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Attribution Models in Marketing

Attribution Models

A Business and Statistical Case

INTRODUCTION

A desire to understand the causal effect of campaigns on KPIs

Advertising and marketing costs represent a huge and ever more growing part of the budget of companies. Studies have found out this share is as high as 10% and increases with the size of companies (CMO study by American Marketing Association and Duke University, 2017). Measuring precisely the impact of a specific marketing campaign on the sales of a company is a critical step towards an efficient allocation of this budget. Would the return be higher for an euro spent on a Facebook ad, or should we better spend it on a TV spot? How much should I spend on Twitter ads given the volume of sales this channel is responsible for?

Attribution Models have lately received great attention in Marketing departments to answer these issues. The transition from offline to online marketing methods has indeed permitted the collection of multiple individual data throughout the whole customer journey, and  allowed for the development of user-centric attribution models. In short, Attribution Models use the information provided by Tracking technologies such as Google Analytics or Webtrekk to understand customer journeys from the first click on a Facebook ad to the final purchase and adequately ponderate the different marketing campaigns encountered depending on their responsibility in the final conversion.

Issues on Causal Effects

A key question then becomes: how to declare a channel is responsible for a purchase? In other words, how can we isolate the causal effect or incremental value of a campaign ?

          1. A/B-Tests

One method to estimate the pure impact of a campaign is the design of randomized experiments, wherein a control and treated groups are compared.  A/B tests belong to this broad category of randomized methods. Provided the groups are a priori similar in every aspect except for the treatment received, all subsequent differences may be attributed solely to the treatment. This method is typically used in medical studies to assess the effect of a drug to cure a disease.

Main practical issues regarding Randomized Methods are:

  • Assuring that control and treated groups are really similar before treatment. Uually a random assignment (i.e assuring that on a relevant set of observable variables groups are similar) is realized;
  • Potential spillover-effects, i.e the possibility that the treatment has an impact on the non-treated group as well (Stable unit treatment Value Assumption, or SUTVA in Rubin’s framework);
  • The costs of conducting such an experiment, and especially the costs linked to the deliberate assignment of individuals to a group with potentially lower results;
  • The number of such experiments to design if multiple treatments have to be measured;
  • Difficulties taking into account the interaction effects between campaigns or the effect of spending levels. Indeed, usually A/B tests are led by cutting off temporarily one campaign entirely and measuring the subsequent impact on KPI’s compared to the situation where this campaign is maintained;
  • The dynamical reproduction of experiments if we assume that treatment effects may change over time.

In the marketing context, multiple campaigns must be tested in a dynamical way, and treatment effect is likely to be heterogeneous among customers, leading to practical issues in the lauching of A/B tests to approximate the incremental value of all campaigns. However, sites with a lot of traffic and conversions can highly benefit from A/B testing as it provides a scientific and straightforward way to approximate a causal impact. Leading companies such as Uber, Netflix or Airbnb rely on internal tools for A/B testing automation, which allow them to basically test any decision they are about to make.

References:

Books:

Experiment!: Website conversion rate optimization with A/B and multivariate testing, Colin McFarland, ©2013 | New Riders  

A/B testing: the most powerful way to turn clicks into customers. Dan Siroker, Pete Koomen; Wiley, 2013.

Blogs:

https://eng.uber.com/xp

https://medium.com/airbnb-engineering/growing-our-host-community-with-online-marketing-9b2302299324

Study:

https://cmosurvey.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2018/08/The_CMO_Survey-Results_by_Firm_and_Industry_Characteristics-Aug-2018.pdf

        2. Attribution models

Attribution Models do not demand to create an experimental setting. They take into account existing data and derive insights from the variability of customer journeys. One key difficulty is then to differentiate correlation and causality in the links observed between the exposition to campaigns and purchases. Indeed, selection effects may bias results as exposure to campaigns is usually dependant on user-characteristics and thus may not be necessarily independant from the customer’s baseline conversion probabilities. For example, customers purchasing from a discount price comparison website may be intrinsically different from customers buying from FB ad and this a priori difference may alone explain post-exposure differences in purchasing bahaviours. This intrinsic weakness must be remembered when interpreting Attribution Models results.

                          2.1 General Issues

The main issues regarding the implementation of Attribution Models are linked to

  • Causality and fallacious reasonning, as most models do not take into account the aforementionned selection biases.
  • Their difficult evaluation. Indeed, in almost all attribution models (except for those based on classification, where the accuracy of the model can be computed), the additionnal value brought by the use of a given attribution models cannot be evaluated using existing historical data. This additionnal value can only be approximated by analysing how the implementation of the conclusions of the attribution model have impacted a given KPI.
  • Tracking issues, leading to an uncorrect reconstruction of customer journeys
    • Cross-device journeys: cross-device issue arises from the use of different devices throughout the customer journeys, making it difficult to link datapoints. For example, if a customer searches for a product on his computer but later orders it on his mobile, the AM would then mistakenly consider it an order without prior campaign exposure. Though difficult to measure perfectly, the proportion of cross-device orders can approximate 20-30%.
    • Cookies destruction makes it difficult to track the customer his the whole journey. Both regulations and consumers’ rising concerns about data privacy issues mitigate the reliability and use of cookies.1 – From 2002 on, the EU has enacted directives concerning privacy regulation and the extended use of cookies for commercial targeting purposes, which have highly impacted marketing strategies, such as the ‘Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive’ (2002/58/EC). A research was conducted and found out that the adoption of this ‘Privacy Directive’ had led to 64% decrease in advertising methods compared to the rest of the world (Goldfarb et Tucker (2011)). The effect was stronger for generalized sites (Yahoo) than for specialized sites.2 – Users have grown more and more conscious of data privacy issues and have adopted protective measures concerning data privacy, such as automatic destruction of cookies after a session is ended, or simply giving away less personnal information (Goldfarb et Tucker (2012) ) .Valuable user information may be lost, though tracking technologies evolution have permitted to maintain tracking by other means. This issue may be particularly important in countries highly concerned with data privacy issues such as Germany.
    • Offline/Online bridge: an Attribution Model should take into account all campaigns to draw valuable insights. However, the exposure to offline campaigns (TV, newspapers) are difficult to track at the user level. One idea to tackle this issue would be to estimate the proportion of conversions led by offline campaigns through AB testing and deduce this proportion from the credit assigned to the online campaigns accounted for in the Attribution Model.
    • Touch point information available: clicks are easy to follow but irrelevant to take into account the influence of purely visual campaigns such as display ads or video.

                          2.2 Today’s main practices

Two main families of Attribution Models exist:

  • Rule-Based Attribution Models, which have been used for in the last decade but from which companies are gradualy switching.

Attribution depends on the individual journeys that have led to a purchase and is solely based on the rank of the campaign in the journey. Some models focus on a single touch points (First Click, Last Click) while others account for multi-touch journeys (Bathtube, Linear). It can be calculated at the customer level and thus doesn’t require large amounts of data points. We can distinguish two sub-groups of rule-based Attribution Models:

  • One Touch Attribution Models attribute all credit to a single touch point. The First-Click model attributes all credit for a converion to the first touch point of the customer journey; last touch attributes all credit to the last campaign.
  • Multi-touch Rule-Based Attribution Models incorporate information on the whole customer journey are thus an improvement compared to one touch models. To this family belong Linear model where credit is split equally between all channels, Bathtube model where 40% of credit is given to first and last clicks and the remaining 20% is distributed equally between the middle channels, or time-decay models where credit assigned to a click diminishes as the time between the click and the order increases..

The main advantages of rule-based models is their simplicity and cost effectiveness. The main problems are:

– They are a priori known and can thus lead to optimization strategies from competitors
– They do not take into account aggregate intelligence on customer journeys and actual incremental values.
– They tend to bias (depending on the model chosen) channels that are over-represented at the beggining or end of the funnel, according to theoretical assumptions that have no observationnal back-ups.

  • Data-Driven Attribution Models

These models take into account the weaknesses of rule-based models and make a relevant use of available data. Being data-driven, following attribution models cannot be computed using single user level data. On the contrary values are calculated through data aggregation and thus require a certain volume of customer journey information.

References:

https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/64920

 

        3. Data-Driven Attribution Models in practice

                          3.1 Issues

Several issues arise in the computation of campaigns individual impact on a given KPI within a data-driven model.

  • Selection biases: Exposure to certain types of advertisement is usually highly correlated to non-observable variables which are in turn correlated to consumption practices. Differences in the behaviour of users exposed to different campaigns may thus only be driven by core differences in conversion probabilities between groups whether than by the campaign effect.
  • Complementarity: it may be that campaigns A and B only have an effect when combined, so that measuring their individual impact would lead to misleading conclusions. The model could then try to assess the effect of combinations of campaigns on top of the effect of individual campaigns. As the number of possible non-ordered combinations of k campaigns is 2k, it becomes clear that inclusing all possible combinations would however be time-consuming.
  • Order-sensitivity: The effect of a campaign A may depend on the place where it appears in the customer journey, meaning the rank of a campaign and not merely its presence could be accounted for in the model.
  • Relative Order-sensitivity: it may be that campaigns A and B only have an effect when one is exposed to campaign A before campaign B. If so, it could be useful to assess the effect of given combinations of campaigns as well. And this for all campaigns, leading to tremendous numbers of possible combinations.
  • All previous phenomenon may be present, increasing even more the potential complexity of a comprehensive Attribution Model. The number of all possible ordered combination of k campaigns is indeed :

 

                          3.2 Main models

                                  A) Logistic Regression and Classification models

If non converting journeys are available, Attribition Model can be shaped as a simple classification issue. Campaign types or campaigns combination and volume of campaign types can be included in the model along with customer or time variables. As we are interested in inference (on campaigns effect) whether than prediction, a parametric model should be used, such as Logistic Regression. Non paramatric models such as Random Forests or Neural Networks can also be used though the interpretation of campaigns value would be more difficult to derive from the model results.

A common pitfall is the usual issue of spurious correlations on one hand and the correct interpretation of coefficients in business terms.

An advantage if the possibility to evaluate the relevance of the model using common model validation methods to evaluate its predictive power (validation set \ AUC \pseudo R squared).

                                  B) Shapley Value

Theory

The Shapley Value is based on a Game Theory framework and is named after its creator, the Nobel Price Laureate Lloyd Shapley. Initially meant to calculate the marginal contribution of players in cooperative games, the model has received much attention in research and industry and has lately been applied to marketing issues. This model is typically used by Google Adords and other ad bidding vendors. Campaigns or marketing channels are in this model seen as compementary players looking forward to increasing a given KPI.
Contrarily to Logistic Regressions, it is a non-parametric model. Contrarily to Markov Chains, all results are built using existing journeys, and not simulated ones.

Channels are considered to enter the game sequentially under a certain joining order. Shapley value try to The Shapley value of channel i is the weighted sum of the marginal values that channel i adds to all possible coalitions that don’t contain channel i.
In other words, the main logic is to analyse the difference of gains when a channel i is added after a coalition Ck of k channels, k<=n. We then sum all the marginal contributions over all possible ordered combination Ck of all campaigns excluding i, with k<=n-1.

Subsets framework

A first an most usual way to compute the Shapley Vaue is to consider that when a channel enters coalition, its additionnal value is the same irrelevant of the order in which previous channels have appeared. In other words, journeys (A>B>C) and (B>A>C) trigger the same gains.
Shapley value is computed as the gains associated to adding a channel i to a subset of channels, weighted by the number of (ordered) sequences that the (unordered) subset represents, summed up on all possible subsets of the total set of campaigns where the channel i is not present.
The Shapley value of the channel 𝑥𝑗 is then:

where |S| is the number of campaigns of a coalition S and the sum extends over all subsets S that do not not contain channel j. 𝜈(𝑆)  is the value of the coalition S and 𝜈(𝑆 ∪ {𝑥𝑗})  the value of the coalition formed by adding 𝑥𝑗 to coalition S. 𝜈(𝑆 ∪ {𝑥𝑗}) − 𝜈(𝑆) is thus the marginal contribution of channel 𝑥𝑗 to the coalition S.

The formula can be rewritten and understood as:

This method is convenient when data on the gains of on all possible permutations of all unordered k subsets of the n campaigns are available. It is also more convenient if the order of campaigns prior to the introduction of a campaign is thought to have no impact.

Ordered sequences

Let us define 𝜈((A>B)) as the value of the sequence A then B. What is we let 𝜈((A>B)) be different from 𝜈((B>A)) ?
This time we would need to sum over all possible permutation of the S campaigns present before  𝑥𝑗 and the N-(S+1) campaigns after 𝑥𝑗. Doing so we will sum over all possible orderings (i.e all permutations of the n campaigns of the grand coalition containing all campaigns) and we can remove the permutation coefficient s!(p-s+1)!.

This method is convenient when the order of channels prior to and after the introduction of another channel is assumed to have an impact. It is also necessary to possess data for all possible permutations of all k subsets of the n campaigns, and not only on all (unordered) k-subsets of the n campaigns, k<=n. In other words, one must know the gains of A, B, C, A>B, B>A, etc. to compute the Shapley Value.

Differences between the two approaches

We simulate an ordered case where the value for each ordered sequence k for k<=3 is known. We compare it to the usual Shapley value calculated based on known gains of unordered subsets of campaigns. So as to compare relevant values, we have built the gains matrix so that the gains of a subset A, B i.e  𝜈({B,A}) is the average of the gains of ordered sequences made up with A and B (assuming the number of journeys where A>B equals the number of journeys where B>A, we have 𝜈({B,A})=0.5( 𝜈((A>B)) + 𝜈((B>A)) ). We let the value of the grand coalition be different depending on the order of campaigns-keeping the constraints that it averages to the value used for the unordered case.

Note: mvA refers to the marginal value of A in a given sequence.
With traditionnal unordered coalitions:

With ordered sequences used to compute the marginal values:

 

We can see that the two approaches yield very different results. In the unordered case, the Shapley Value campaign C is the highest, culminating at 20, while A and B have the same Shapley Value mvA=mvB=15. In the ordered case, campaign A has the highest Shapley Value and all campaigns have different Shapley Values.

This example illustrates the inherent differences between the set and sequences approach to Shapley values. Real life data is more likely to resemble the ordered case as conversion probabilities may for any given set of campaigns be influenced by the order through which the campaigns appear.

Advantages

Shapley value has become popular in allocation problems in cooperative games because it is the unique allocation which satisfies different axioms:

  • Efficiency: Shaple Values of all channels add up to the total gains (here, orders) observed.
  • Symmetry: if channels A and B bring the same contribution to any coalition of campaigns, then their Shapley Value i sthe same
  • Null player: if a channel brings no additionnal gains to all coalitions, then its Shapley Value is zero
  • Strong monotony: the Shapley Value of a player increases weakly if all its marginal contributions increase weakly

These properties make the Shapley Value close to what we intuitively define as a fair attribution.

Issues

  • The Shapley Value is based on combinatory mathematics, and the number of possible coalitions and ordered sequences becomes huge when the number of campaigns increases.
  • If unordered, the Shapley Value assumes the contribution of campaign A is the same if followed by campaign B or by C.
  • If ordered, the number of combinations for which data must be available and sufficient is huge.
  • Channels rarely present or present in long journeys will be played down.
  • Generally, gains are supposed to grow with the number of players in the game. However, it is plausible that in the marketing context a journey with a high number of channels will not necessarily bring more orders than a journey with less channels involved.

References:

R package: GameTheoryAllocation

Article:
Zhao & al, 2018 “Shapley Value Methods for Attribution Modeling in Online Advertising “
https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s13278-017-0480-z.pdf
Courses: https://www.lamsade.dauphine.fr/~airiau/Teaching/CoopGames/2011/coopgames-7%5b8up%5d.pdf
Blogs: https://towardsdatascience.com/one-feature-attribution-method-to-supposedly-rule-them-all-shapley-values-f3e04534983d

                                  B) Markov Chains

Markov Chains are used to model random processes, i.e events that occur in a sequential manner and in such a way that the probability to move to a certain state only depends on the past steps. The number of previous steps that are taken into account to model the transition probability is called the memory parameter of the sequence, and for the model to have a solution must be comprised between 0 and 4. A Markov Chain process is thus defined entirely by its Transition Matrix and its initial vector (i.e the starting point of the process).

Markov Chains are applied in many scientific fields. Typically, they are used in weather forecasting, with the sequence of Sunny and Rainy days following a Markov Process of memory parameter 0, so that for each given day the probability that the next day will be rainy or sunny only depends on the weather of the current day. Other applications can be found in sociology to understand the dynamics of social classes intergenerational reproduction. To get more both mathematical and applied illustration, I recommend the reading of this course.

In the marketing context, Markov Chains are an interesting way to model the conversion funnel. To go from the from the Markov Model to the Attribution logic, we calculate the Removal Effect of each channel, i.e the difference in conversions that happen if the channel is removed. Please read below for an introduction to the methodology.

The first step in a Markov Chains Attribution Model is to build the transition matrix that captures the transition probabilities between the campaigns accross existing customer journeys. This Matrix is to be read as a “From state A to state B” table, from the left to the right. A first difficulty is finding the right memory parameter to use. A large memory parameter would allow to take more into account interraction effects within the conversion funnel but would lead to increased computationnal time, a non-readable transition matrix, and be more sensitive to noisy data. Please note that this transition matrix provides useful information on the conversion funnel and on the relationships between campaigns and can be used as such as an analytical tool. I suggest the clear and easily R code which can be found here or here.

Here is an illustration of a Markov Chain with memory Parameter of 0: the probability to go to a certain campaign B in the next step only depend on the campaign we are currently at:

The associated Transition Matrix is then (with null probabilities left as Blank):

The second step is  to compute the actual responsibility of a channel in total conversions. As mentionned above, the main philosophy to do so is to calculate the Removal Effect of each channel, i.e the changes in the number of conversions when a channel is entirely removed. All customer journeys which went through this channel are settled out to be unsuccessful. This calculation is done by applying the transition matrix with and without the removed channels to an initial vector that contains the number of desired simulations.

Building on our current example, we can then settle an initial vector with the desired number of simulations, e.g 10 000:

 

It is possible at this stage to add a constraint on the maximum number of times the matrix is applied to the data, i.e on the maximal number of campaigns a simulated journey is allowed to have.

Advantages

  • The dynamic journey is taken into account, as well as the transition between two states. The funnel is not assumed to be linear.
  • It is possile to build a conversion graph that maps the customer journey provides valuable insights.
  • It is possible to evaluate partly the accuracy of the Attribution Model based on Markov Chains. It is for example possible to see how well the transition matrix help predict the future by analysing the number of correct predictions at any given step over all sequences.

Disadvantages

  • It can be somewhat difficult to set the memory parameter. Complementarity effects between channels are not well taken into account if the memory is low, but a parameter too high will lead to over-sensitivity to noise in the data and be difficult to implement if customer journeys tend to have a number of campaigns below this memory parameter.
  • Long journeys with different channels involved will be overweighted, as they will count many times in the Removal Effect.  For example, if there are n-1 channels in the customer journey, this journey will be considered as failure for the n-1 channel-RE. If the volume effects (i.e the impact of the overall number of channels in a journey, irrelevant from their type° are important then results may be biased.

References:

R package: ChannelAttribution

Git:

https://github.com/MatCyt/Markov-Chain/blob/master/README.md

Course:

https://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~jmontgom/markovchains.pdf

Article:

“Mapping the Customer Journey: A Graph-Based Framework for Online Attribution Modeling”; Anderl, Eva and Becker, Ingo and Wangenheim, Florian V. and Schumann, Jan Hendrik, 2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2343077 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2343077

“Media Exposure through the Funnel: A Model of Multi-Stage Attribution”, Abhishek & al, 2012

“Multichannel Marketing Attribution Using Markov Chains”, Kakalejčík, L., Bucko, J., Resende, P.A.A. and Ferencova, M. Journal of Applied Management and Investments, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 49-60.  2018

Blogs:

https://analyzecore.com/2016/08/03/attribution-model-r-part-1

https://analyzecore.com/2016/08/03/attribution-model-r-part-2

                          3.3 To go further: Tackling selection biases with Quasi-Experiments

Exposure to certain types of advertisement is usually highly correlated to non-observable variables. Differences in the behaviour of users exposed to different campaigns may thus only be driven by core differences in converison probabilities between groups whether than by the campaign effect. These potential selection effects may bias the results obtained using historical data.

Quasi-Experiments can help correct this selection effect while still using available observationnal data.  These methods recreate the settings on a randomized setting. The goal is to come as close as possible to the ideal of comparing two populations that are identical in all respects except for the advertising exposure. However, populations might still differ with respect to some unobserved characteristics.

Common quasi-experimental methods used for instance in Public Policy Evaluation are:

  • Discontinuity Regressions
  • Matching Methods, such as Exact Matching,  Propensity-score matching or k-nearest neighbourghs.

References:

Article:

“Towards a digital Attribution Model: Measuring the impact of display advertising on online consumer behaviour”, Anindya Ghose & al, MIS Quarterly Vol. 40 No. 4, pp. 1-XX, 2016

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4fa6/1c53f281fa63a9f0617fbd794d54911a2f84.pdf

        4. First Steps towards a Practical Implementation

Identify key points of interests

  • Identify the nature of touchpoints available: is the data based on clicks? If so, is there a way to complement the data with A/B tests to measure the influence of ads without clicks (display, video) ? For example, what happens to sales when display campaign is removed? Analysing this multiplier effect would give the overall responsibility of display on sales, to be deduced from current attribution values given to click-based channels. More interestingly, what is the impact of the removal of display campaign on the occurences of click-based campaigns ? This would give us an idea of the impact of display ads on the exposure to each other campaigns, which would help correct the attribution values more precisely at the campaign level.
  • Define the KPI to track. From a pure Marketing perspective, looking at purchases may be sufficient, but from a financial perspective looking at profits, though a bit more difficult to compute, may drive more interesting results.
  • Define a customer journey. It may seem obvious, but the notion needs to be clarified at first. Would it be defined by a time limit? If so, which one? Does it end when a conversion is observed? For example, if a customer makes 2 purchases, would the campaigns he’s been exposed to before the first order still be accounted for in the second order? If so, with a time decay?
  • Define the research framework: are we interested only in customer journeys which have led to conversions or in all journeys? Keep in mind that successful customer journeys are a non-representative sample of customer journeys. Models built on the analysis of biased samples may be conservative. Take an extreme example: 80% of customers who see campaign A buy the product, VS 1% for campaign B. However, campaign B exposure is great and 100 Million people see it VS only 1M for campaign A. An Attribution Model based on successful journeys will give higher credit to campaign B which is an auguable conclusion. Taking into account costs per campaign (in the case where costs are calculated by clicks) may of course tackle this issue partly, as campaign A could then exhibit higher returns, but a serious fallacious reasonning is at stake here.

Analyse the typical customer journey    

  • Performing a duration analysis on the data may help you improve the definition of the customer journey to be used by your organization. After which days are converison probabilities null? Should we consider the effect of campaigns disappears after x days without orders? For example, if 99% of orders are placed in the 30 days following a first click, it might be interesting to define the customer journey as a 30 days time frame following the first oder.
  • Look at the distribution of the number of campaigns in a typical journey. If you choose to calculate the effect of campaigns interraction in your Attribution Model, it may indeed help you determine the maximum number of campaigns to be included in a combination. Indeed, you may not need to assess the impact of channel combinations with above than 4 different channels if 95% of orders are placed after less then 4 campaigns.
  • Transition matrixes: what if a campaign A systematically leads to a campaign B? What happens if we remove A or B? These insights would give clues to ask precise questions for a latter AB test, for example to find out if there is complementarity between channels A and B – (implying none should be removed) or mere substitution (implying one can be given up).
  • If conversion rates are available: it can be interesting to perform a survival analysis i.e to analyse the likelihood of conversion based on duration since first click. This could help us excluse potential outliers or individuals who have very low conversion probabilities.

Summary

Attribution is a complex topic which will probably never be definitively solved. Indeed, a main issue is the difficulty, or even impossibility, to evaluate precisely the accuracy of the attribution model that we’ve built. Attribution Models should be seen as a good yet always improvable approximation of the incremental values of campaigns, and be presented with their intrinsinc limits and biases.

Was der BREXIT für die Cloud-Strategie bedeutet

Datensouveränität wird nach dem Brexit eine der größten Herausforderungen für Unternehmen sein. Geschäftsführer sind sich der Bedeutung dessen bewusst und fürchten die Gefahr eines „Data cliff edge“, wenn die Trennung Großbritanniens von der EU endgültig beschlossene Sache sein wird.

Ohne ein klares Gespür dafür zu haben, welche Vorschriften und Compliance-Anforderungen bald gelten werden, versuchen britische Unternehmen herauszufinden, wie sie ihre Daten bestmöglich schützen, Geschäftsverzögerungen verhindern und kostspielige Fehler vermeiden können. Die Vieldeutigkeit rund um den Brexit wirft mehr Fragen als Antworten auf, darunter: Wo sollten britische Unternehmen ihre Daten speichern? Sollten sie alle ihre Rechenzentren nach Großbritannien verlegen? Wie wirkt sich der Besitz von Rechenzentren auf den Datenschutz aus? Welche Bedrohungen bestehen, wenn nach Abschluss des Brexit Daten innerhalb oder außerhalb des Vereinigten Königreichs gespeichert werden?

Für Führungskräfte sind der Mangel an Antworten und die Angst vor dem Unbekannten frustrierend. In dieser ungewissen Zeit können smarte Geschäftsführer aber den Brexit für ihre Zwecke lenken, indem sie ihn als Chance und nicht als Hindernis für sich nutzen.

Die unsicher regulierte Zukunft

Für Unternehmen mit Sitz in Großbritannien, die Datenspeicherung und private Cloud-Dienste anbieten, ist vor allem der Ort, an dem sich die Daten befinden, von Belang. Die Gewährleistung der Sicherheit und Kontrolle über eigene Daten ist von zentraler Bedeutung. Gleichzeitig ist jedoch auch die Einhaltung unbekannter zukünftiger Vorschriften und Gesetze zum Datenschutz und zum Datentransfer ein Muss.

Grundlage ist die Einhaltung der Datenschutzverordnung (DSGVO) vom 25. Mai 2018, da das Vereinigte Königreich zu diesem Zeitpunkt noch immer Teil der EU war. Nach Angaben des Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) des Vereinigten Königreichs – einer unabhängigen Behörde, die sich für die Wahrung von Informations- und Datenschutzrechten von Einzelpersonen einsetzt – bestätigte die britische Regierung, dass ein Austritt aus der EU keine Auswirkungen auf die DSGVO haben wird. Was in diesem Jahr, wenn sich Großbritannien und die EU endgültig voneinander trennen, passieren wird, kann man nur vermuten. Die Ratschläge von ICO sind richtungsweisend: „Bereiten Sie sich darauf vor, die Bestimmungen der DSGVO zu erfüllen und voranzukommen.“

Bemerkenswerterweise schreibt die DSGVO nicht vor, wo Unternehmen ihre Daten aufbewahren müssen. Es ist lediglich erforderlich, dass die EU-Organisationen ihre Daten innerhalb der EU speichern und außerhalb der EU unzugänglich machen müssen. Ausnahme: die Daten betreffen eine DSGVO-konforme Organisation. Wie sich dieses Mandat auf das Vereinigte Königreich auswirkt, muss noch gesehen werden. Denn das Vereinigte Königreich war ja zum Zeitpunkt der Ausarbeitung der Verordnung Teil der EU. Es ist unklar, ob das Vereinigte Königreich am Ende mit der DSGVO konform sein wird.

Aus globaler Sicht muss Großbritannien herausfinden, wie der Datenaustausch und der grenzüberschreitende Datenfluss reguliert werden können. Der freie Datenfluss ist wichtig für Unternehmen und Innovation, was bedeutet, dass das Vereinigte Königreich Vereinbarungen, wie die EU sie mit den USA getroffen haben, benötigt. Ein Privacy Shield, das den Austausch personenbezogener Daten zu gewerblichen Zwecken ermöglicht. Ob das Vereinigte Königreich Vereinbarungen wie den Privacy Shield umsetzen kann, oder neue Vereinbarungen mit Ländern wie den USA treffen muss, ist etwas, was nur die Zeit zeigen wird.

Wo sind die Daten?

Rechenzentren können heute durch freien Datenfluss, sowohl im Vereinigten Königreich als auch in der EU betrieben werden. Das Vereinigte Königreich unterliegt gleichem Schutz und gleichen Vorschriften wie die EU. Viele Spekulationen beinhalten allerdings, dass in naher Zukunft britische Kunden von einem in Großbritannien ansässigen Rechenzentrum bedient werden müssen, ebenso wie europäische Kunden ein EU-Rechenzentrum benötigen. Es gibt keine Garantien. Unklar ist auch, ob diese Situation die Anbieter von Rechenzentren dazu veranlassen wird, den Umzug aus Großbritannien in Betracht zu ziehen, um sich stärker auf den Kontinent zu konzentrieren, oder ob sie sich an beiden Standorten gleichzeitig niederlassen werden. Das Wahrscheinlichste: Die Anbieter tendieren zu letzterem, wie auch Amazon Web Services (AWS). Selbst nach dem Brexit-Votum hielt Amazon an seinem Wort fest und eröffnete Ende letzten Jahres sein erstes AWS-Rechenzentrum in London. Dies unterstreicht sowohl sein Engagement für Großbritannien als auch das unternehmerische Engagement.

Aus dem Brexit eine Geschäftsmöglichkeit machen

Die Automatisierung des IT-Betriebs und die Einführung einer Cloud-Strategie könnten die ersten Schritte sein, um die unbeantworteten Fragen des Brexit zu lösen und daraus einen Vorteil zu machen. Es ist an der Zeit, die Vorteile dessen zu erkennen, teure Hardware und Software von Unternehmen vor Ort durch den Umstieg auf die öffentliche Cloud zu ersetzen. Dies ist nicht nur die kostengünstigere Option. Cloud-Anbieter wie AWS, Microsoft Azure und Google Cloud Platform (GCP) ersparen in diesem politischen Umfeld sogar Unternehmen die Verwaltung und Wartung von Rechenzentren. Einige Unternehmen sind möglicherweise besorgt über die steigenden Raten von Public-Cloud-Anbietern, ihre Preisanpassungen scheinen jedoch an den relativen Wertverlust des Sterlings gebunden zu sein. Selbst bei geringen Erhöhungen sind die Preise einiger Anbieter, wie AWS, noch immer deutlich niedriger als die Kosten, die mit dem Betrieb von Rechenzentren und privaten Clouds vor Ort verbunden sind, insbesondere wenn Wartungskosten einbezogen werden. Wenn man diesen Gedanken noch einen Schritt weiterführt, wie kann der Brexit als eine Chance für Unternehmen betrachtet werden?Organisationen sammeln alle Arten von Daten. Aber nur eine Handvoll von ihnen verwendet effektive Datenanalysen, die Geschäftsentscheidungen unterstützen. Nur wenige Unternehmen tun mehr, als ihre Daten zu speichern, da ihnen die Tools und Ressourcen fehlen, um nahtlos auf ihre Daten zuzugreifen, oder weil Abfragen teuer sind. Ohne ein für die Cloud konstruiertes Data Warehouse ist dieser Prozess bestenfalls eine Herausforderung, und der wahre Wert der Daten geht dabei verloren. Ironischerweise bietet der Brexit die Möglichkeit, dies zu ändern, da Unternehmen ihre IT-Abläufe neu bewerten und alternative, kostengünstigere Methoden zum Speichern von Daten suchen müssen. Durch den Wechsel zu einer öffentlichen Cloud und die Nutzung eines Data Warehouses für die Cloud können Unternehmen Beschränkungen und Einschränkungen ihrer Daten aufheben und diese für die Entscheidungsfindung zugänglich machen.

Der Brexit dient also als Katalysator einer datengesteuerten Organisation, die Daten verwendet, anstatt sie für schlechte Zeiten zu speichern. Am Ende scheint die Prognose der Verhandlungen in Brüssel doch eine ziemlich stürmische zu sein.

Introduction to ROC Curve

The abbreviation ROC stands for Receiver Operating Characteristic. Its main purpose is to illustrate the diagnostic ability of classifier as the discrimination threshold is varied. It was developed during World War II when Radar operators had to decide if the blip on the screen is an enemy target, a friendly ship or just a noise.  For these purposes they measured the ability of a radar receiver operator to make these important distinctions, which was called the Receiver Operating Characteristic.

Later it was found useful in interpreting medical test results and then in Machine learning classification problems. In order to get an introduction to binary classification and terms like ‘precision’ and ‘recall’ one can look into my earlier blog  here.

True positive rate and false positive rate

Let’s imagine a situation where a fire alarm is installed in a kitchen. The alarm is supposed to emit a sound in case fire smoke is detected in the room. Unfortunately, there is a lot of cooking done in the kitchen and the alarm may trigger the sound too often. Thus, instead of serving a purpose the alarm becomes a nuisance due to a large number of false alarms. In statistical terms these types of errors are called type 1 errors, or false positives.

One way to deal with this problem is to simply decrease sensitivity of the device. We do this by increasing the trigger threshold at the alarm setting. But then, not every alarm should have the same threshold setting. Consider the same type of device but kept in a bedroom. With high threshold, the device might miss smoke from a real short-circuit in the wires which poses a real danger of fire. This kind of failure is called Type 2 error or a false negative. Although the two devices are the same, different types of threshold settings are optimal for different circumstances.

To specify this more formally, let us describe the performance of a binary classifier at a particular threshold by the following parameters:

 

These parameters take different values at different thresholds. Hence, they define the performance of the classifier at particular threshold. But we want to examine in overall how good a classifier is. Fortunately, there is a way to do that. We plot the True Positive Rate (TPR) and False Positive rate (FPR) at different thresholds and this plot is called ROC curve.

Let’s try to understand this with an example.

A case with a distinct population distribution

Let’s suppose there is a disease which can be identified with deficiency of some parameter (maybe a certain vitamin). The distribution of population with this disease has a mean vitamin concentration sharply distinct from the mean of a healthy population, as shown below.

This is result of dummy data simulating population of 2000 people,the link to the code is given  in the end of this blog.  As the two populations are distinctly separated (there is no  overlap between the two distributions), we can expect that a classifier would have an easy job distinquishing healthy from sick people. We can run a logistic regression classifier with a threshold of .5 and be 100% succesful in detecting the decease.

The confusion matrix may look something like this.

In this ideal case with a threshold  of  .5 we do not make a single wrong classification. The True positive rate and False positive rate are 1 and 0, respectively. But we can shift the threshold. In that case, we will  get different confusion matrices. First we plot threshold vs. TPR.

We see for most values of threshold the TPR is close to 1 which again proves data is easy to classify and the classifier is returning high probabilities  for the most of positives .

Similarly Let’s plot threshold vs. FPR.

For most of the data points FPR is close to zero. This is also good. Now its time to plot the ROC curve using these results (TPR vs FPR).

Let’s try to interpret  the results,  all the points lie on line x=0 and y=1, it means for all the points FPR is zero or TPR is one, making  the curve a square. which means the classifier does perfectly well.

Case with overlapping  population distribution

The above example was about a perfect classifer. However, life is often not so easy. Now let us consider another more realistic situation in which the parameter distribution of the population is not as distinct as in the previous case. Rather, the mean of the parameter with healthy and not healthy datapoints are close and the distributions overlap, as shown in the next figure.

If we set the threshold to 0.5, the confusion matrix may look like this.

Now, any new choice of threshold location will affect both false positives and false negatives. In fact, there is a trade-off. If we shift the threshold with the goal to reduce false negatives, false positives will increase. If we move the threshold to the other direction and reduce false positive, false negatives will increase.

The plots (TPR vs Threshold) , (FPR vs Threshold) are shown below

If we plot the ROC curve from these results, it looks like this:

From the curve we see the classifier does not perform as well as the earlier one.

What else can be infered from this curve? We first need to understand what the diagonal in this plot represent. The diagonal represents ‘Line of no discrimination’, which we obtain if we randomly guess. This is the ROC curve for the worst possible classifier. Therefore, by comparing the obtained ROC curve with the diagonal, we see how much better our classifer is from random guessing.

The further away ROC curve from the diagonal is (the closest it is to the top left corner) , better the classifier is.

Area Under the curve

The overall performance of the classifier is given by the area under the ROC curve and is usually denoted as AUC. Since TPR and FPR lie within the range of 0 to 1, the AUC also assumes values between 0 and 1. The higher the value of AUC, the better is the overall performance of the classifier.

Let’s see this for the two different distributions which we saw earlier.

As we know the classifier had worked perfectly in the first case with points at (0,1) the area under the curve is 1 which is perfect. In the latter case the classifier was not able to perform as good, the ROC curve is between the diagonal and left hand corner. The AUC as we can see is less than 1.

Some other general characteristics

There are still few points that needs to be discussed on a General ROC curve

  • The ROC curve does not provide information about the actual values of thresholds used for the classifier.
  • Performance of different classifiers can be compared using the AUC of different Classifier. The larger the AUC, the better the classifier.
  • The vertical distance of the ROC curve from the no discrimination line gives a measure of ‘INFORMEDNESS’. This is known as Youden’s J satistic. This statistics can take values between 0 and 1.

Youden’s  J statistic is defined for every point on the ROC curve . The point at which Youden’s  J satistics reaches its maximum for a given ROC curve can be used to guide the selection of the threshold to be used for that classifier.

I hope this post does the job of providing an understanding of ROC curves  and AUC. The  Python program for simulating the example given earlier can be found here .

Please feel free to adjust the mean of the distributions and see the changes in the plot.

Team Up für Cloud-Daten-Lösungen

Heute bestimmen Daten die Welt. Snowflake ermöglicht Unternehmen, ihre Daten über mehrere Clouds hinweg zu speichern und zu analysieren. In einer Zusammenarbeit mit dem Energiegiganten Uniper ermöglicht das Data Warehouse erstklassige Leistung, Benutzerfreundlichkeit und Parallelität für die Daten: Uniper hat sich, mit einer Leistung von ca. 36 Gigawatt, eine Stellung in der ersten Reihe der Stromerzeuger gesichert. Das Unternehmen arbeitet in 40 Ländern mit über 12.000 Mitarbeitern. Das stetig wachsende internationale Energieunternehmen mit Sitz in Düsseldorf arbeitet seit dem letzten Jahr mit Snowflake Computing und dessen Data Warehouse.

Mehr als ein datengesteuertes Unternehmen werden
Uniper arbeitet daran, digitalen Lösungen den Weg zu ebnen. Diese sollen dabei behilflich sein, neue Business-Modelle und zukunftsweisende Arbeitsprozesse zu ermöglichen. Der Stromversorger hat es sich selbst zum Ziel gemacht, mehr als ein datengesteuertes Unternehmen zu werden. Die Firma produziert nicht nur Energie, sondern verarbeitet sie weiter, sichert und transportiert sie. Außerdem versorgt Uniper seine Kunden mit Waren wie Gas, LGN, Kohle und weiteren Energieprodukten. Dabei fallen Unmengen von Daten an. Um diese auszuwerten, müssen sie organisiert werden.

Interne und externe Quellen werden zu Snowflake Data Lake
Deshalb hat Uniper nach einem Weg gesucht, seine Daten zu standardisieren. Das Unternehmen hat hierfür seine Datensilos aufgebrochen, eine neue Architektur entwickelt und eng mit einem Ökosystem von Partnern gearbeitet. In den letzten Jahren hat der Energiegigant mit Tableau und Talend zusammen mehr als 120 interne und externe Quellen in einen so genannten Snowflake Data Lake auf der Microsoft Azure Cloud zusammengeführt. Die Zusammenarbeit mit Snowflake zeigt bereits jetzt Erfolge.

Daten – schneller und günstiger
Mit Snowflake ist Uniper in der Lage, Daten aus mehr als 120 Quellen zu verwalten, darunter Daten von ETRMs, SAP, DWHs und IoT von Kraftwerken, was die das Energieunternehmen in die Lage versetzt, schneller und besser auf den Markt zu reagieren und den Stromhandel zu optimieren. Außerdem kann das Unternehmen nun Daten zehnmal schneller und günstiger zur Verfügung stellen.
Auf Basis der neuen Infrastruktur gelang es, innerhalb von 40 Tagen rund 30 Prozent der geplanten Anwendungsfälle online zu stellen. Weitere 25 Prozent konnten bereits als Prototyp umgesetzt werden. Mit dieser Vorgehensweise konnte Uniper zudem die Kosten für die Datenintegration um 80 Prozent senken.

Uniper steht noch ganz am Anfang seiner Datenreise. Die Daten, die das Unternehmen generiert, werden auch weiterhin zunehmen. Durch die Nutzung von Snowflake in der Cloud müssen die Projektleiter keine Bedenken bezüglich der Datenmengen, die schon bald im Petabyte-Bereich liegen dürften, haben. Um seine Vorreiterstellung in der Digitalisierung zu festigen, hat Uniper mittlerweile auch eine App entwickelt, die Stift und Papier für die Mitarbeiter ersetzt – ein weiterer Schritt im Zuge der Digitalisierung, die mithilfe von Snowflake Computing den nächsten Schritt in Richtung Zukunft geht.

Mehr Informationen: www.snowflake.com

A Gentle Introduction to Precision and Recall.

The idea of this blog is to give an intuitive understanding of Precision and Recall for a binary classification problem. I will shy away from explaining it in a textbook way but rather will try to give an intuition. Nevertheless, let me write the textbook formula first:

The problem with this nomenclature is that despite being correct, it can be a bit confusing, especially for beginners. For example ‘False Positives’ could be understood from a classifier point of view or from a population point of view.

Visualizing with an example

Let’s suppose we have a classifier to differentiate jeans from a T-shirts in a lot of cloths. This lot has 100 pieces altogether with 70 jeans and 30 T-shirts. Let us see this visually. Until this point, we just have a collection of clothes and have no classifier.

We already know that altogether we truly have 70 Jeans and 30 T-shirts.

Now let’s run the classifier to identify the jeans from T-shirts. We can assume the result of the classifier is following (number inside the box is the result of classifier):

We see that out of 70 jeans the classifier identifies 63 correctly as jeans and the remaining 7 as non-Jeans. Out of 30 T-shirts, the classifier identifies 11 falsely as jeans the remaining 19 correctly as non-Jeans.

So Recall is nothing but the proportion of identified jeans out of total jeans, which is

Recall = 63 / 70

Precision is the true jeans identified out of the total number of classified jeans. Which is:

Precision = 63 / (63+11)

Hence we see, in a way Recall has to do with the ability of classifier to deal with jeans and precision has to do with ability to deal with both Jeans and Non-Jeans.

This seems to provide better intuition than the textbook formula.

Diving Deeper with another example

Let us go through one more example to cement the idea. Let’s imagine there is a village which has a notoriously high number of criminals. A special cop arrives to tackle the law and order situation. He interviews every resident and locks some residents based on hunches.

If there are still many criminals roaming on the street the recall is bad, as recall deals with the ability to deal with the quantity which classifier is supposed to find (in this case criminals).

If there are too many innocents rotting in jail the precision is bad. As precision has also to do with the ability to deal with ‘others‘ that is not the quantity which the classifier is supposed to find (in this case these are the innocents).

Now we see, we don’t want too many criminals roaming on the street nor do we want many innocents rotting in the jail. Hence we need both recall and precision to be high or in other words, their mean to be high. But this cannot be arithmetic mean. Let’s see why using an example.

If for a village of 2000 residents there are 100 criminals. And if the cop straight away locks all 2000 residents, the confusion matrix looks like this:

 

Recall= 100/ (100+0) = 1

Precision = 100/ (100+1900) = 0.05

Arithmetic mean for Precision and Recall = (1+.05)/2 = 0.525

This would look like a pretty good classifier even though we know that in reality it’s a bad classifier (or a bad cop who just locks up every person he meets). It can be shown that the same happens in reverse. If the cop does not lock up anyone, the arithmetic mean does not show the true picture again.

That’s why we use harmonic mean. We call it F1 Score and it is calculated as follows: (2 * 1 * 0.05) / (1 + 0.05) = 0.0952

Now, this looks like a more realistic score. So, the performance of a classifier can be judged with a harmonic mean between precision and recall.

Let’s try to understand one more thing.

Often, classifiers work by returning probabilities of positives and negatives. One way to turn them into a confusion matrix is to use a threshold of 0.5. This means that if the probability of being positive is more than 0.5, we consider the case as positive (in our case a criminal). Otherwise, it is a negative.

But there might be cases where we want our recall to be very high. For example, if there is a classifier for identifying Ebola. We do not want any of the cases to be missed because otherwise we are risking an outbreak of the decease with disastrous consequences.

In this case, the threshold needs to be kept really low (maybe near .1 or smaller) so that we raise a flag for every case that has at least 10 % probability and get this person retested. This is an important measure in order to prevent an outbreak, despite the fact that there are a lot of false cases that needs to be rechecked.

There might be other cases where there are many false alarms (maybe fraud transaction in banks) which may be of low risk and it would be expensive to investigate all those cases. In those case, we might want to have a threshold higher than 0.5.

This gives us a taste of things to come. A classifiers efficiency can be plotted for different thresholds which gives us something called a ROC curve. But let’s save that for another post.

How is automation changing data science and machine learning?

We have come a long way since the introduction of data science and machine learning. The recent study has found that the volume of business data doubles in less than 14 months. Today, the collection of data is no longer a problem, but the filtration, analysis, and maintenance of relevant information is a bigger issue.

We need to hire data science professionals, and they demand over $100k annually. Paying that sort of money for a professional is not feasible for every single organization, especially small and middle-sized companies. Google recently announced that it is going to make machine learning technology possible for every business.

The access to machine learning technology is now possible, even for small businesses due to automation. Google, Microsoft, and other companies have come up with automated machine learning tools that enable small businesses to use machine learning technology to enhance their business performance and profit.

Image Source: Google Cloud

With that said, the world still needs a lot of machine learning professionals. Many machine learning professionals prefer Python for machine learning due to its features and a wide range of libraries.

According to the Gartner report, around 40% of data science tasks will be automated by 2020. The data science tools can automate some parts of data science processes, but it is not complete automation.

With that said, it has been helping a lot to accelerate the tasks. We still need data science professionals to deal with real-world problems. The algorithms are not yet able to handle messy data. The significant chunk of data science professionals often prefers performing with data science with Python for sophisticated tasks.

Automation in Data Science

Let me show you the figure right at the beginning before moving forward.

Image Source: Wikipedia

If I had to use only one word to describe the entire data science process, I would use the word “headache.” According to the recent report, the median salary of data scientists easily surpasses $100k annually. The pay will be higher in the time to come.

One needs to pay a lot of money and invest a lot of time to get insights from the collected data. The data scientists need to spend almost 50-60% of their time in data processing and the rest of their time in modeling and deployment.

The cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft Azure, and so on make the job more comfortable, but there is still a lot of work to maintain and extract useful insights from the collected data.

The data science process has lots of inefficiencies. At first, they need to spend over 50% of their total time on processing messy real-world data. After that, there could be a need to customize models, according to specific problems.

The significant contribution of automation is making a significant portion of data processing parts automated. Secondly, the automated platforms can make tracking of various models easier from multiple parameters. The time needed to launch the algorithm is minimal.

One example of an extensive tool to handle a data science project is Alteryx. IT has come up with powerful automated solutions that can drastically reduce the data processing and model development time for smoothening the entire data science workflow. The data science platform, Alteryx, is so amazing that its share price doubled in a span of little more than a year.

Some other great tools that can help you in data science automation are Rapidminer, H20.ai, KNIME, and so on. However, the lack of skilled data scientists can create a problem despite these tools. It is where the role of automated machine learning pops in.

How is Machine Learning Transformed with the entrance of Automation?

The traditional machine learning process was too complicated. One requires to have a lot of expensive machine learning professionals working for months to come up with models to process machine learning tasks.

Image Source: Medium

To make traditional machine learning work, one needs to gather data, standardize data, process features, create and train the machine learning model from problems, validate the models, and deploy the models at last.

You must have heard of how machine learning is only for corporations in the past. But, that has drastically changed in recent time, and it is all due to automation. Keep in mind that the above machine learning model is a simple one. There is a lot of extra works for complicated models. Even for the simple ones, you need to spend a lot of time and money, which makes it impossible for small and medium companies.

The automation in machine learning is all about automating the entire process to make machine learning easier. The only thing you need to do is feed data to the system (not a massive volume of data). You do not need even to cross the three-figure number of images to continue with automated machine learning platforms.

Microsoft has its automl platform along with Google. Other automl platforms can do the trick for you. Using those platforms do not cost you an arm and a leg. If you check out the price, you will be surprised.

There is no need for you to create or deploy models or even test the models. The algorithm will do the job for you. It takes examples and models of historical models to process the data and use a machine learning algorithm.

Even non-statistician can implement machine learning technology with limited data, thanks to automation in machine learning. You can make use of predictive analytics and can get easy solutions for simple prediction problems without scratching your head. Numerous libraries can assist you in the automated generation of machine learning pipelines.

How are the jobs of data scientists simplified by the introduction of automation in machine learning and data science?

It is true that the introduction of automation has drastically reduced the time for completing the tasks for data scientists. They no longer have to spend their valuable time in time-consuming, monotonous works that are necessary but do not provide a lot of value.

However, the need for skilled data scientists still exist, and it will always be there in the time to come. There are challenging works for data scientists that we cannot replace with machines, such as listening to clients, figuring out the root cause of business issues, development and selection of the right solution for the specific business problem.

Just like in other types of jobs, the advancement of automation technologies will modify the tasks that data scientists need to perform. They will be able to allocate more time on things that matter rather than monotonous tasks.

Final Verdict

The automation of machine learning and data science are in the beginning stage. However, they are already making a massive impact on the business world. The huge corporations are investing in Big Data and Machine Learning technologies. We can expect a considerable improvement in these technologies shortly.

Sooner, the competitive advantage of a business will depend on how well they can use the technologies, instead of access to machine learning or Big Data technologies.  I hope this article was valuable to you. If you want to add something or express your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment. I will gladly read and reply to your comment.

A common trap when it comes to sampling from a population that intrinsically includes outliers

I will discuss a common fallacy concerning the conclusions drawn from calculating a sample mean and a sample standard deviation and more importantly how to avoid it.

Suppose you draw a random sample x_1, x_2, … x_N of size N and compute the ordinary (arithmetic) sample mean  x_m and a sample standard deviation sd from it.  Now if (and only if) the (true) population mean µ (first moment) and population variance (second moment) obtained from the actual underlying PDF  are finite, the numbers x_m and sd make the usual sense otherwise they are misleading as will be shown by an example.

By the way: The common correlation coefficient will also be undefined (or in practice always point to zero) in the presence of infinite population variances. Hopefully I will create an article discussing this related fallacy in the near future where a suitable generalization to Lévy-stable variables will be proposed.

 Drawing a random sample from a heavy tailed distribution and discussing certain measures

As an example suppose you have a one dimensional random walker whose step length is distributed by a symmetric standard Cauchy distribution (Lorentz-profile) with heavy tails, i.e. an alpha-stable distribution with alpha being equal to one. The PDF of an individual independent step is given by p(x) = \frac{\pi^{-1}}{(1 + x^2)} , thus neither the first nor the second moment exist whereby the first exists and vanishes at least in the sense of a principal value due to symmetry.

Still let us generate N = 3000 (pseudo) standard Cauchy random numbers in R* to analyze the behavior of their sample mean and standard deviation sd as a function of the reduced sample size n \leq N.

*The R-code is shown at the end of the article.

Here are the piecewise sample mean (in blue) and standard deviation (in red) for the mentioned Cauchy sampling. We see that both the sample mean and sd include jumps and do not converge.

Especially the mean deviates relatively largely from zero even after 3000 observations. The sample sd has no target due to the population variance being infinite.

If the data is new and no prior distribution is known, computing the sample mean and sd will be misleading. Astonishingly enough the sample mean itself will have the (formally exact) same distribution as the single step length p(x). This means that the sample mean is also standard Cauchy distributed implying that with a different Cauchy sample one could have easily observed different sample means far of the presented values in blue.

What sense does it make to present the usual interval x_m \pm sd / \sqrt{N} in such a case? What to do?

The sample median, median absolute difference (mad) and Inter-Quantile-Range (IQR) are more appropriate to describe such a data set including outliers intrinsically. To make this plausible I present the following plot, whereby the median is shown in black, the mad in green and the IQR in orange.

This example shows that the median, mad and IQR converge quickly against their assumed values and contain no major jumps. These quantities do an obviously better job in describing the sample. Even in the presence of outliers they remain robust, whereby the mad converges more quickly than the IQR. Note that a standard Cauchy sample will contain half of its sample in the interval median \pm mad meaning that the IQR is twice the mad.

Drawing a random sample from a PDF that has finite moments

Just for comparison I also show the above quantities for a standard normal (pseudo) sample labeled with the same color as before as a counter example. In this case not only do both the sample mean and median but also the sd and mad converge towards their expected values (see plot below). Here all the quantities describe the data set properly and there is no trap since there are no intrinsic outliers. The sample mean itself follows a standard normal, so that the sd in deed makes sense and one could calculate a standard error \frac{sd}{\sqrt{N}} from it to present the usual stochastic confidence intervals for the sample mean.

A careful observation shows that in contrast to the Cauchy case here the sampled mean and sd converge more quickly than the sample median and the IQR. However still the sampled mad performs about as well as the sd. Again the mad is twice the IQR.

And here are the graphs of the prementioned quantities for a pseudo normal sample:

The take-home-message:

Just be careful when you observe outliers and calculate sample quantities right away, you might miss something. At best one carefully observes how the relevant quantities change with sample size as demonstrated in this article.

Such curves should become of broader interest in order to improve transparency in the Data Science process and reduce fallacies as well.

Thank you for reading.

P.S.: Feel free to play with the set random seed in the R-code below and observe how other quantities behave with rising sample size. Of course you can also try different PDFs at the beginning of the code. You can employ a Cauchy, Gaussian, uniform, exponential or Holtsmark (pseudo) random sample.

 

QUIZ: Which one of the recently mentioned random samples contains a trap** and why?

**in the context of this article

 

R-code used to generate the data and for producing plots:

 

 

OLAP-Würfel

Der OLAP-Würfel

Alles ist relativ! So auch die Anforderungen an Datenbanksysteme. Je nachdem welche Arbeitskollegen/innen dazu gefragt werden, können unterschiedliche Wünschen und Anforderungen an Datenbanksysteme dabei zu Tage kommen.

Die optimale Ausrichtung des Datenbanksystems auf seine spezielle Anwendung hin, setzt den Grundstein für eine performante und effizientes Informationssystem und sollte daher wohl überlegt sein. Eine klassische Unterscheidung für die Anwendung von Datenbanksystemen lässt sich hierbei zwischen OLTP (Online Transaction Processing) und OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) machen.

OLTP-Datenbanksysteme zeichnen sich insbesondere durch die direkte Verarbeitung bei hohem Durchsatz von Transaktionen, sowie den parallelen Zugriff auf Informationen aus und werden daher vor allem für die Erfassung von operativen Geschäftsfällen eingesetzt. Im Gegensatz zu OLTP-Systemen steht bei OLAP-Systemen die analytische Verarbeitung von großen Datenbeständen im Vordergrund. Die folgende Grafik veranschaulicht das Zusammenwirken von OLTP und OLAP.

Da OLAP-Systeme eine mehrdimensionale und subjektbezogen Datenstruktur aufweisen, können statistisch-analytische Verarbeitungen auf diese Datenmengen effizient angewandt werden. Basierend auf dem Sternen-Schema, werden in diesem Zusammenhang häufig sogenannte OLAP-Würfel (engl. „Cube“) verwendet, welcher die Grundlage für multidimensionale Analysen bildet. Im Folgenden werden wir den OLAP-Würfel etwas näher beleuchten.

Aufbau des OLAP-Würfels

Der OLAP-Würfel ist eine Zusammensetzung aus multidimensionale Datenarrays. Die logische Anordnung der Daten über mehrere Dimensionen erlaubt dem Benutzer verschiedene Ansichten auf die Daten in gleicher Weise zu erlangen. Der Begriff „Würfel“ („Cube“) referenziert hierbei auf die Darstellung eines OLAP-Würfels mit drei Dimensionen. OLAP-Würfel mit mehr als drei Dimensionen werden daher auch „Hypercubes“ genannt.

Die Achsen des Würfels entsprechen den Dimensionen, also den Attributen/ Eigenschaften des Würfels, welche den Würfel aufspannen. Typische Dimensionen sind: Produkt, Ort und Zeit.

Die Zellen im Schnittpunkt der Koordinaten entsprechen den Kennzahlen auch Maßzahlen (engl. „measures“) genannt. Die Kennzahlen stehen im Mittelpunkt der Datenanalyse und können sowohl Basisgrößen (atomare Werte) als auch abgeleitete Zahlen (berechnete Werte) sein. Oftmals handelt es sich bei den Kennzahlen um numerische Werte wie z.B.: Umsatz, Kosten und Gewinn.

Hierarchien beschreiben eine logische Struktur einzelner Elemente in den Dimensionen und nehmen dabei meist ein hierarchisches Schema an z.B.:  Tag -> Monat -> Jahr ->TOP. Die Werte der jeweils übergeordneten Elemente ergeben sich meistens aus einer Konsolidierung aller untergeordneten Elemente. Das größte Element „TOP“ steht dabei für „alles“ und fasst somit die gesamten Elemente der Dimension zusammen.

Je nachdem in welcher Detailstufe, auch Granularität genannt, die Kennzahlen der einzelnen Dimensionen vorliegen, können verschiedene Würfel-Operationen für Daten bis auf der kleinsten Ebenen ausgeführt werden wie z.B.: einzelne Transaktionen in einer Geschäftsstellen für einen bestimmten Tag betrachten. Bei der Wahl der Granularität ist jedoch unbedingt der Zweck sowie die Leistungsfähigkeit der Datenbank mit zu Berücksichtigen.

 

 

 

 

 

Operationen des OLAP-Würfels

Für die Auswertung von OLAP-Würfeln haben sich spezielle Operationsbezeichnungen durchgesetzt, welche im Folgenden mit grafischen Beispielen vorgestellt werden.

Die Slice Operation wird durch die Selektion bzw. Einschränkung einer Dimension auf ein Dimensionselement erwirkt. In dem hier aufgezeigten Beispiel wird durch das Selektieren auf die Produktsparte „Anzüge“,die entsprechende Scheibe aus dem Würfel „herausgeschnitten“.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Bei der Dice-Operation wird der Würfel auf mehreren Dimensionen, durch eine Menge von Dimensionselementen eingeschränkt. Als Resultat ergibt sich ein neuer verkleinerter, mehrdimensionaler Datenraum. Das Beispiel zeigt, wie der Würfel auf die Zeit-Dimensionselemente: „Q1 „und „Q2“ sowie die Produkt- Dimensionselemente: „Anzüge“ und „Hosen“ beschränkt wird.

 

 

 

 

 


Mit der Pivotiting/Rotation-Operation wird der Würfel um die eigene Achse rotiert. Diese Operation ermöglicht dem Benutzer unterschiedliche Sichten auf die Daten zu erhalten, da neue Kombinationen von Dimensionen sichtbar werden.

Im abgebildeten Beispiel wird der Datenwürfel nach rechts und um die Zeitachse gedreht. Die dadurch sichtbar gewordene Kombination von Ländern und Zeit ermöglicht dem Benutzer eine neue Sicht auf den Datenwürfel.


Die Operationen: Drill-down oder Drill-up werden benutzt, um durch die Hierarchien der Dimensionen zu navigieren. Je nach Anwendung verdichten sich die Daten bei der Drill-up Operation, während die Drill-down Operation einen höheren Detailgrad ermöglicht.

Beispiel werden die Dimensionen auf die jeweils höchste Klassifikationsstufe verdichtet. Das Ergebnis zeigt das TOP-Element der aggregierten Daten, mit einem Wert von 9267 €.


Technische Umsetzung

In den meisten Fällen werden OLAP-Systeme oberhalb des Data Warehouses platziert und nutzen dieses als Datenquelle.  Für die Datenspeicherung wird vor allem zwischen den klassischen Konzepten „MOLAP“ und „ROLAP“ unterschieden. Die folgende Gegenüberstellung, zeigt die wesentlichen Unterschiede der beiden Konzepte auf.

ROLAP

MOLAP

Bedeutung
Relationales-OLAP Multidimensionales-OLAP
Datenspeicherung
Daten liegen in relationalen Datenbanken vor. Daten werden in multidimensionalen Datenbanken als Datenwürfel gespeichert
Daten Form
Relationale Tabellen Multidimensionale Arrays
Datenvolumen
Hohes Datenvolumen und hohe Nutzerzahl Mittleres Datenvolum, da Detaildaten in komprimiertem Format vorliegen
Technologie
Benötigt Komplexe SQL Abfragen, um Daten zu beziehen Vorberechneter Datenwürfel hält Aggregationen vor
Skalierbarkeit
Beliebig Eingeschränkt
Antwortgeschwindigkeit
Langsam Schnell

Fazit

OLAP Würfel können effizient dafür genutzt werden, Informationen in logische Strukturen zu speichern. Die Dimensionierung sowie der Aufbau von logischen Hierarchien, erlauben dem Benutzer ein intuitives Navigieren und Betrachten des Datenbestandes. Durch die Vorberechnung der Aggregationen bei MOLAP-Systemen, können sehr komplexe Analyseabfragen mit hoher Geschwindigkeit und unabhängig von der Datenquelle durchgeführt werden. Für die betriebliche Datenanalyse ist die Nutzung des Datenwürfels insbesondere für fortgeschrittene Datenanalyse, daher eine enorme Bereicherung.

Fehler-Rückführung mit der Backpropagation

Dies ist Artikel 4 von 6 der Artikelserie –Einstieg in Deep Learning.

Das Gradienten(abstiegs)verfahren ist der Schlüssel zum Training einzelner Neuronen bzw. deren Gewichtungen zu den Neuronen der vorherigen Schicht. Wer dieses Prinzip verstanden hat, hat bereits die halbe Miete zum Verständnis des Trainings von künstlichen neuronalen Netzen.

Der Gradientenabstieg wird häufig fälschlicherweise mit der Backpropagation gleichgesetzt, jedoch ist das nicht ganz richtig, denn die Backpropagation ist mehr als die Anwendung des Gradientenabstiegs.

Bevor wir die Backpropagation erläutern, nochmal kurz zurück zur Forward-Propagation, die die eigentliche Prädiktion über ein künstliches neuronales Netz darstellt:

Forward-Propagation

Abbildung 1: Ein simples kleines künstliches neuronales Netz mit zwei Schichten (+ Eingabeschicht) und zwei Neuronen pro Schicht.

In einem kleinen künstlichen neuronalen Netz, wie es in der Abbildung 1 dargestellt ist, und das alle Neuronen über die Sigmoid-Funktion aktiviert, wird jedes Neuron eine Nettoeingabe z berechnen…

z = w^{T} \cdot x

… und diese Nettoeingabe in die Sigmoid-Funktion einspeisen…

\phi(z) = sigmoid(z) = \frac{1}{1 + e^{-z}}

… die dann das einzelne Neuron aktiviert. Die Aktivierung erfolgt also in der mittleren Schicht (N-Schicht) wie folgt:

N_{j} = \frac{1}{1 + e^{- \sum (w_{ij} \cdot x_{i}) }}

Die beiden Aktivierungsausgaben N werden dann als Berechnungsgrundlage für die Ausgaben der Ausgabeschicht o verwendet. Auch die Ausgabe-Neuronen berechnen ihre jeweilige Nettoeingabe z und aktivieren über Sigmoid(z).

Ausgabe eines Ausgabeknotens als Funktion der Eingänge und der Verknüpfungsgewichte für ein dreischichtiges neuronales Netz, mit nur zwei Knoten je Schicht, kann also wie folgt zusammen gefasst werden:

O_{k} = \frac{1}{1 + e^{- \sum (w_{jk} \cdot \frac{1}{1 + e^{- \sum (w_{ij} \cdot x_{i}) }}) }}

Abbildung 2: Forward-Propagation. Aktivierung via Sigmoid-Funktion.

Sollte dies die erste Forward-Propagation gewesen sein, wird der Output noch nicht auf den Input abgestimmt sein. Diese Abstimmung erfolgt in Form der Gewichtsanpassung im Training des neuronalen Netzes, über die zuvor erwähnte Gradientenmethode. Die Gradientenmethode ist jedoch von einem Fehler abhängig. Diesen Fehler zu bestimmen und durch das Netz zurück zu führen, das ist die Backpropagation.

Back-Propagation

Um die Gewichte entgegen des Fehlers anpassen zu können, benötigen wir einen möglichst exakten Fehler als Eingabe. Der Fehler berechnet sich an der Ausgabeschicht über eine Fehlerfunktion (Loss Function), beispielsweise über den MSE (Mean Squared Error) oder über die sogenannte Kreuzentropie (Cross Entropy). Lassen wir es in diesem Beispiel einfach bei einem simplen Vergleich zwischen dem realen Wert (Sollwert o_{real}) und der Prädiktion (Ausgabe o) bleiben:

e_{o} = o_{real} - o

Der Fehler e ist also einfach der Unterschied zwischen dem Ziel-Wert und der Prädiktion. Jedes Training ist eine Wiederholung von Prädiktion (Forward) und Gewichtsanpassung (Back). Im ersten Schritt werden üblicherweise die Gewichtungen zufällig gesetzt, jede Gewichtung unterschiedlich nach Zufallszahl. So ist die Wahrscheinlichkeit, gleich zu Beginn die “richtigen” Gewichtungen gefunden zu haben auch bei kleinen neuronalen Netzen verschwindend gering. Der Fehler wird also groß sein und kann über den Gradientenabstieg durch Gewichtsanpassung verkleinert werden.

In diesem Beispiel berechnen wir die Fehler e_{1} und e_{2} und passen danach die Gewichte w_{j,k} (w_{1,1} & w_{2,1} und w_{1,2} & w_{2,2}) der Schicht zwischen dem Hidden-Layer N und dem Output-Layer o an.

Abbildung 3: Anpassung der Gewichtungen basierend auf dem Fehler in der Ausgabe-Schicht.

Die Frage ist nun, wie die Gewichte zwischen dem Input-Layer X und dem Hidden-Layer N anzupassen sind. Es stellt sich die Frage, welchen Einfluss diese auf die Fehler in der Ausgabe-Schicht haben?

Um diese Gewichtungen anpassen zu können, benötigen wir den Fehler-Anteil der beiden Neuronen N_{1} und N_{2}. Dieser Anteil am Fehler der jeweiligen Neuronen ergibt sich direkt aus den Gewichtungen w_{j,k} zum Output-Layer:

e_{N_{1}} = e_{o1} \cdot \frac{w_{1,1}}{w_{1,1} + w_{1,2}} + e_{o2} \cdot \frac{w_{1,2}}{w_{1,1} + w_{1,2}}

e_{N_{2}} = e_{o1} \cdot \frac{w_{2,1}}{w_{2,1} + w_{2,2}} + e_{o2} \cdot \frac{w_{2,2}}{w_{2,1} + w_{2,2}}

Wenn man das nun generalisiert:

    \[ e_{N} = \left(\begin{array}{rr} \frac{w_{1,1}}{w_{1,1} + w_{1,2}} & \frac{w_{1,2}}{w_{1,1} + w_{1,2}} \\ \frac{w_{2,1}}{w_{2,1} + w_{2,2}} & \frac{w_{2,2}}{w_{2,1} + w_{2,2}} \end{array}\right) \cdot \left(\begin{array}{c} e_{1} \\ e_{2} \end{array}\right) \qquad \]

Dabei ist es recht aufwändig, die Gewichtungen stets ins Verhältnis zu setzen. Diese Berechnung können wir verkürzen, indem ganz einfach direkt nur die Gewichtungen ohne Relativierung zur Kalkulation des Fehleranteils benutzt werden. Die Relationen bleiben dabei erhalten!

    \[ e_{N} = \left(\begin{array}{rr} w_{1,1} & w_{1,2} \\ w_{2,1} & w_{2,2} \end{array}\right) \cdot \left(\begin{array}{c} e_{1} \\ e_{2} \end{array}\right) \qquad \]

Oder folglich in Kurzform: e_{N} = w^{T} \cdot e_{o}

Abbildung 4: Vollständige Gewichtsanpassung auf Basis der Fehler in der Ausgabeschicht und der Fehleranteile in der verborgenden Schicht.

Und nun können, basierend auf den Fehleranteilen der verborgenden Schicht N, die Gewichtungen w_{i,j} zwischen der Eingabe-Schicht I und der verborgenden Schicht N angepasst werden, entgegen dieser Fehler e_{N}.

Die Backpropagation besteht demnach aus zwei Schritten:

  1. Fehler-Berechnung durch Abgleich der Soll-Werte mit den Prädiktionen in der Ausgabeschicht und durch Fehler-Rückführung zu den Neuronen der verborgenden Schichten (Hidden-Layer)
  2. Anpassung der Gewichte entgegen des Gradientenanstiegs der Fehlerfunktion (Loss Function)

Buchempfehlungen

Die folgenden zwei Bücher haben mir sehr beim Verständnis und beim Verständlichmachen der Backpropagation in künstlichen neuronalen Netzen geholfen.

Neuronale Netze selbst programmieren: Ein verständlicher Einstieg mit Python Deep Learning. Das umfassende Handbuch: Grundlagen, aktuelle Verfahren und Algorithmen, neue Forschungsansätze (mitp Professional)

Cross-industry standard process for data mining

Introduced in 1996, the cross-industry standard process for data mining (CRISP-DM) became the most
common procedure for all data mining projects. This method consists of six phases: Business
understanding, Data understanding, Data preparation, Modeling, Evaluation and Deployment (see
Figure 1). It is being used not just as a reference manual but as a user guide as it explains every phase
in detail (Hipp, 2000). The six phases of this model are explained below:

Figure 1: Different phases of CRISP-DM

Business Understanding

It includes understanding the business problem and determining the
objective of the business as well as of the project. It is also important to understand the previous work
done on the project (if any) to achieve the business goals and to examine if the scope of the project has changed.

The job of a Data Scientist is not limited to coding or just make a machine learning model and I guess that’s why this whole lifecycle was developed.  The key points a project owner should take care in this process are:

– Identify stakeholders  and involve them to define the scope your project
– Describe your product (your machine learning model)
– Identify how your product ties into the client’s business processes
– Identify metrics / KPIs for measuring success

Evaluating a model is a different thing as it can only tell you how good are your predictions but identifying the success metric is really important for any data science project because when your model is deployed in production this measure will tell you if your model actually works or not. Now, let’s discuss what is this success metric
Consider that you are working in an e-commerce company where Head of finance ask you to create a machine learning model to predict if a specific product will return or not. The problem is not hard to understand, its a binary classification problem and you know you can do the job. But before you start working with the data you should define a metric to measure the success. What do you think your success metric could be? I would go with the return rate, in other words, calculate the rate for how many orders are actually coming back and if this measure is getting decrease you would know your model works and if not then FIX IT !!

Data understanding

The initial step in this phase is to gather all the data from different sources. It is
then important to describe the data, generate graphs for distribution in order to get familiar with the
data. This phase is important as without enough data or without understanding about the data analysis
cannot be performed. In data mining terms this can be compared to Exploratory data analysis (EDA)
where techniques from descriptive statistics are used to have an insight into the data. For instance, if it is
a time series data it makes sense to know from when until when the data is available before diving deep into
the data.

Data preparation

This phase takes most of the time in data mining project as a lot of methods from
data cleaning, feature subset, feature engineering, the transformation of data etc. are used before the final
dataset is trained for modeling purpose. The single dataset can also be prepared in different forms as some
algorithms can learn more with a certain type of data, some algorithms can deal with imbalance dataset
and for some algorithms, the target variable must be balanced. This phase also requires sometimes to
calculate new KPI’s according to the business need or sometimes to reduce the dimension of the dataset.

Modeling and Evaluation

Various models are selected and build in this process and appropriate hyperparameters are
selected after an intensive grid search.  Once all the models are built it is now time to evaluate and compare performances of all the models.

Deployment

A model is of no use if it is not deployed into production. Until now you have been doing the job of a data scientist but for deployment, you need some software engineering

skills. There are several ways to deploy a machine learning model or python code. Few of them are:

  • Re-implement your python code in C++, Java etc. (LOL)
  • Save the coefficients and use them to get predictions
  • Serialized objects (REST API with flask, Django)

To understand the concept of deploying an ML model using REST API this post is highly recommended.