The July 10 article in the New York Times, Digital Eyes Will Chart Baseball’s Unseen Skills, jumped out at me as a sterling and illustrative example of what IBMers mean when we talk about “new intelligence” – and why business analytics has become one of the key fronts where such novel insight can change how businesses operate. The story describes how new sensing technology can enrich the statistics-driven model of baseball management called sabermetrics:
“A new camera and software system in its final testing phases will record the exact speed and location of the ball and every player on the field, allowing the most digitized of sports to be overrun anew by hundreds of innovative statistics that will rate players more accurately, almost certainly affect their compensation and perhaps alter how the game itself is played.
Which shortstops reach the hard-hit grounders up the middle? Which base runners take the fastest path from first base to third? Which right fielders charge the ball quickest and then throw the ball hardest and most.” accurately?”
Quite simply, Business Analytics & Optimization extends this sort of data-intensive approach to how companies can measure and monitor — increasingly in realtime — all aspects of their performance and processes : marketing campaigns, supply chain efficiencies, workforce effectiveness, product development and management cycles, environmental sustainability, you name it.
In short, smarter analytics for businesses and organizations is a matter of being able to continuously know what’s going on — to know more and even phenomenon that weren’t accessible before — and to be able to act on these streams of knowledge for new kinds of benefits….faster decisions or adjustments to changing circumstances; better forecasts, predictions and simulations; new ways to compare complex variables of data (weather, buying patterns, geolocation) ; unprecedented ability to find patterns or isolate significant facts or information in very large data sets.
One breakthrough that will support these emerging capabilities is stream computing, which is the product of five years of work from IBM Research. It essentially entails being able to process complex data, literally on the fly, rather than requiring information to be first captured in a database, organized and then analyzed.
I like to think of it as the ability not just to find a needle in the haystack, but to find small pieces of a needle scattering over hundreds of thousands of haystacks. Oh, and the haystacks are flying by on the cars of a bullet train.
To bring this train of thought back full circle to baseball, smarter analytics promises to be a game changer, not just for America’s pasttime, but for all the ways we work.
For more on the baseball, business and analytics, check out this interview:
Tom Davenport, author of Competing on Analytics and Bill Pulleyblank from IBM’s Center for Business Optimization discuss sabermetrics.