Data Analytics and Mining for Dummies

Data Analytics and Mining is often perceived as an extremely tricky task cut out for Data Analysts and Data Scientists having a thorough knowledge encompassing several different domains such as mathematics, statistics, computer algorithms and programming. However, there are several tools available today that make it possible for novice programmers or people with no absolutely no algorithmic or programming expertise to carry out Data Analytics and Mining. One such tool which is very powerful and provides a graphical user interface and an assembly of nodes for ETL: Extraction, Transformation, Loading, for modeling, data analysis and visualization without, or with only slight programming is the KNIME Analytics Platform.

KNIME, or the Konstanz Information Miner, was developed by the University of Konstanz and is now popular with a large international community of developers. Initially KNIME was originally made for commercial use but now it is available as an open source software and has been used extensively in pharmaceutical research since 2006 and also a powerful data mining tool for the financial data sector. It is also frequently used in the Business Intelligence (BI) sector.

KNIME as a Data Mining Tool

KNIME is also one of the most well-organized tools which enables various methods of machine learning and data mining to be integrated. It is very effective when we are pre-processing data i.e. extracting, transforming, and loading data.

KNIME has a number of good features like quick deployment and scaling efficiency. It employs an assembly of nodes to pre-process data for analytics and visualization. It is also used for discovering patterns among large volumes of data and transforming data into more polished/actionable information.

Some Features of KNIME:

  • Free and open source
  • Graphical and logically designed
  • Very rich in analytics capabilities
  • No limitations on data size, memory usage, or functionalities
  • Compatible with Windows ,OS and Linux
  • Written in Java and edited with Eclipse.

A node is the smallest design unit in KNIME and each node serves a dedicated task. KNIME contains graphical, drag-drop nodes that require no coding. Nodes are connected with one’s output being another’s input, as a workflow. Therefore end-to-end pipelines can be built requiring no coding effort. This makes KNIME stand out, makes it user-friendly and make it accessible for dummies not from a computer science background.

KNIME workflow designed for graduate admission prediction

KNIME workflow designed for graduate admission prediction

KNIME has nodes to carry out Univariate Statistics, Multivariate Statistics, Data Mining, Time Series Analysis, Image Processing, Web Analytics, Text Mining, Network Analysis and Social Media Analysis. The KNIME node repository has a node for every functionality you can possibly think of and need while building a data mining model. One can execute different algorithms such as clustering and classification on a dataset and visualize the results inside the framework itself. It is a framework capable of giving insights on data and the phenomenon that the data represent.

Some commonly used KNIME node groups include:

  • Input-Output or I/O:  Nodes in this group retrieve data from or to write data to external files or data bases.
  • Data Manipulation: Used for data pre-processing tasks. Contains nodes to filter, group, pivot, bin, normalize, aggregate, join, sample, partition, etc.
  • Views: This set of nodes permit users to inspect data and analysis results using multiple views. This gives a means for truly interactive exploration of a data set.
  • Data Mining: In this group, there are nodes that implement certain algorithms (like K-means clustering, Decision Trees, etc.)

Comparison with other tools 

The first version of the KNIME Analytics Platform was released in 2006 whereas Weka and R studio were released in 1997 and 1993 respectively. KNIME is a proper data mining tool whereas Weka and R studio are Machine Learning tools which can also do data mining. KNIME integrates with Weka to add machine learning algorithms to the system. The R project adds statistical functionalities as well. Furthermore, KNIME’s range of functions is impressive, with more than 1,000 modules and ready-made application packages. The modules can be further expanded by additional commercial features.

Simple RNN

Simple RNN: the first foothold for understanding LSTM

*In this article “Densely Connected Layers” is written as “DCL,” and “Convolutional Neural Network” as “CNN.”

In the last article, I mentioned “When it comes to the structure of RNN, many study materials try to avoid showing that RNNs are also connections of neurons, as well as DCL or CNN.” Even if you manage to understand DCL and CNN, you can be suddenly left behind once you try to understand RNN because it looks like a different field. In the second section of this article, I am going to provide a some helps for more abstract understandings of DCL/CNN , which you need when you read most other study materials.

My explanation on this simple RNN is based on a chapter in a textbook published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is also recommended in some deep learning courses of Stanford University.

First of all, you should keep it in mind that simple RNN are not useful in many cases, mainly because of vanishing/exploding gradient problem, which I am going to explain in the next article. LSTM is one major type of RNN used for tackling those problems. But without clear understanding forward/back propagation of RNN, I think many people would get stuck when they try to understand how LSTM works, especially during its back propagation stage. If you have tried climbing the mountain of understanding LSTM, but found yourself having to retreat back to the foot, I suggest that you read through this article on simple RNNs. It should help you to gain a solid foothold, and you would be ready for trying to climb the mountain again.

*This article is the second article of “A gentle introduction to the tiresome part of understanding RNN.”

1, A brief review on back propagation of DCL.

Simple RNNs are straightforward applications of DCL, but if you do not even have any ideas on DCL forward/back propagation, you will not be able to understand this article. If you more or less understand how back propagation of DCL works, you can skip this first section.

Deep learning is a part of machine learning. And most importantly, whether it is classical machine learning or deep learning, adjusting parameters is what machine learning is all about. Parameters mean elements of functions except for variants. For example when you get a very simple function f(x)=a + bx + cx^2 + dx^3, then x is a variant, and a, b, c, d are parameters. In case of classical machine learning algorithms, the number of those parameters are very limited because they were originally designed manually. Such functions for classical machine learning is useful for features found by humans, after trial and errors(feature engineering is a field of finding such effective features, manually). You adjust those parameters based on how different the outputs(estimated outcome of classification/regression) are from supervising vectors(the data prepared to show ideal answers).

In the last article I said neural networks are just mappings, whose inputs are vectors, matrices, or sequence data. In case of DCLs, inputs are vectors. Then what’s the number of parameters ? The answer depends on the the number of neurons and layers. In the example of DCL at the right side, the number of the connections of the neurons is the number of parameters(Would you like to try to count them? At least I would say “No.”). Unlike classical machine learning you no longer need to do feature engineering, but instead you need to design networks effective for each task and adjust a lot of parameters.

*I think the hype of AI comes from the fact that neural networks find features automatically. But the reality is difficulty of feature engineering was just replaced by difficulty of designing proper neural networks.

It is easy to imagine that you need an efficient way to adjust those parameters, and the method is called back propagation (or just backprop). As long as it is about DCL backprop, you can find a lot of well-made study materials on that, so I am not going to cover that topic precisely in this article series. Simply putting, during back propagation, in order to adjust parameters of a layer you need errors in the next layer. And in order calculate the errors of the next layer, you need errors in the next next layer.

*You should not think too much about what the “errors” exactly mean. Such “errors” are defined in this context, and you will see why you need them if you actually write down all the mathematical equations behind backprops of DCL.

The red arrows in the figure shows how errors of all the neurons in a layer propagate backward to a neuron in last layer. The figure shows only some sets of such errors propagating backward, but in practice you have to think about all the combinations of such red arrows in the whole back propagation(this link would give you some ideas on how DCLs work).

These points are minimum prerequisites for continuing reading this  RNN this article. But if you are planning to understand RNN forward/back propagation at  an abstract/mathematical level that you can read academic papers,  I highly recommend you to actually write down all the equations of DCL backprop. And if possible you should try to implement backprop of three-layer DCL.

2, Forward propagation of simple RNN

In fact the simple RNN which we are going to look at in this article has only three layers. From now on imagine that inputs of RNN come from the bottom and outputs go up. But RNNs have to keep information of earlier times steps during upcoming several time steps because as I mentioned in the last article RNNs are used for sequence data, the order of whose elements is important. In order to do that, information of the neurons in the middle layer of RNN propagate forward to the middle layer itself. Therefore in one time step of forward propagation of RNN, the input at the time step propagates forward as normal DCL, and the RNN gives out an output at the time step. And information of one neuron in the middle layer propagate forward to the other neurons like yellow arrows in the figure. And the information in the next neuron propagate forward to the other neurons, and this process is repeated. This is called recurrent connections of RNN.

*To be exact we are just looking at a type of recurrent connections. For example Elman RNNs have simpler recurrent connections. And recurrent connections of LSTM are more complicated.

Whether it is a simple one or not, basically RNN repeats this process of getting an input at every time step, giving out an output, and making recurrent connections to the RNN itself. But you need to keep the values of activated neurons at every time step, so virtually you need to consider the same RNNs duplicated for several time steps like the figure below. This is the idea of unfolding RNN. Depending on contexts, the whole unfolded DCLs with recurrent connections is also called an RNN.

In many situations, RNNs are simplified as below. If you have read through this article until this point, I bet you gained some better understanding of RNNs, so you should little by little get used to this more abstract, blackboxed  way of showing RNN.

You have seen that you can unfold an RNN, per time step. From now on I am going to show the simple RNN in a simpler way,  based on the MIT textbook which I recomment. The figure below shows how RNN propagate forward during two time steps (t-1), (t).

The input \boldsymbol{x}^{(t-1)}at time step(t-1) propagate forward as a normal DCL, and gives out the output \hat{\boldsymbol{y}} ^{(t)} (The notation on the \boldsymbol{y} ^{(t)} is called “hat,” and it means that the value is an estimated value. Whatever machine learning tasks you work on, the outputs of the functions are just estimations of ideal outcomes. You need to adjust parameters for better estimations. You should always be careful whether it is an actual value or an estimated value in the context of machine learning or statistics). But the most important parts are the middle layers.

*To be exact I should have drawn the middle layers as connections of two layers of neurons like the figure at the right side. But I made my figure closer to the chart in the MIT textbook, and also most other study materials show the combinations of the two neurons before/after activation as one neuron.

\boldsymbol{a}^{(t)} is just linear summations of \boldsymbol{x}^{(t)} (If you do not know what “linear summations” mean, please scroll this page a bit), and \boldsymbol{h}^{(t)} is a combination of activated values of \boldsymbol{a}^{(t)} and linear summations of \boldsymbol{h}^{(t-1)} from the last time step, with recurrent connections. The values of \boldsymbol{h}^{(t)} propagate forward in two ways. One is normal DCL forward propagation to \hat{\boldsymbol{y}} ^{(t)} and \boldsymbol{o}^{(t)}, and the other is recurrent connections to \boldsymbol{h}^{(t+1)} .

These are equations for each step of forward propagation.

  • \boldsymbol{a}^{(t)} = \boldsymbol{b} + \boldsymbol{W} \cdot \boldsymbol{h}^{(t-1)} + \boldsymbol{U} \cdot \boldsymbol{x}^{(t)}
  • \boldsymbol{h}^{(t)}= g(\boldsymbol{a}^{(t)})
  • \boldsymbol{o}^{(t)} = \boldsymbol{c} + \boldsymbol{V} \cdot \boldsymbol{h}^{(t)}
  • \hat{\boldsymbol{y}} ^{(t)} = f(\boldsymbol{o}^{(t)})

*Please forgive me for adding some mathematical equations on this article even though I pledged not to in the first article. You can skip the them, but for some people it is on the contrary more confusing if there are no equations. In case you are allergic to mathematics, I prescribed some treatments below.

*Linear summation is a type of weighted summation of some elements. Concretely, when you have a vector \boldsymbol{x}=(x_0, x_1, x_2), and weights \boldsymbol{w}=(w_0,w_1, w_2), then \boldsymbol{w}^T \cdot \boldsymbol{x} = w_0 \cdot x_0 + w_1 \cdot x_1 +w_2 \cdot x_2 is a linear summation of \boldsymbol{x}, and its weights are \boldsymbol{w}.

*When you see a product of a matrix and a vector, for example a product of \boldsymbol{W} and \boldsymbol{v}, you should clearly make an image of connections between two layers of a neural network. You can also say each element of \boldsymbol{u}} is a linear summations all the elements of \boldsymbol{v}} , and \boldsymbol{W} gives the weights for the summations.

A very important point is that you share the same parameters, in this case \boldsymbol{\theta \in \{\boldsymbol{U}, \boldsymbol{W}, \boldsymbol{b}, \boldsymbol{V}, \boldsymbol{c} \}}, at every time step. 

And you are likely to see this RNN in this blackboxed form.

3, The steps of back propagation of simple RNN

In the last article, I said “I have to say backprop of RNN, especially LSTM (a useful and mainstream type or RNN), is a monster of chain rules.” I did my best to make my PowerPoint on LSTM backprop straightforward. But looking at it again, the LSTM backprop part still looks like an electronic circuit, and it requires some patience from you to understand it. If you want to understand LSTM at a more mathematical level, understanding the flow of simple RNN backprop is indispensable, so I would like you to be patient while understanding this step (and you have to be even more patient while understanding LSTM backprop).

This might be a matter of my literacy, but explanations on RNN backprop are very frustrating for me in the points below.

  • Most explanations just show how to calculate gradients at each time step.
  • Most study materials are visually very poor.
  • Most explanations just emphasize that “errors are back propagating through time,” using tons of arrows, but they lack concrete instructions on how actually you renew parameters with those errors.

If you can relate to the feelings I mentioned above, the instructions from now on could somewhat help you. And I am going to share some study materials on simple RNNs in an external link so that you can gain a clear and mathematical understanding on how simple RNNs work.

Backprop of RNN , as long as you are thinking about simple RNNs, is not so different from that of DCLs. But you have to be careful about the meaning of errors in the context of RNN backprop. Back propagation through time (BPTT) is one of the major methods for RNN backprop, and I am sure most textbooks explain BPTT. But most study materials just emphasize that you need errors from all the time steps, and I think that is very misleading and confusing.

You need all the gradients to adjust parameters, but you do not necessarily need all the errors to calculate those gradients. Gradients in the context of machine learning mean partial derivatives of error functions (in this case J) with respect to certain parameters, and mathematically a gradient of J with respect to \boldsymbol{\theta \in \{\boldsymbol{U}, \boldsymbol{W}, \boldsymbol{b}^{(t)}, \boldsymbol{V}, \boldsymbol{c} \}}is denoted as ( \frac{\partial J}{\partial \boldsymbol{\theta}}  ). And another confusing point in many textbooks, including the MIT one, is that they give an impression that parameters depend on time steps. For example some study materials use notations like \frac{\partial J}{\partial \boldsymbol{\theta}^{(t)}}, and I think this gives an impression that this is a gradient with respect to the parameters at time step (t). In my opinion this gradient rather should be written as ( \frac{\partial J}{\partial \boldsymbol{\theta}} )^{(t)} . But many study materials denote gradients of those errors in the former way, so from now on let me use the notations which you can see in the figures in this article.

In order to calculate the gradient \frac{\partial J}{\partial \boldsymbol{x}^{(t)}} you need errors from time steps s (s \geq t) \quad (as you can see in the figure, in order to calculate a gradient in a colored frame, you need all the errors in the same color).

*Another confusing point is that the \frac{\partial J}{\partial \boldsymbol{\ast ^{(t)}}}, \boldsymbol{\ast} \in \{\boldsymbol{a}^{(t)}, \boldsymbol{h}^{(t)}, \boldsymbol{o}^{(t)}, \dots \} are correct notations, because \boldsymbol{\ast} are values of neurons after forward propagation. They depend on time steps, and these are very values which I have been calling “errors.” That is why parameters do not depend on time steps, whereas errors depend on time steps.

As I mentioned before, you share the same parameters at every time step. Again, please do not assume that parameters are different from time step to time step. It is gradients/errors (you need errors to calculate gradients) which depend on time step. And after calculating errors at every time step, you can finally adjust parameters one time, and that’s why this is called “back propagation through time.” (It is easy to imagine that this method can be very inefficient. If the input is the whole text on a Wikipedia link, you need to input all the sentences in the Wikipedia text to renew parameters one time. To solve this problem there is a backprop method named “truncated BPTT,” with which you renew parameters based on a part of a text. )

And after calculating those gradients \frac{\partial J}{\partial \boldsymbol{\theta}^{(t)}} you can take a summation of them: \frac{\partial J}{\partial \boldsymbol{\theta}}=\sum_{t=0}^{t=\tau}{\frac{\partial J}{\partial \boldsymbol{\theta}^{(t)}}}. With this gradient \frac{\partial J}{\partial \boldsymbol{\theta}} , you can finally renew the value of \boldsymbol{\theta} one time.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that simple RNNs are no longer for practical uses, and that comes from exploding/vanishing problem of RNN. This problem was one of the reasons for the AI winter which lasted for some 20 years. In the next article I am going to write about LSTM, a fancier type of RNN, in the context of a history of neural network history.

* I make study materials on machine learning, sponsored by DATANOMIQ. I do my best to make my content as straightforward but as precise as possible. I include all of my reference sources. If you notice any mistakes in my materials, including grammatical errors, please let me know (email: yasuto.tamura@datanomiq.de). And if you have any advice for making my materials more understandable to learners, I would appreciate hearing it.

Severity of lockdowns and how they are reflected in mobility data

The global spread of the SARS-CoV-2 at the beginning of March 2020 forced majority of countries to introduce measures to contain the virus. The governments found themselves facing a very difficult tradeoff between limiting the spread of the virus and bearing potentially catastrophic economical costs of a lockdown. Notably, considering the level of globalization today, the response of countries varied a lot in severity and response latency. In the overwhelming amount of media and social media information feed a lot of misinformation and anecdotal evidence surfaced and remained in people’s mind. In this article, I try to have a more systematic view on the topics of severity of response from governments and change in people’s mobility due to the pandemic.

I want to look at several countries with different approach to restraining the spread of the virus. I will look at governmental regulations, when, and how they were introduced. For that I am referring to an index called Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT)[1]. The OxCGRT follows, records, and rates the actions taken by governments, that are available publicly. However, looking just at the regulations and taking them for granted does not provide that we have the whole picture. Therefore, equally interesting is the investigation of how the recommended levels of self-isolation and social distancing is reflected in the mobility data and we will look at it first.

The mobility dataset

The mobility data used in this article was collected by Google and made freely accessible[2]. The data reflects how the number of visits and their length changed as compared to a baseline from before the pandemic. The baseline is the median value for the corresponding day of the week in the period from 3.01.2020 – 6.02.2020. The dataset contains data in six categories. Here we look at only 4 of them: public transport stations, places of residence, workplaces, and retail/recreation (including shopping centers, libraries, gastronomy, culture). The analysis intentionally omits parks (public beaches, gardens etc.) and grocery/pharmacy category. Mobility in parks is excluded due to huge weather change confound. The baseline was created in winter and increased/decreased (depending on the hemisphere) activity in parks is expected as the weather changes. It would be difficult to detangle tis change from the change caused by the pandemic without referring to a different baseline. The grocery shops and pharmacies are excluded because the measures regarding the shopping were very similar across the countries.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic a lot of anecdotal information surfaced, that some countries, like Sweden, acted completely against the current by not introducing a lockdown. It was reported that there were absolutely no restrictions and Sweden can be basically treated as a control group for comparing the different approaches to lockdown on the spread of the coronavirus. Looking at the mobility data (below), we can see however, that there was a change in the mobility of Swedish citizens in comparison to the baseline.

Fig. 1 Moving average (+/- 6 days) of the mobility data in Sweden in four categories.

Fig. 1 Moving average (+/- 6 days) of the mobility data in Sweden in four categories.

Looking at the change in mobility in Sweden, we can see that the change in the residential areas is small, but it is indicating some change in behavior. A change in the retail and recreational sector is more noticeable. Most interestingly it is approaching the baseline levels at the beginning of June. The most substantial changes, however, are in the workplaces and transit categories. They are also much slower to come back to the baseline, although a trend in that direction starts to be visible.

Next, let us have a look at the change in mobility in selected countries, separately for each category. Here, I compare Germany, Sweden, Italy, and New Zealand. (To see the mobility data for other countries visit https://covid19.datanomiq.de/#section-mobility).

Fig. 2 Moving average (+/- 6 days) of the mobility data.

Fig. 2 Moving average (+/- 6 days) of the mobility data.

Looking at the data, we can see that the change in mobility in Germany and Sweden was somewhat similar in orders of magnitude, in comparison to changes in mobility in countries like Italy and New Zealand. Without a doubt, the behavior in Sweden changed the least from the baseline in all the categories. Nevertheless, claiming that people’s reaction to the pandemic in Sweden in Germany were polar opposites is not necessarily correct. The biggest discrepancy between Sweden and Germany is in the retail and recreation sector out of all categories presented. The changes in Italy and New Zealand reached very comparable levels, but in New Zealand they seem to be much more dynamic, especially in approaching the baseline levels again.

The government response dataset

Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker records regulations from number of countries, rates them and categorizes into a few indices. The number between 1 and 100 reflects the level of the action taken by a government. Here, I focus on the Containment and Health sub-index that includes 11 indicators from categories: containment and closure policies and health system policies[3]. The actions included in the index are for example: school and workplace closing, restrictions on public events, travel restrictions, public information campaigns, testing policy and contact tracing.

Below, we look at a plot with the Containment and Health sub-index value for the four aforementioned countries. Data and documentation is available here[4]

Fig. 3 Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, the Containment and Health sub-index.

Fig. 3 Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, the Containment and Health sub-index.

Here the difference between Sweden and the other countries that we are looking at becomes more apparent. Nevertheless, the Swedish government did take some measures in order to condemn the spread of the SARS-CoV-2. At the highest, the index reached value 45 points in Sweden, 73 in Germany, 92 in Italy and 94 in New Zealand. In all these countries except for Sweden the index started dropping again, while the drop is the most dynamic in New Zealand and the index has basically reached the level of Sweden.

Conclusions

As we have hopefully seen, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic from governments differed substantially, as well as the resulting change in mobility behavior of the inhabitants did. However, the discrepancies were probably not as big as reported in the media.

The overwhelming presence of the social media could have blown some of the mentioned differences out of proportion. For example, the discrepancy in the mobility behavior between Sweden and Germany was biggest in recreation sector, that involves cafes, restaurants, cultural resorts, and shopping centers. It is possible, that those activities were the ones that people in lockdown missed the most. Looking at Swedes, who were participating in them it was easy to extrapolate on the overall landscape of the response to the virus in the country.

It is very hard to say which of the world country’s approach will bring the best effects for the people’s well-being and the economies. The ongoing pandemic will remain a topic of extensive research for many years to come. We will (most probably) eventually find out which approach to the lockdown was the most optimal (or at least come close to finding out). For the time being, it is however important to remember that there are many factors in play and looking into one type of data might be misleading. Comparing countries with different history, weather, political and economic climate, or population density might be misleading as well. But it is still more insightful than not looking into the data at all.

[1] Hale, Thomas, Sam Webster, Anna Petherick, Toby Phillips, and Beatriz Kira (2020). Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, Blavatnik School of Government. Data use policy: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY standard.

[2] Google LLC “Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports”. https://www.google.com/covid19/mobility/ retrived: 04.06.2020

[3] See documentation https://github.com/OxCGRT/covid-policy-tracker/tree/master/documentation

[4] https://github.com/OxCGRT/covid-policy-tracker  retrieved on 04.06.2020

Simple RNN

Prerequisites for understanding RNN at a more mathematical level

Writing the A gentle introduction to the tiresome part of understanding RNN Article Series on recurrent neural network (RNN) is nothing like a creative or ingenious idea. It is quite an ordinary topic. But still I am going to write my own new article on this ordinary topic because I have been frustrated by lack of sufficient explanations on RNN for slow learners like me.

I think many of readers of articles on this website at least know that RNN is a type of neural network used for AI tasks, such as time series prediction, machine translation, and voice recognition. But if you do not understand how RNNs work, especially during its back propagation, this blog series is for you.

After reading this articles series, I think you will be able to understand RNN in more mathematical and abstract ways. But in case some of the readers are allergic or intolerant to mathematics, I tried to use as little mathematics as possible.

Ideal prerequisite knowledge:

  • Some understanding on densely connected layers (or fully connected layers, multilayer perception) and how their forward/back propagation work.
  •  Some understanding on structure of Convolutional Neural Network.

*In this article “Densely Connected Layers” is written as “DCL,” and “Convolutional Neural Network” as “CNN.”

1, Difficulty of Understanding RNN

I bet a part of difficulty of understanding RNN comes from the variety of its structures. If you search “recurrent neural network” on Google Image or something, you will see what I mean. But that cannot be helped because RNN enables a variety of tasks.

Another major difficulty of understanding RNN is understanding its back propagation algorithm. I think some of you found it hard to understand chain rules in calculating back propagation of densely connected layers, where you have to make the most of linear algebra. And I have to say backprop of RNN, especially LSTM, is a monster of chain rules. I am planing to upload not only a blog post on RNN backprop, but also a presentation slides with animations to make it more understandable, in some external links.

In order to avoid such confusions, I am going to introduce a very simplified type of RNN, which I call a “simple RNN.” The RNN displayed as the head image of this article is a simple RNN.

2, How Neurons are Connected

    \begin{equation*}   1 = 3 - 2 \end{equation*}

How to connect neurons and how to activate them is what neural networks are all about. Structures of those neurons are easy to grasp as long as that is about DCL or CNN. But when it comes to the structure of RNN, many study materials try to avoid showing that RNNs are also connections of neurons, as well as DCL or CNN(*If you are not sure how neurons are connected in CNN, this link should be helpful. Draw a random digit in the square at the corner.). In fact the structure of RNN is also the same, and as long as it is a simple RNN, and it is not hard to visualize its structure.

Even though RNN is also connections of neurons, usually most RNN charts are simplified, using blackboxes. In case of simple RNN, most study material would display it as the chart below.

But that also cannot be helped because fancier RNN have more complicated connections of neurons, and there are no longer advantages of displaying RNN as connections of neurons, and you would need to understand RNN in more abstract way, I mean, as you see in most of textbooks.

I am going to explain details of simple RNN in the next article of this series.

3, Neural Networks as Mappings

If you still think that neural networks are something like magical spider webs or models of brain tissues, forget that. They are just ordinary mappings.

If you have been allergic to mathematics in your life, you might have never heard of the word “mapping.” If so, at least please keep it in mind that the equation y=f(x), which most people would have seen in compulsory education, is a part of mapping. If you get a value x, you get a value y corresponding to the x.

But in case of deep learning, x is a vector or a tensor, and it is denoted with \boldsymbol{x} . If you have never studied linear algebra , imagine that a vector is a column of Excel data (only one column), a matrix is a sheet of Excel data (with some rows and columns), and a tensor is some sheets of Excel data (each sheet does not necessarily contain only one column.)

CNNs are mainly used for image processing, so their inputs are usually image data. Image data are in many cases (3, hight, width) tensors because usually an image has red, blue, green channels, and the image in each channel can be expressed as a hight*width matrix (the “height” and the “width” are number of pixels, so they are discrete numbers).

The convolutional part of CNN (which I call “feature extraction part”) maps the tensors to a vector, and the last part is usually DCL, which works as classifier/regressor. At the end of the feature extraction part, you get a vector. I call it a “semantic vector” because the vector has information of “meaning” of the input image. In this link you can see maps of pictures plotted depending on the semantic vector. You can see that even if the pictures are not necessarily close pixelwise, they are close in terms of the “meanings” of the images.

In the example of a dog/cat classifier introduced by François Chollet, the developer of Keras, the CNN maps (3, 150, 150) tensors to 2-dimensional vectors, (1, 0) or (0, 1) for (dog, cat).

Wrapping up the points above, at least you should keep two points in mind: first, DCL is a classifier or a regressor, and CNN is a feature extractor used for image processing. And another important thing is, feature extraction parts of CNNs map images to vectors which are more related to the “meaning” of the image.

Importantly, I would like you to understand RNN this way. An RNN is also just a mapping.

*I recommend you to at least take a look at the beautiful pictures in this link. These pictures give you some insight into how CNN perceive images.

4, Problems of DCL and CNN, and needs for RNN

Taking an example of RNN task should be helpful for this topic. Probably machine translation is the most famous application of RNN, and it is also a good example of showing why DCL and CNN are not proper for some tasks. Its algorithms is out of the scope of this article series, but it would give you a good insight of some features of RNN. I prepared three sentences in German, English, and Japanese, which have the same meaning. Assume that each sentence is divided into some parts as shown below and that each vector corresponds to each part. In machine translation we want to convert a set of the vectors into another set of vectors.

Then let’s see why DCL and CNN are not proper for such task.

  • The input size is fixed: In case of the dog/cat classifier I have mentioned, even though the sizes of the input images varies, they were first molded into (3, 150, 150) tensors. But in machine translation, usually the length of the input is supposed to be flexible.
  • The order of inputs does not mater: In case of the dog/cat classifier the last section, even if the input is “cat,” “cat,” “dog” or “dog,” “cat,” “cat” there’s no difference. And in case of DCL, the network is symmetric, so even if you shuffle inputs, as long as you shuffle all of the input data in the same way, the DCL give out the same outcome . And if you have learned at least one foreign language, it is easy to imagine that the orders of vectors in sequence data matter in machine translation.

*It is said English language has phrase structure grammar, on the other hand Japanese language has dependency grammar. In English, the orders of words are important, but in Japanese as long as the particles and conjugations are correct, the orders of words are very flexible. In my impression, German grammar is between them. As long as you put the verb at the second position and the cases of the words are correct, the orders are also relatively flexible.

5, Sequence Data

We can say DCL and CNN are not useful when you want to process sequence data. Sequence data are a type of data which are lists of vectors. And importantly, the orders of the vectors matter. The number of vectors in sequence data is usually called time steps. A simple example of sequence data is meteorological data measured at a spot every ten minutes, for instance temperature, air pressure, wind velocity, humidity. In this case the data is recorded as 4-dimensional vector every ten minutes.

But this “time step” does not necessarily mean “time.” In case of natural language processing (including machine translation), which you I mentioned in the last section, the numberings of each vector denoting each part of sentences are “time steps.”

And RNNs are mappings from a sequence data to another sequence data.

*At least I found a paper on the RNN’s capability of universal approximation on many-to-one RNN task. But I have not found any papers on universal approximation of many-to-many RNN tasks. Please let me know if you find any clue on whether such approximation is possible. I am desperate to know that. 

6, Types of RNN Tasks

RNN tasks can be classified into some types depending on the lengths of input/output sequences (the “length” means the times steps of input/output sequence data).

If you want to predict the temperature in 24 hours, based on several time series data points in the last 96 hours, the task is many-to-one. If you sample data every ten minutes, the input size is 96*6=574 (the input data is a list of 574 vectors), and the output size is 1 (which is a value of temperature). Another example of many-to-one task is sentiment classification. If you want to judge whether a post on SNS is positive or negative, the input size is very flexible (the length of the post varies.) But the output size is one, which is (1, 0) or (0, 1), which denotes (positive, negative).

*The charts in this section are simplified model of RNN used for each task. Please keep it in mind that they are not 100% correct, but I tried to make them as exact as possible compared to those in other study materials.

Music/text generation can be one-to-many tasks. If you give the first sound/word you can generate a phrase.

Next, let’s look at many-to-many tasks. Machine translation and voice recognition are likely to be major examples of many-to-many tasks, but here name entity recognition seems to be a proper choice. Name entity recognition is task of finding proper noun in a sentence . For example if you got two sentences “He said, ‘Teddy bears on sale!’ ” and ‘He said, “Teddy Roosevelt was a great president!” ‘ judging whether the “Teddy” is a proper noun or a normal noun is name entity recognition.

Machine translation and voice recognition, which are more popular, are also many-to-many tasks, but they use more sophisticated models. In case of machine translation, the inputs are sentences in the original language, and the outputs are sentences in another language. When it comes to voice recognition, the input is data of air pressure at several time steps, and the output is the recognized word or sentence. Again, these are out of the scope of this article but I would like to introduce the models briefly.

Machine translation uses a type of RNN named sequence-to-sequence model (which is often called seq2seq model). This model is also very important for other natural language processes tasks in general, such as text summarization. A seq2seq model is divided into the encoder part and the decoder part. The encoder gives out a hidden state vector and it used as the input of the decoder part. And decoder part generates texts, using the output of the last time step as the input of next time step.

Voice recognition is also a famous application of RNN, but it also needs a special type of RNN.

*To be honest, I don’t know what is the state-of-the-art voice recognition algorithm. The example in this article is a combination of RNN and a collapsing function made using Connectionist Temporal Classification (CTC). In this model, the output of RNN is much longer than the recorded words or sentences, so a collapsing function reduces the output into next output with normal length.

You might have noticed that RNNs in the charts above are connected in both directions. Depending on the RNN tasks you need such bidirectional RNNs.  I think it is also easy to imagine that such networks are necessary. Again, machine translation is a good example.

And interestingly, image captioning, which enables a computer to describe a picture, is one-to-many-task. As the output is a sentence, it is easy to imagine that the output is “many.” If it is a one-to-many task, the input is supposed to be a vector.

Where does the input come from? I told you that I was obsessed with the beauty of the last vector of the feature extraction part of CNN. Surprisingly the the “beautiful” vector, which I call a “semantic vector” is the input of image captioning task (after some transformations, depending on the network models).

I think this articles includes major things you need to know as prerequisites when you want to understand RNN at more mathematical level. In the next article, I would like to explain the structure of a simple RNN, and how it forward propagate.

* I make study materials on machine learning, sponsored by DATANOMIQ. I do my best to make my content as straightforward but as precise as possible. I include all of my reference sources. If you notice any mistakes in my materials, please let me know (email: yasuto.tamura@datanomiq.de). And if you have any advice for making my materials more understandable to learners, I would appreciate hearing it.

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.


Read this article in German:
“Sechs Eigenschaften einer modernen Business Intelligence“


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 – 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.

How Important is Customer Lifetime Value?

This is the third article of article series Getting started with the top eCommerce use cases. If you are interested in reading the first article you can find it here.

Customer Lifetime Value

Many researches have shown that cost for acquiring a new customer is higher than the cost of retention of an existing customer which makes Customer Lifetime Value (CLV or LTV) one of the most important KPI’s. Marketing is about building a relationship with your customer and quality service matters a lot when it comes to customer retention. CLV is a metric which determines the total amount of money a customer is expected to spend in your business.

CLV allows marketing department of the company to understand how much money a customer is going  to spend over their  life cycle which helps them to determine on how much the company should spend to acquire each customer. Using CLV a company can better understand their customer and come up with different strategies either to retain their existing customers by sending them personalized email, discount voucher, provide them with better customer service etc. This will help a company to narrow their focus on acquiring similar customers by applying customer segmentation or look alike modeling.

One of the main focus of every company is Growth in this competitive eCommerce market today and price is not the only factor when a customer makes a decision. CLV is a metric which revolves around a customer and helps to retain valuable customers, increase revenue from less valuable customers and improve overall customer experience. Don’t look at CLV as just one metric but the journey to calculate this metric involves answering some really important questions which can be crucial for the business. Metrics and questions like:

  1. Number of sales
  2. Average number of times a customer buys
  3. Full Customer journey
  4. How many marketing channels were involved in one purchase?
  5. When the purchase was made?
  6. Customer retention rate
  7. Marketing cost
  8. Cost of acquiring a new customer

and so on are somehow associated with the calculation of CLV and exploring these questions can be quite insightful. Lately, a lot of companies have started to use this metric and shift their focuses in order to make more profit. Amazon is the perfect example for this, in 2013, a study by Consumers Intelligence Research Partners found out that prime members spends more than a non-prime member. So Amazon started focusing on Prime members to increase their profit over the past few years. The whole article can be found here.

How to calculate CLV?

There are several methods to calculate CLV and few of them are listed below.

Method 1: By calculating average revenue per customer

 

Figure 1: Using average revenue per customer

 

Let’s suppose three customers brought 745€ as profit to a company over a period of 2 months then:

CLV (2 months) = Total Profit over a period of time / Number of Customers over a period of time

CLV (2 months) = 745 / 3 = 248 €

Now the company can use this to calculate CLV for an year however, this is a naive approach and works only if the preferences of the customer are same for the same period of time. So let’s explore other approaches.

Method 2

This method requires to first calculate KPI’s like retention rate and discount rate.

 

CLV = Gross margin per lifespan ( Retention rate per month / 1 + Discount rate – Retention rate per month)

Where

Retention rate = Customer at the end of the month – Customer during the month / Customer at the beginning of the month ) * 100

Method 3

This method will allow us to look at other metrics also and can be calculated in following steps:

  1. Calculate average number of transactions per month (T)
  2. Calculate average order value (OV)
  3. Calculate average gross margin (GM)
  4. Calculate customer lifespan in months (ALS)

After calculating these metrics CLV can be calculated as:

 

CLV = T*OV*GM*ALS / No. of Clients for the period

where

Transactions (T) = Total transactions / Period

Average order value (OV) = Total revenue / Total orders

Gross margin (GM) = (Total revenue – Cost of sales/ Total revenue) * 100 [but how you calculate cost of sales is debatable]

Customer lifespan in months (ALS) = 1 / Churn Rate %

 

CLV can be calculated using any of the above mentioned methods depending upon how robust your company wants the analysis to be. Some companies are also using Machine learning models to predict CLV, maybe not directly but they use ML models to predict customer churn rate, retention rate and other marketing KPI’s. Some companies take advantage of all the methods by taking an average at the end.

5 Applications for Location-Based Data in 2020

Location-based data enables giving people relevant information based on where they are at any given moment. Here are five location data applications to look for in 2020 and beyond. 

1. Increasing Sales and Reducing Frustration

One 2019 report indicated that 89% of the marketers who used geo data saw increased sales within their customer bases. Sometimes, the ideal way to boost sales is to convert what would be a frustration into something positive. 

A French campaign associated with the Actimel yogurt brand achieved this by sending targeted, encouraging messages to drivers who used the Waze navigation app and appeared to have made a wrong turn or got caught in traffic. 

For example, a driver might get a message that said, “Instead of getting mad and honking your horn, pump up the jams! #StayStrong.” The three-month campaign saw a 140% increase in ad recall. 

More recently, home furnishing brand IKEA launched a campaign in Dubai where people can get free stuff for making a long trip to a store. The freebies get more valuable as a person’s commute time increases. The catch is that participants have to activate location settings on their phones and enable Google Maps. Driving five minutes to a store got a person a free veggie hot dog, and they’d get a complimentary table for traveling 49 minutes. 

2. Offering Tailored Ad Targeting in Medical Offices

Pharmaceutical companies are starting to rely on companies that send targeted ads to patients connected to the Wi-Fi in doctors’ offices. One such provider is Semcasting. A recent effort involved sending ads to cardiology offices for a type of drug that lowers cholesterol levels in the blood. 

The company has taken a similar approach for an over-the-counter pediatric drug and a medication to relieve migraine headaches, among others. Such initiatives cause a 10% boost in the halo effect, plus a 1.5% uptick in sales. The first perk relates to the favoritism that people feel towards other products a company makes once they like one of them.

However, location data applications related to health care arguably require special attention regarding privacy. Patients may feel uneasy if they believe that companies are watching them and know they need a particular kind of medical treatment. 

3. Facilitating the Deployment of the 5G Network

The 5G network is coming soon, and network operators are working hard to roll it out. Statistics indicate that the 5G infrastructure investment will total $275 billion over seven years. Geodata can help network brands decide where to deploy 5G connectivity first.

Moreover, once a company offers 5G in an area, marketing teams can use location data to determine which neighborhoods to target when contacting potential customers. Most companies that currently have 5G within their product lineups have carefully chosen which areas are at the top of the list to receive 5G, and that practice will continue throughout 2020. 

It’s easy to envision a scenario whereby people can send error reports to 5G providers by using location data. For example, a company could say that having location data collection enabled on a 5G-powered smartphone allows a technician to determine if there’s a persistent problem with coverage.

Since the 5G network is still, it’s impossible to predict all the ways that a telecommunications operator might use location data to make their installations maximally profitable. However, the potential is there for forward-thinking brands to seize. 

4. Helping People Know About the Events in Their Areas

SoundHound, Inc. and Wcities recently announced a partnership that will rely on location-based data to keep people in the loop about upcoming local events. People can use a conversational intelligence platform that has information about more than 20,000 cities around the world. 

Users also don’t need to mention their locations in voice queries. They could say, for example, “Which bands are playing downtown tonight?” or “Can you give me some events happening on the east side tomorrow?” They can also ask something associated with a longer timespan, such as “Are there any wine festivals happening this month?”

People can say follow-up commands, too. They might ask what the weather forecast is after hearing about an outdoor event they want to attend. The system also supports booking an Uber, letting people get to the happening without hassles. 

5. Using Location-Based Data for Matchmaking

In honor of Valentine’s Day 2020, students from more than two dozen U.S colleges signed up for a matchmaking opportunity. It, at least in part, uses their location data to work. 

Participants answer school-specific questions, and their responses help them find a friend or something more. The platform uses algorithms to connect people with like-minded individuals. 

However, the company that provides the service can also give a breakdown of which residence halls have the most people taking part, or whether people generally live off-campus. This example is not the first time a university used location data by any means, but it’s different from the usual approach. 

Location Data Applications Abound

These five examples show there are no limits to how a company might use location data. However, they must do so with care, protecting user privacy while maintaining a high level of data quality. 

Integrate Unstructured Data into Your Enterprise to Drive Actionable Insights

In an ideal world, all enterprise data is structured – classified neatly into columns, rows, and tables, easily integrated and shared across the organization.

The reality is far from it! Datamation estimates that unstructured data accounts for more than 80% of enterprise data, and it is growing at a rate of 55 – 65 percent annually. This includes information stored in images, emails, spreadsheets, etc., that cannot fit into databases.

Therefore, it becomes imperative for a data-driven organization to leverage their non-traditional information assets to derive business value. We have outlined a simple 3-step process that can help organizations integrate unstructured sources into their data eco-system:

1. Determine the Challenge

The primary step is narrowing down the challenges you want to solve through the unstructured data flowing in and out of your organization. Financial organizations, for instance, use call reports, sales notes, or other text documents to get real-time insights from the data and make decisions based on the trends. Marketers make use of social media data to evaluate their customers’ needs and shape their marketing strategy.

Figuring out which process your organization is trying to optimize through unstructured data can help you reach your goal faster.

2. Map Out the Unstructured Data Sources Within the Enterprise

An actionable plan starts with identifying the range of data sources that are essential to creating a truly integrated environment. This enables organizations to align the sources with business objectives and streamline their data initiatives.

Deciding which data should be extracted, analyzed, and stored should be a primary concern in this regard. Even if you can ingest data from any source, it doesn’t mean that you should.

Collecting a large volume of unstructured data is not enough to generate insights. It needs to be properly organized and validated for quality before integration. Full, incremental, online, and offline extraction methods are generally used to mine valuable information from unstructured data sources.

3. Transform Unstructured Assets into Decision-Ready Insights

Now that you have all the puzzle pieces, the next step is to create a complete picture. This may require making changes in your organization’s infrastructure to derive meaning from your unstructured assets and get a 360-degree business view.

IDC recommends creating a company culture that promotes the collection, use, and sharing of both unstructured and structured business assets. Therefore, finding an enterprise-grade integration solution that offers enhanced connectivity to a range of data sources, ideally structured, unstructured, and semi-structured, can help organizations generate the most value out of their data assets.

Automation is another feature that can help speed up integration processes, minimize error probability, and generate time-and-cost savings. Features like job scheduling, auto-mapping, and workflow automation can optimize the process of extracting information from XML, JSON, Excel or audio files, and storing it into a relational database or generating insights.

The push to become a data-forward organization has enterprises re-evaluating the way to leverage unstructured data assets for decision-making. With an actionable plan in place to integrate these sources with the rest of the data, organizations can take advantage of the opportunities offered by analytics and stand out from the competition.

Introduction to Recommendation Engines

This is the second article of article series Getting started with the top eCommerce use cases. If you are interested in reading the first article you can find it here.

What are Recommendation Engines?

Recommendation engines are the automated systems which helps select out similar things whenever a user selects something online. Be it Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, Facebook or YouTube etc. All of these companies are now using some sort of recommendation engine to improve their user experience. A recommendation engine not only helps to predict if a user prefers an item or not but also helps to increase sales, ,helps to understand customer behavior, increase number of registered users and helps a user to do better time management. For instance Netflix will suggest what movie you would want to watch or Amazon will suggest what kind of other products you might want to buy. All the mentioned platforms operates using the same basic algorithm in the background and in this article we are going to discuss the idea behind it.

What are the techniques?

There are two fundamental algorithms that comes into play when there’s a need to generate recommendations. In next section these techniques are discussed in detail.

Content-Based Filtering

The idea behind content based filtering is to analyse a set of features which will provide a similarity between items themselves i.e. between two movies, two products or two songs etc. These set of features once compared gives a similarity score at the end which can be used as a reference for the recommendations.

There are several steps involved to get to this similarity score and the first step is to construct a profile for each item by representing some of the important features of that item. In other terms, this steps requires to define a set of characteristics that are discovered easily. For instance, consider that there’s an article which a user has already read and once you know that this user likes this article you may want to show him recommendations of similar articles. Now, using content based filtering technique you could find the similar articles. The easiest way to do that is to set some features for this article like publisher, genre, author etc. Based on these features similar articles can be recommended to the user (as illustrated in Figure 1). There are three main similarity measures one could use to find the similar articles mentioned below.

 

Figure 1: Content-Based Filtering

 

 

Minkowski distance

Minkowski distance between two variables can be calculated as:

(x,y)= (\sum_{i=1}^{n}{|X_{i} - Y_{i}|^{p}})^{1/p}

 

Cosine Similarity

Cosine similarity between two variables can be calculated as :

  \mbox{Cosine Similarity} = \frac{\sum_{i=1}^{n}{x_{i} y_{i}}} {\sqrt{\sum_{i=1}^{n}{x_{i}^{2}}} \sqrt{\sum_{i=1}^{n}{y_{i}^{2}}}} \

 

Jaccard Similarity

 

  J(X,Y) = |X ∩ Y| / |X ∪ Y|

 

These measures can be used to create a matrix which will give you the similarity between each movie and then a function can be defined to return the top 10 similar articles.

 

Collaborative filtering

This filtering method focuses on finding how similar two users or two products are by analyzing user behavior or preferences rather than focusing on the content of the items. For instance consider that there are three users A,B and C.  We want to recommend some movies to user A, our first approach would be to find similar users and compare which movies user A has not yet watched and recommend those movies to user A.  This approach where we try to find similar users is called as User-User Collaborative Filtering.  

The other approach that could be used here is when you try to find similar movies based on the ratings given by others, this type is called as Item-Item Collaborative Filtering. The research shows that item-item collaborative filtering works better than user-user collaborative filtering as user behavior is really dynamic and changes over time. Also, there are a lot more users and increasing everyday but on the other side item characteristics remains the same. To calculate the similarities we can use Cosine distance.

 

Figure 2: Collaborative Filtering

 

Recently some companies have started to take advantage of both content based and collaborative filtering techniques to make a hybrid recommendation engine. The results from both models are combined into one hybrid model which provides more accurate recommendations. Five steps are involved to make a recommendation engine work which are collection of data, storing of data, analyzing the data, filtering the data and providing recommendations. There are a lot of attributes that are involved in order to collect user data including browsing history, page views, search logs, order history, marketing channel touch points etc. which requires a strong data architecture.  The collection of data is pretty straightforward but it can be overwhelming to analyze this amount of data. Storing this data could get tricky on the other hand as you need a scalable database for this kind of data. With the rise of graph databases this area is also improving for many use cases including recommendation engines. Graph databases like Neo4j can also help to analyze and find similar users and relationship among them. Analyzing the data can be carried in different ways, depending on how strong and scalable your architecture you can run real time, batch or near real time analysis. The fourth step involves the filtering of the data and here you can use any of the above mentioned approach to find similarities to finally provide the recommendations.

Having a good recommendation engine can be time consuming initially but it is definitely beneficial in the longer run. It not only helps to generate revenue but also helps to to improve your product catalog and customer service.