Programm:

  • Installation von R und zugehöriger Entwicklungsumgebung
  • Grundlagen von R: Syntax, Datentypen, Operatoren, Funktionen, Indizierung
  • R-Hilfe effektiv nutzen
  • Ein- und Ausgabe von Daten
  • Behandlung fehlender Werte
  • Statistische Kennzahlen
  • Visualisierung

R Vertiefungskurs

Das Seminar R-Vertiefungskurs für Fortgeschrittene findet am 22., 23., 24. und 25. Juni (jeweils von 9:00 – 13:00 Uhr) statt. Die Veranstaltung ist ideal für Teilnehmende mit ersten Vorkenntnissen, die ihre Analysen effizient mit R durchführen möchten. Anmeldeschluss ist der 11. Juni 2020.

Der Vertiefungskurs baut inhaltlich auf dem Basiskurs auf. Es besteht aber keine Verpflichtung, bei Besuch des Vertiefungskurses zuvor den Basiskurs zu absolvieren, wenn bereits entsprechende Vorkenntnisse in R vorhanden sind.

Programm:

  • Eigene Funktionen, Schleifen vermeiden durch *apply
  • Einführung in ggplot2 und dplyr
  • Statistische Tests und Lineare Regression
  • Dynamische Berichterstellung
  • Angewandte Datenanalyse anhand von Fallbeispielen

Links zur Veranstaltung direkt:

R-Basiskurs: https://dortmunder-r-kurse.de/kurse/r-basiskurs/

R-Vertiefungskurs: https://dortmunder-r-kurse.de/kurse/r-vertiefungskurs/

As Businesses Struggle With ML, Automation Offers a Solution

In recent years, machine learning technology and the business solutions it enables has developed into a big business in and of itself. According to the industry analysts at IDC, spending on ML and AI technology is set to grow to almost $98 billion per year by 2023. In practical terms, that figure represents a business environment where ML technology has become a key priority for companies of every kind.

That doesn’t mean that the path to adopting ML technology is easy for businesses. Far from it. In fact, survey data seems to indicate that businesses are still struggling to get their machine learning efforts up and running. According to one such survey, it currently takes the average business as many as 90 days to deploy a single machine learning model. For 20% of businesses, that number is even higher.

From the data, it seems clear that something is missing in the methodologies that most companies rely on to make meaningful use of machine learning in their business workflows. A closer look at the situation reveals that the vast majority of data workers (analysts, data scientists, etc.) spend an inordinate amount of time on infrastructure work – and not on creating and refining machine learning models.

Streamlining the ML Adoption Process

To fix that problem, businesses need to turn to another growing area of technology: automation. By leveraging the latest in automation technology, it’s now possible to build an automated machine learning pipeline (AutoML pipeline) that cuts down on the repetitive tasks that slow down ML deployments and lets data workers get back to the work they were hired to do. With the right customized solution in place, a business’s ML team can:

  • Reduce the time spent on data collection, cleaning, and ingestion
  • Minimize human errors in the development of ML models
  • Decentralize the ML development process to create an ML-as-a-service model with increased accessibility for all business stakeholders

In short, an AutoML pipeline turns the high-effort functions of the ML development process into quick, self-adjusting steps handled exclusively by machines. In some use cases, an AutoML pipeline can even allow non-technical stakeholders to self-create ML solutions tailored to specific business use cases with no expert help required. In that way, it can cut ML costs, shorten deployment time, and allow data scientists to focus on tackling more complex modelling work to develop custom ML solutions that are still outside the scope of available automation techniques.

The Parts of an AutoML Pipeline

Although the frameworks and tools used to create an AutoML pipeline can vary, they all contain elements that conform to the following areas:

  • Data Preprocessing – Taking available business data from a variety of sources, cleaning it, standardizing it, and conducting missing value imputation
  • Feature Engineering – Identifying features in the raw data set to create hypotheses for the model to base predictions on
  • Model Selection – Choosing the right ML approach or hyperparameters to produce the desired predictions
  • Tuning Hyperparameters – Determining which hyperparameters help the model achieve optimal performance

As anyone familiar with ML development can tell you, the steps in the above process tend to represent the majority of the labour and time-intensive work that goes into creating a model that’s ready for real-world business use. It is also in those steps where the lion’s share of business ML budgets get consumed, and where most of the typical delays occur.

The Limitations and Considerations for Using AutoML

Given the scope of the work that can now become part of an AutoML pipeline, it’s tempting to imagine it as a panacea – something that will allow a business to reduce its reliance on data scientists going forward. Right now, though, the technology can’t do that. At this stage, AutoML technology is still best used as a tool to augment the productivity of business data teams, not to supplant them altogether.

To that end, there are some considerations that businesses using AutoML will need to keep in mind to make sure they get reliable, repeatable, and value-generating results, including:

  • Transparency – Businesses must establish proper vetting procedures to make sure they understand the models created by their AutoML pipeline, so they can explain why it’s making the choices or predictions it’s making. In some industries, such as in medicine or finance, this could even fall under relevant regulatory requirements.
  • Extensibility – Making sure the AutoML framework may be expanded and modified to suit changing business needs or to tackle new challenges as they arise.
  • Monitoring and Maintenance – Since today’s AutoML technology isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it proposition, it’s important to establish processes for the monitoring and maintenance of the deployment so it can continue to produce useful and reliable ML models.

The Bottom Line

As it stands today, the convergence of automation and machine learning holds the promise of delivering ML models at scale for businesses, which would greatly speed up the adoption of the technology and lower barriers to entry for those who have yet to embrace it. On the whole, that’s great news both for the businesses that will benefit from increased access to ML technology, as well as for the legions of data professionals tasked with making it all work.

It’s important to note, of course, that complete end-to-end ML automation with no human intervention is still a long way off. While businesses should absolutely explore building an automated machine learning pipeline to speed up development time in their data operations, they shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that they still need plenty of high-skilled data scientists and analysts on their teams. It’s those specialists that can make appropriate and productive use of the technology. Without them, an AutoML pipeline would accomplish little more than telling the business what it wants to hear.

The good news is that the AutoML tools that exist right now are sufficient to alleviate many of the real-world problems businesses face in their road to ML adoption. As they become more commonplace, there’s little doubt that the lead time to deploy machine learning models is going to shrink correspondingly – and that businesses will enjoy higher ROI and enhanced outcomes as a result.

Data Analytics & Artificial Intelligence Trends in 2020

Artificial intelligence has infiltrated all aspects of our lives and brought significant improvements.

Although the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think about AI are humanoid robots or intelligent machines from sci-fi flicks, this technology has had the most impressive advancements in the field of data science.

Big data analytics is what has already transformed the way we do business as it provides an unprecedented insight into a vast amount of unstructured, semi-structured, and structured data by analyzing, processing, and interpreting it.

Data and AI specialists and researchers are likely to have a field day in 2020, so here are some of the most important trends in this industry.

1. Predictive Analytics

As its name suggests, this trend will be all about using gargantuan data sets in order to predict outcomes and results.

This practice is slated to become one of the biggest trends in 2020 because it will help businesses improve their processes tremendously. It will find its place in optimizing customer support, pricing, supply chain, recruitment, and retail sales, to name just a few.

For example, Amazon has already been leveraging predictive analytics for its dynamic pricing model. Namely, the online retail giant uses this technology to analyze the demand for a particular product, competitors’ prices, and a number of other parameters in order to adjust its price.

According to stats, Amazon changes prices 2.5 million times a day so that a particular product’s cost fluctuates and changes every 10 minutes, which requires an extremely predictive analytics algorithm.

2. Improved Cybersecurity

In a world of advanced technologies where IoT and remotely controlled devices having top-notch protection is of critical importance.

Numerous businesses and individuals have fallen victim to ruthless criminals who can steal sensitive data or wipe out entire bank accounts. Even some big and powerful companies suffered huge financial and reputation blows due to cyber attacks they were subjected to.

This kind of crime is particularly harsh for small and medium businesses. Stats say that 60% of SMBs are forced to close down after being hit by such an attack.

AI again takes advantage of its immense potential for analyzing and processing data from different sources quickly and accurately. That’s why it’s capable of assisting cybersecurity specialists in predicting and preventing attacks.

In case that an attack emerges, the response time is significantly shorter, so that the worst-case scenario can be avoided.

When we’re talking about avoiding security risks, AI can improve enterprise risk management, too, by providing guidance and assisting risk management professionals.

3. Digital Workers

In 2020, an army of digital workers will transform the traditional workspace and take productivity to a whole new level.

Virtual assistants and chatbots are some examples of already existing digital workers, but it will be even more of them. According to research, this trend is one the rise, as it’s expected that AI software and robots will increase by 50% by 2022.

Robots will take over even some small tasks in the office. The point is to streamline the entire business process, and that can be achieved by training robots to perform small and simple tasks like human employees. The only difference will be that digital workers will do that faster and without any mistakes.

4. Hybrid Workforce

Many people worry that AI and automation will steal their jobs and render them unemployed.

Even the stats are bleak – AI will eliminate 1.8 million jobs. But, on the other hand, it will create 2.3 million new jobs.

So, our future is actually AI and humans working together, and that’s what will become the business normalcy in 2020.

Robotic process automation and different office digital workers will be in charge of tedious and repetitive tasks, while more sophisticated issues that require critical thinking and creativity will be human workers’ responsibility.

One of the most important things about creating this hybrid workforce is for businesses to openly discuss it with their employees and explain how these new technologies will be used. A regular workforce has to know that they will be working alongside machines whose job will be to speed up the processes and cut costs.

5. Process Intelligence

This AI trend will allow businesses to gain insight into their processes by using all the information contained in their system and creating an overall, real-time, and accurate visual model of all the processes.

What’s great about it is that it’s possible to see these processes from different perspectives – across departments, functions, staff, and locations.

With such a visual model, it’s possible to properly analyze these processes, identify potential bottlenecks, and eliminate them before they even begin to emerge.

Besides, as this is AI and data analytics at their best, this technology will also facilitate decision-making by predicting the future results of tech investments.

Needless to say, Process Intelligence will become an enterprise standard very soon, thanks to its ability to provide a better understanding and effective management of end-to-end processes.

As you can see, in 2020, these two advanced technologies will continue to evolve and transform the business landscape and change it for the better.

Six properties of modern Business Intelligence

Regardless of the industry in which you operate, you need information systems that evaluate your business data in order to provide you with a basis for decision-making. These systems are commonly referred to as so-called business intelligence (BI). In fact, most BI systems suffer from deficiencies that can be eliminated. In addition, modern BI can partially automate decisions and enable comprehensive analyzes with a high degree of flexibility in use.

Let us discuss the six characteristics that distinguish modern business intelligence, which mean taking technical tricks into account in detail, but always in the context of a great vision for your own company BI:

1. Uniform database of high quality

Every managing director certainly knows the situation that his managers do not agree on how many costs and revenues actually arise in detail and what the margins per category look like. And if they do, this information is often only available months too late.

Every company has to make hundreds or even thousands of decisions at the operational level every day, which can be made much more well-founded if there is good information and thus increase sales and save costs. However, there are many source systems from the company’s internal IT system landscape as well as other external data sources. The gathering and consolidation of information often takes up entire groups of employees and offers plenty of room for human error.

A system that provides at least the most relevant data for business management at the right time and in good quality in a trusted data zone as a single source of truth (SPOT). SPOT is the core of modern business intelligence.

In addition, other data on BI may also be made available which can be useful for qualified analysts and data scientists. For all decision-makers, the particularly trustworthy zone is the one through which all decision-makers across the company can synchronize.

2. Flexible use by different stakeholders

Even if all employees across the company should be able to access central, trustworthy data, with a clever architecture this does not exclude that each department receives its own views of this data. Many BI systems fail due to company-wide inacceptance because certain departments or technically defined employee groups are largely excluded from BI.

Modern BI systems enable views and the necessary data integration for all stakeholders in the company who rely on information and benefit equally from the SPOT approach.

3. Efficient ways to expand (time to market)

The core users of a BI system are particularly dissatisfied when the expansion or partial redesign of the information system requires too much of patience. Historically grown, incorrectly designed and not particularly adaptable BI systems often employ a whole team of IT staff and tickets with requests for change requests.

Good BI is a service for stakeholders with a short time to market. The correct design, selection of software and the implementation of data flows / models ensures significantly shorter development and implementation times for improvements and new features.

Furthermore, it is not only the technology that is decisive, but also the choice of organizational form, including the design of roles and responsibilities – from the technical system connection to data preparation, pre-analysis and support for the end users.

4. Integrated skills for Data Science and AI

Business intelligence and data science are often viewed and managed separately from each other. Firstly, because data scientists are often unmotivated to work with – from their point of view – boring data models and prepared data. On the other hand, because BI is usually already established as a traditional system in the company, despite the many problems that BI still has today.

Data science, often referred to as advanced analytics, deals with deep immersion in data using exploratory statistics and methods of data mining (unsupervised machine learning) as well as predictive analytics (supervised machine learning). Deep learning is a sub-area of ​​machine learning and is used for data mining or predictive analytics. Machine learning is a sub-area of ​​artificial intelligence (AI).

In the future, BI and data science or AI will continue to grow together, because at the latest after going live, the prediction models flow back into business intelligence. BI will probably develop into ABI (Artificial Business Intelligence). However, many companies are already using data mining and predictive analytics in the company, using uniform or different platforms with or without BI integration.

Modern BI systems also offer data scientists a platform to access high-quality and more granular raw data.

5. Sufficiently high performance

Most readers of these six points will probably have had experience with slow BI before. It takes several minutes to load a daily report to be used in many classic BI systems. If loading a dashboard can be combined with a little coffee break, it may still be acceptable for certain reports from time to time. At the latest, however, with frequent use, long loading times and unreliable reports are no longer acceptable.

One reason for poor performance is the hardware, which can be almost linearly scaled to higher data volumes and more analysis complexity using cloud systems. The use of cloud also enables the modular separation of storage and computing power from data and applications and is therefore generally recommended, but not necessarily the right choice for all companies.

In fact, performance is not only dependent on the hardware, the right choice of software and the right choice of design for data models and data flows also play a crucial role. Because while hardware can be changed or upgraded relatively easily, changing the architecture is associated with much more effort and BI competence. Unsuitable data models or data flows will certainly bring the latest hardware to its knees in its maximum configuration.

6. Cost-effective use and conclusion

Professional cloud systems that can be used for BI systems offer total cost calculators, such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. With these computers – with instruction from an experienced BI expert – not only can costs for the use of hardware be estimated, but ideas for cost optimization can also be calculated. Nevertheless, the cloud is still not the right solution for every company and classic calculations for on-premise solutions are necessary.

Incidentally, cost efficiency can also be increased with a good selection of the right software. Because proprietary solutions are tied to different license models and can only be compared using application scenarios. Apart from that, there are also good open source solutions that can be used largely free of charge and can be used for many applications without compromises.

However, it is wrong to assess the cost of a BI only according to its hardware and software costs. A significant part of cost efficiency is complementary to the aspects for the performance of the BI system, because suboptimal architectures work wastefully and require more expensive hardware than neatly coordinated architectures. The production of the central data supply in adequate quality can save many unnecessary processes of data preparation and many flexible analysis options also make redundant systems unnecessary and lead to indirect savings.

In any case, a BI for companies with many operational processes is always cheaper than no BI. However, if you take a closer look with BI expertise, cost efficiency is often possible.

Interview – There is no stand-alone strategy for AI, it must be part of the company-wide strategy

Ronny FehlingRonny Fehling is Partner and Associate Director for Artificial Intelligence as the Boston Consulting Group GAMMA. With more than 20 years of continually progressive experience in leading business and technology innovation, spearheading digital transformation, and aligning the corporate strategy with Artificial Intelligence he industry-leading organizations to grow their top-line and kick-start their digital transformation.

Ronny Fehling is furthermore speaker of the Predictive Analytics World for Industry 4.0 in May 2020.

Data Science Blog: Mr. Fehling, you are consulting companies and business leaders about AI and how to get started with it. AI as a definition is often misleading. How do you define AI?

This is a good question. I think there are two ways to answer this:

From a technical definition, I often see expressions about “simulation of human intelligence” and “acting like a human”. I find using these terms more often misleading rather than helpful. I studied AI back when it wasn’t yet “cool” and still middle of the AI winter. And yes, we have much more compute power and access to data, but we also think about data in a very different way. For me, I typically distinguish between machine learning, which uses algorithms and statistical methods to identify patterns in data, and AI, which for me attempts to interpret the data in a given context. So machine learning can help me identify and analyze frequency patterns in text and even predict the next word I will type based on my history. AI will help me identify ‘what’ I’m writing about – even if I don’t explicitly name it. It can tell me that when I’m asking “I’m looking for a place to stay” that I might want to see a list of hotels around me. In other words: machine learning can detect correlations and similar patterns, AI uses machine learning to generate insights.

I always wondered why top executives are so frequently asking about the definition of AI because at first it seemed to me not as relevant to the discussion on how to align AI with their corporate strategy. However, I started to realize that their question is ultimately about “What is AI and what can it do for me?”.

For me, AI can do three things really good, which humans cannot really do and previous approaches couldn’t cope with:

  1. Finding similar patterns in historical data. Imagine 20 years of data like maintenance or repair documents of a manufacturing plant. Although they describe work done on a multitude of products due to a multitude of possible problems, AI can use this to look for a very similar situation based on a current problem description. This can be used to identify a common root cause as well as a common solution approach, saving valuable time for the operation.
  2. Finding correlations across time or processes. This is often used in predictive maintenance use cases. Here, the AI tries to see what similar events happen typically at some time before a failure happen. This way, it can alert the operator much earlier about an impending failure, say due to a change in the vibration pattern of the machine.
  3. Finding an optimal solution path based on many constraints. There are many problems in the business world, where choosing the optimal path based on complex situations is critical. Let’s say that suddenly a severe weather warning at an airport forces an airline to have to change their scheduling because of a reduced airport capacity. Delays for some aircraft can cause disruptions because passengers or personnel not being able to connect anymore. Knowing which aircraft to delay, which to cancel, which to switch while causing the minimal amount of disruption to passengers, crew, maintenance and ground-crew is something AI can help with.

The key now is to link these fundamental capabilities with the business context of the company and how it can ultimately help transform.

Data Science Blog: Companies are still starting with their own company-wide data strategy. And now they are talking about AI strategies. Is that something which should be handled separately?

In my experience – both based on having seen the implementations of several corporate data strategies as well as my upbringing at Oracle – the data strategy and AI strategy are co-dependent and cannot be separated. Very often I hear from clients that they think they first need to bring their data in order before doing AI project. And yes, without good data access, AI cannot really work. In fact, most of the time spent on AI is spent on processing, cleansing, understanding and contextualizing the data. However, you cannot really know what data will be needed in which form without knowing what you want to use it for. This is why strategies that handle data and AI separately mostly fail and generate huge costs.

Data Science Blog: What are the important steps for developing a good data strategy? Is there something like a general approach?

In my eyes, the AI strategy defines the data strategy step by step as more use cases are implemented. Rather than focusing too quickly at how to get all corporate data into a data lake, it will be much more important to start creating a use-case, technology and data governance. This governance has to be established once the AI strategy is starting to mature to enable the scale up and productization. At the beginning is to find the (very few) use-cases that can serve as light house projects to demonstrate (1) value impact, (2) a way to go from MVP to Pilot, and (3) how to address the data challenge. This will then more naturally identify the elements of governance, data access and technology that are required.

Data Science Blog: What are the most common questions from business leaders to you regarding AI? Why do they hesitate to get started?

By far it the most common question I get is: how do I get started? The hesitations often come from multiple sources like: “We don’t have the talent in house to do AI”, “Our data is not good enough”, “We don’t know which use-case to start with”, “It’s not easy for us to embrace agile and failure culture because our products are mission critical”, “We don’t know how much value this can bring us”.

Data Science Blog: Most managers prefer to start small and with lower risk. They seem to postpone bigger ideas to a later stage, at least some milestones should be reached. Is that a good idea or should they think bigger?

AI is often associated (rightfully so) with a new way of working – agile and embracing failures. Similarly, there is also the perception of significant cost to starting with AI (talent, technology, data). These perceptions often lead managers wanting to start with several smaller ambition use-cases where failure isn’t that grave. Once they have proven itself somehow, they would then move on to bigger projects. The problem with this strategy is on the one side that you fragment your few precious AI resources on too many projects and at the same time you cannot really demonstrate an impact since the projects weren’t chosen based on their impact potential.

The AI pioneers typically were successful by “thinking big, starting small and scaling fast”. You start by assessing the value potential of a use-case, for example: my current OEE (Overall Equipment Efficiency) is at 65%. There is an addressable loss of 25% which would grow my top line by $X. With the help of AI experts, you then create a hypothesis of how you think you can reduce that loss. This might be by choosing one specific equipment and 50% of the addressable loss. This is now the measure against which you define your failure or non-failure criteria. Once you have proven an MVP that can solve this loss, you scale up by piloting it in real-life setting and then scaling it to all the equipment. At every step of this process, you have a failure criterion that is measured by the impact value.


Virtual Edition, 11-12 MAY, 2020

The premier machine learning
conference for industry 4.0

This year Predictive Analytics World for Industry 4.0 runs alongside Deep Learning World and Predictive Analytics World for Healthcare.

Simplify Vendor Onboarding with Automated Data Integration

Vendor onboarding is a key business process that involves collecting and processing large data volumes from one or multiple vendors. Business users need vendor information in a standardized format to use it for subsequent data processes. However, consolidating and standardizing data for each new vendor requires IT teams to write code for custom integration flows, which can be a time-consuming and challenging task.

In this blog post, we will talk about automated vendor onboarding and how it is far more efficient and quicker than manually updating integration flows.

Problems with Manual Integration for Vendor Onboarding

During the onboarding process, vendor data needs to be extracted, validated, standardized, transformed, and loaded into the target system for further processing. An integration task like this involves coding, updating, and debugging manual ETL pipelines that can take days and even weeks on end.

Every time a vendor comes on board, this process is repeated and executed to load the information for that vendor into the unified business system. Not just this, but because vendor data is often received from disparate sources in a variety of formats (CSV, Text, Excel), these ETL pipelines frequently break and require manual fixes.

All this effort is not suitable, particularly for large-scale businesses that onboard hundreds of vendors each month. Luckily, there is a faster alternative available that involves no code-writing.

Automated Data Integration

The manual onboarding process can be automated using purpose-built data integration tools.

To help you better understand the advantages, here is a step-by-step guide on how automated data integration for vendor onboarding works:

  1. Vendor data is retrieved from heterogeneous sources such as databases, FTP servers, and web APIs through built-in connectors available in the solution.
  2. The data from each file is validated by passing it through a set of predefined quality rules – this step helps in eliminating records with missing, duplicate, or incorrect data.
  3. Transformations are applied to convert input data into the desired output format or screen vendors based on business criteria. For example, if the vendor data is stored in Excel sheets and the business uses SQL Server for data storage, then the data has to be mapped to the relevant fields in the SQL Server database, which is the destination.
  4. The standardized, validated data is then loaded into a unified enterprise database that you can use as the source of information for business processes. In some cases, this can be a staging database where you can perform further filtering and aggregation to build a consolidated vendor database.
  5. This entire ETL pipeline (Step 1 through Step 4) can then be automated through event-based or time-based triggers in a workflow. For instance, you may want to run the pipeline once every day, or once a new file/data point is available in your FTP server.

Why Build a Consolidated Database for Vendors?

Once the ETL pipeline runs, you will end up with a consolidated database with complete vendor information. The main benefit of having a unified database is that it would have filtered information regarding vendors.

Most businesses have a strict process for screening vendors that follows a set of predefined rules. For example, you may want to reject vendors that have a poor credit history automatically. With manual data integration, you would need to perform this filtering by writing code. Automated data integration allows you to apply pre-built filters directly within your ETL pipeline to flag or remove vendors with a credit score lower than the specified threshold.

This is just one example; you can perform a wide range of tasks at this level in your ETL pipeline including vendor scoring (calculated based on multiple fields in your data), filtering (based on rules applied to your data), and data aggregation (to add measures to your data) to build a robust vendor database for decision-making and subsequent processes.

Conclusion

Automated vendor onboarding offers cost-and-time benefits to your organization. Making use of enterprise-grade data integration tools ensures a seamless business-to-vendor data exchange without the need for reworking and upgrading your ETL pipelines.

Interview – Predictive Maintenance and how it can unleash cost savings

Interview with Dr. Kai Goebel, Principal Scientist at PARC, a Xerox Company, about Predictive Maintenance and how it can unleash cost savings.

Dr. Kai Goebel is principal scientist as PARC with more than two decades experience in corporate and government research organizations. He is responsible for leading applied research on state awareness, prognostics and decision-making using data analytics, AI, hybrid methods and physics-base methods. He has also fielded numerous applications for Predictive Maintenance at General Electric, NASA, and PARC for uses as diverse as rocket launchpads, jet engines, and chemical plants.

Data Science Blog: Mr. Goebel, predictive maintenance is not just a hype since industrial companies are already trying to establish this use case of predictive analytics. What benefits do they really expect from it?

Predictive Maintenance is a good example for how value can be realized from analytics. The result of the analytics drives decisions about when to schedule maintenance in advance of an event that might cause unexpected shutdown of the process line. This is in contrast to an uninformed process where the decision is mostly reactive, that is, maintenance is scheduled because equipment has already failed. It is also in contrast to a time-based maintenance schedule. The benefits of Predictive Maintenance are immediately clear: one can avoid unexpected downtime, which can lead to substantial production loss. One can manage inventory better since lead times for equipment replacement can be managed well. One can also manage safety better since equipment health is understood and safety averse situations can potentially be avoided. Finally, maintenance operations will be inherently more efficient as they shift significant time from inspection to mitigation of.

Data Science Blog: What are the most critical success factors for implementing predictive maintenance?

Critical for success is to get the trust of the operator. To that end, it is imperative to understand the limitations of the analytics approach and to not make false performance promises. Often, success factors for implementation hinge on understanding the underlying process and the fault modes reasonably well. It is important to be able to recognize the difference between operational changes and abnormal conditions. It is equally important to recognize rare events reliably while keeping false positives in check.

Data Science Blog: What kind of algorithm does predictive maintenance work with? Do you differentiate between approaches based on classical machine learning and those based on deep learning?

Well, there is no one kind of algorithm that works for Predictive Mantenance everywhere. Instead, one should look at the plurality of all algorithms as tools in a toolbox. Then analyze the problem – how many examples for run-to-failure trajectories are there; what is the desired lead time to report on a problem; what is the acceptable false positive/false negative rate; what are the different fault modes; etc – and use the right kind of tool to do the job. Just because a particular approach (like the one you mentioned in your question) is all the hype right now does not mean it is the right tool for the problem. Sometimes, approaches from what you call “classical machine learning” actually work better. In fact, one should consider approaches even outside the machine learning domain, either as stand-alone approach as in a hybrid configuration. One may also have to invent new methods, for example to perform online learning of the dynamic changes that a system undergoes through its (long) life. In the end, a customer does not care about what approach one is using, only if it solves the problem.

Data Science Blog: There are several providers for predictive analytics software. Is it all about software tools? What makes the difference for having success?

Frequently, industrial partners lament that they have to spend a lot of effort in teaching a new software provider about the underlying industrial processes as well as the equipment and their fault modes. Others are tired of false promises that any kind of data (as long as you have massive amounts of it) can produce any kind of performance. If one does not physically sense a certain modality, no algorithmic magic can take place. In other words, it is not just all about the software. The difference for having success is understanding that there is no cookie cutter approach. And that realization means that one may have to role up the sleeves and to install new instrumentation.

Data Science Blog: What are coming trends? What do you think will be the main topic 2020 and 2021?

Predictive Maintenance is slowly evolving towards Prescriptive Maintenance. Here, one does not only seek to inform about an impending problem, but also what to do about it. Such an approach needs to integrate with the logistics element of an organization to find an optimal decision that trades off several objectives with regards to equipment uptime, process quality, repair shop loading, procurement lead time, maintainer availability, safety constraints, contractual obligations, etc.


You want to learn more about Predictive Maintenance? Join the virtual edition ot the Predictive Analytics World for Industry 4.0, May 11 – 12, 2020.

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Simple RNN

A gentle introduction to the tiresome part of understanding RNN

Just as a normal conversation in a random pub or bar in Berlin, people often ask me “Which language do you use?” I always answer “LaTeX and PowerPoint.”

I have been doing an internship at DATANOMIQ and trying to make straightforward but precise study materials on deep learning. I myself started learning machine learning in April of 2019, and I have been self-studying during this one-year-vacation of mine in Berlin.

Many study materials give good explanations on densely connected layers or convolutional neural networks (CNNs). But when it comes to back propagation of CNN and recurrent neural networks (RNNs), I think there’s much room for improvement to make the topic understandable to learners.

Many study materials avoid the points I want to understand, and that was as frustrating to me as listening to answers to questions in the Japanese Diet, or listening to speeches from the current Japanese minister of the environment. With the slightest common sense, you would always get the feeling “How?” after reading an RNN chapter in any book.

This blog series focuses on the introductory level of recurrent neural networks. By “introductory”, I mean prerequisites for a better and more mathematical understanding of RNN algorithms.

I am going to keep these posts as visual as possible, avoiding equations, but I am also going to attach some links to check more precise mathematical explanations.

This blog series is composed of five contents.:

  1. Why Do We Need RNN?(to be published soon)
  2. Simple Structure of RNN and Its Forward Propagation (to be published soon)
  3. Back Propagation of RNN (to be published soon)
  4. Vanishing Gradient Problem and Winter of AI Research (to be published soon)
  5. LSTM(Long Short-Term Memory) and Its Back Propagation (to be published soon)