Interview Ajay Ohri Decisionstats.com with DMR

From-

http://www.dataminingblog.com/data-mining-research-interview-ajay-ohri/

Here is the winner of the Data Mining Research People Award 2010: Ajay Ohri! Thanks to Ajay for giving some time to answer Data Mining Research questions. And all the best to his blog, Decision Stat!

Data Mining Research (DMR): Could you please introduce yourself to the readers of Data Mining Research?

Ajay Ohri (AO): I am a business consultant and writer based out of Delhi- India. I have been working in and around the field of business analytics since 2004, and have worked with some very good and big companies primarily in financial analytics and outsourced analytics. Since 2007, I have been writing my blog at http://decisionstats.com which now has almost 10,000 views monthly.

All in all, I wrote about data, and my hobby is also writing (poetry). Both my hobby and my profession stem from my education ( a masters in business, and a bachelors in mechanical engineering).

My research interests in data mining are interfaces (simpler interfaces to enable better data mining), education (making data mining less complex and accessible to more people and students), and time series and regression (specifically ARIMAX)
In business my research interests software marketing strategies (open source, Software as a service, advertising supported versus traditional licensing) and creation of technology and entrepreneurial hubs (like Palo Alto and Research Triangle, or Bangalore India).

DMR: I know you have worked with both SAS and R. Could you give your opinion about these two data mining tools?

AO: As per my understanding, SAS stands for SAS language, SAS Institute and SAS software platform. The terms are interchangeably used by people in industry and academia- but there have been some branding issues on this.
I have not worked much with SAS Enterprise Miner , probably because I could not afford it as business consultant, and organizations I worked with did not have a budget for Enterprise Miner.
I have worked alone and in teams with Base SAS, SAS Stat, SAS Access, and SAS ETS- and JMP. Also I worked with SAS BI but as a user to extract information.
You could say my use of SAS platform was mostly in predictive analytics and reporting, but I have a couple of projects under my belt for knowledge discovery and data mining, and pattern analysis. Again some of my SAS experience is a bit dated for almost 1 year ago.

I really like specific parts of SAS platform – as in the interface design of JMP (which is better than Enterprise Guide or Base SAS ) -and Proc Sort in Base SAS- I guess sequential processing of data makes SAS way faster- though with computing evolving from Desktops/Servers to even cheaper time shared cloud computers- I am not sure how long Base SAS and SAS Stat can hold this unique selling proposition.

I dislike the clutter in SAS Stat output, it confuses me with too much information, and I dislike shoddy graphics in the rendering output of graphical engine of SAS. Its shoddy coding work in SAS/Graph and if JMP can give better graphics why is legacy source code preventing SAS platform from doing a better job of it.

I sometimes think the best part of SAS is actually code written by Goodnight and Sall in 1970’s , the latest procs don’t impress me much.

SAS as a company is something I admire especially for its way of treating employees globally- but it is strange to see the rest of tech industry not following it. Also I don’t like over aggression and the SAS versus Rest of the Analytics /Data Mining World mentality that I sometimes pick up when I deal with industry thought leaders.

I think making SAS Enterprise Miner, JMP, and Base SAS in a completely new web interface priced at per hour rates is my wishlist but I guess I am a bit sentimental here- most data miners I know from early 2000’s did start with SAS as their first bread earning software. Also I think SAS needs to be better priced in Business Intelligence- it seems quite cheap in BI compared to Cognos/IBM but expensive in analytical licensing.

If you are a new stats or business student, chances are – you may know much more R than SAS today. The shift in education at least has been very rapid, and I guess R is also more of a platform than a analytics or data mining software.

I like a lot of things in R- from graphics, to better data mining packages, modular design of software, but above all I like the can do kick ass spirit of R community. Lots of young people collaborating with lots of young to old professors, and the energy is infectious. Everybody is a CEO in R ’s world. Latest data mining algols will probably start in R, published in journals.

Which is better for data mining SAS or R? It depends on your data and your deadline. The golden rule of management and business is -it depends.

Also I have worked with a lot of KXEN, SQL, SPSS.

DMR: Can you tell us more about Decision Stats? You have a traffic of 120′000 for 2010. How did you reach such a success?

AO: I don’t think 120,000 is a success. Its not a failure. It just happened- the more I wrote, the more people read.In 2007-2008 I used to obsess over traffic. I tried SEO, comments, back linking, and I did some black hat experimental stuff. Some of it worked- some didn’t.

In the end, I started asking questions and interviewing people. To my surprise, senior management is almost always more candid , frank and honest about their views while middle managers, public relations, marketing folks can be defensive.

Social Media helped a bit- Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook really helped my network of friends who I suppose acted as informal ambassadors to spread the word.
Again I was constrained by necessity than choices- my middle class finances ( I also had a baby son in 2007-my current laptop still has some broken keys :) – by my inability to afford traveling to conferences, and my location Delhi isn’t really a tech hub.

The more questions I asked around the internet, the more people responded, and I wrote it all down.

I guess I just was lucky to meet a lot of nice people on the internet who took time to mentor and educate me.

I tried building other websites but didn’t succeed so i guess I really don’t know. I am not a smart coder, not very clever at writing but I do try to be honest.

Basic economics says pricing is proportional to demand and inversely proportional to supply. Honest and candid opinions have infinite demand and an uncertain supply.

DMR: There is a rumor about a R book you plan to publish in 2011 :-) Can you confirm the rumor and tell us more?

AO: I just signed a contract with Springer for ” R for Business Analytics”. R is a great software, and lots of books for statistically trained people, but I felt like writing a book for the MBAs and existing analytics users- on how to easily transition to R for Analytics.

Like any language there are tricks and tweaks in R, and with a focus on code editors, IDE, GUI, web interfaces, R’s famous learning curve can be bent a bit.

Making analytics beautiful, and simpler to use is always a passion for me. With 3000 packages, R can be used for a lot more things and a lot more simply than is commonly understood.
The target audience however is business analysts- or people working in corporate environments.

Brief Bio-
Ajay Ohri has been working in the field of analytics since 2004 , when it was a still nascent emerging Industries in India. He has worked with the top two Indian outsourcers listed on NYSE,and with Citigroup on cross sell analytics where he helped sell an extra 50000 credit cards by cross sell analytics .He was one of the very first independent data mining consultants in India working on analytics products and domestic Indian market analytics .He regularly writes on analytics topics on his web site www.decisionstats.com and is currently working on open source analytical tools like R besides analytical software like SPSS and SAS.

STEM is cool

Lady Gaga holding a speech at National Equalit...
Image via Wikipedia

A good video created by my favorite social media people from a company in North Carolina.

STEM is cool (Science Technology Engineering Maths?)

No, Science is not kool aid- it is just COOL. and better paying than watching Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga videos. Get those lazy teenagers out of Glee clubs and back into Science clubs.

The video itself-

Disclaimer- I have no direct or indirect  financial relationship with the creators of this video. I think it is cool people express creativity in positive ways to help their favorite software,company, and even the world. Blah Blah Blah 🙂

Yeah, STEM is cool again.

 

 

Quantifying Analytics ROI

Japanese House Crest “Go-Shichi no Kiri”
Image via Wikipedia

I had a brief twitter exchange with Jim Davis, Chief Marketing Officer, SAS Institute on Return of Investment on Business Analytics Projects for customers. I have interviewed Jim Davis before last year https://decisionstats.com/2009/06/05/interview-jim-davis-sas-institute/

Now Jim Davis is a big guy, and he is rushing from the launch of SAS Institute’s Social Media Analytics in Japan- to some arguably difficult flying conditions in time to be home in America for Thanksgiving. That and and I have not been much of a good Blog Boy recently, more swayed by love of open source, than love of software per se. I love equally, given I am bad at both equally.

Anyways, Jim’s contention  ( http://twitter.com/Davis_Jim ) was customers should go in business analytics only if there is Positive Return on Investment.  I am quoting him here-

What is important is that there be a positive ROI on each and every BA project. Otherwise don’t do it.

That’s not the marketing I was taught in my business school- basically it was sell, sell, sell.

However I see most BI sales vendors also go through -let me meet my sales quota for this quarter- and quantifying customer ROI is simple maths than predictive analytics but there seems to be some information assymetry in it.

Here is a paper from North Western University on ROI in IT projects-.

but overall it would be in the interest of customers and Business Analytics Vendors to publish aggregated ROI.

The opponents to this transparency in ROI would be market leaders in market share, who have trapped their customers by high migration costs (due to complexity) or contractually.

A recent study listed Oracle having a large percentage of unhappy customers who would still renew!, SAP had problems when it raised prices for licensing arbitrarily (that CEO is now CEO of HP and dodging legal notices from Oracle).

Indeed Jim Davis’s famous unsettling call for focusing on Business Analytics,as Business Intelligence is dead- that call has been implemented more aggressively by IBM in analytical acquisitions than even SAS itself which has been conservative about inorganic growth. Quantifying ROI, should theoretically aid open source software the most (since they are cheapest in up front licensing) or newer technologies like MapReduce /Hadoop (since they are quite so fast)- but I think that market has a way of factoring in these things- and customers are not as foolish neither as unaware of costs versus benefits of migration.

The contrary to this is Business Analytics and Business Intelligence are imperfect markets with duo-poly  or big players thriving in absence of customer regulation.

You get more protection as a customer of $20 bag of potato chips, than as a customer of a $200,000 software. Regulators are wary to step in to ensure ROI fairness (since most bright techies are qither working for private sector, have their own startup or invested in startups)- who in Govt understands Analytics and Intelligence strong enough to ensure vendor lock-ins are not done, and market flexibility is done. It is also a lower choice for embattled regulators to ensure ROI on enterprise software unlike the aggressiveness they have showed in retail or online software.

Who will Analyze the Analysts and who can quantify the value of quants (or penalize them for shoddy quantitative analytics)- is an interesting phenomenon we expect to see more of.

 

 

New Deal in Statistical Training

The United States Government is planning a new initiative at providing employable skills to people, to cope with unemployment.
One skill perpetually in shortage is analytics training along with skills in statistics.

It is time that corporates like IBM SPSS, SAS Institute and Revolution Analytics as well as offshore companies in India or Asia can ramp up their on demand trainings, certification as well as academic partnership bundles. Indeed offshroing companies can earn revenue as well as goodwill if they help in with trainers available via video- conferencing. The new Deal initiative would require creative thinking as well as direct top management support to focus their best internal brains at developing this new revenue stream. Again the company that trains the most users (be it Revolution for R, IBM for SPSS-Cognos, SAS Institute for Base SAS-JMP, WPS for SAS language) is going to get a bigger chunk of new users and analysts.

Analytics skills are hot. There is big new demand for hot new skills by millions of unemployed Americans and Asians. How do you think this services market will play out?

If the US government could pump 800 Billion for bailouts, how much is your opinion it should spend on training programs to help citizens compete globally?

From http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/business/economy/03skills.html?hpw

The national program is a response to frustrations from both workers and employers who complain that public retraining programs frequently do not provide students with employable skills. This new initiative is intended to help better align community college curriculums with the demands of local companies.

SAS recognizes the market –

see http://www.sas.com/news/preleases/aba-tech-engage.html

In tough economic times, it is more important than ever that companies be able to make better decisions using analytics. SAS is involved in two programs this summer that offer MBAs and unemployed technology workers the opportunity to learn and enhance analytics skills, and increase their marketability.

SAS is a partner in TechEngage, a week-long program of training classes that offer unemployed technology professionals new skills at a low cost to help them compete effectively in the marketplace.”

So does IBM-

http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/28994.wss

. “Fordham has a long history of collaboration with IBM that has brought innovative new skills to our curriculum to prepare students for future jobs. With this effort, Fordham is preparing students with marketable skills for a coming wave of jobs in healthcare, sustainability, and social services where analytics can be applied to everyday challenges.”

and R

Well TIBCO and Revolution ….hmmm…mmmm

I am not sure there is even a R Analytics Certification program at the least.

Making NeW R

Tal G in his excellent blog piece talks of “Why R Developers  should not be paid” http://www.r-statistics.com/2010/09/open-source-and-money-why-r-developers-shouldnt-be-paid/

His argument of love is not very original though it was first made by these four guys

I am going to argue that “some” R developers should be paid, while the main focus should be volunteers code. These R developers should be paid as per usage of their packages.

Let me expand.

Imagine the following conversation between Ross Ihaka, Norman Nie and Peter Dalgaard.

Norman- Hey Guys, Can you give me some code- I got this new startup.

Ross Ihaka and Peter Dalgaard- Sure dude. Here is 100,000 lines of code, 2000 packages and 2 decades of effort.

Norman- Thanks guys.

Ross Ihaka- Hey, What you gonna do with this code.

Norman- I will better it. Sell it. Finally beat Jim Goodnight and his **** Proc GLM and **** Proc Reg.

Ross- Okay, but what will you give us? Will you give us some code back of what you improve?

Norman – Uh, let me explain this open core …

Peter D- Well how about some royalty?

Norman- Sure, we will throw parties at all conferences, snacks you know at user groups.

Ross – Hmm. That does not sound fair. (walks away in a huff muttering)-He takes our code, sells it and wont share the code

Peter D- Doesnt sound fair. I am back to reading Hamlet, the great Dane, and writing the next edition of my book. I am glad I wrote a book- Ross didnt even write that.

Norman-Uh Oh. (picks his phone)- Hey David Smith, We need to write some blog articles pronto – these open source guys ,man…

———–I think that sums what has been going on in the dynamics of R recently. If Ross Ihaka and R Gentleman had adopted an open core strategy- meaning you can create packages to R but not share the original where would we all be?

At this point if he is reading this, David Smith , long suffering veteran of open source  flameouts is rolling his eyes while Tal G is wondering if he will publish this on R Bloggers and if so when or something.

Lets bring in another R veteran-  Hadley Wickham who wrote a book on R and also created ggplot. Thats the best quality, most often used graphics package.

In terms of economic utilty to end user- the ggplot package may be as useful if not more as the foreach package developed by Revolution Computing/Analytics.

Now http://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/foreach/index.html says that foreach is licensed under http://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0

However lets come to open core licensing ( read it here http://alampitt.typepad.com/lampitt_or_leave_it/2008/08/open-core-licen.html ) which is where the debate is- Revolution takes code- enhances it (in my opinion) substantially with new formats XDF for better efficieny, web services API, and soon coming next year a GUI (thanks in advance , Dr Nie and guys)

and sells this advanced R code to businesses happy to pay ( they are currently paying much more to DR Goodnight and HIS guys)

Why would any sane customer buy it from Revolution- if he could download exactly the same thing from http://r-project.org

Hence the business need for Revolution Analytics to have an enhanced R- as they are using a product based software model not software as a service model.

If Revolution gives away source code of these new enhanced codes to R core team- how will R core team protect the above mentioned intelectual property- given they have 2 decades experience of giving away free code , and back and forth on just code.

Now Revolution also has a marketing budget- and thats how they sponsor some R Core events, conferences, after conference snacks.

How would people decide if they are being too generous or too stingy in their contribution (compared to the formidable generosity of SAS Institute to its employees, stakeholders and even third party analysts).

Would it not be better- IF Revolution can shift that aspect of relationship to its Research and Development budget than it’s marketing budget- come with some sort of incentive for “SOME” developers – even researchers need grants and assistantships, scholarships, make a transparent royalty formula say 17.5 % of the NEW R sales goes to R PACKAGE Developers pool, which in turn examines usage rate of packages and need/merit before allocation- that would require Revolution to evolve from a startup to a more sophisticated corporate and R Core can use this the same way as John M Chambers software award/scholarship

Dont pay all developers- it would be an insult to many of them – say Prof Harrell creator of HMisc to accept – but can Revolution expand its dev base (and prospect for future employees) by even sponsoring some R Scholarships.

And I am sure that if Revolution opens up some more code to the community- they would the rest of the world and it’s help useful. If it cant trust people like R Gentleman with some source code – well he is a board member.

——————————————————————————————–

Now to sum up some technical discussions on NeW R

1)  An accepted way of benchmarking efficiencies.

2) Code review and incorporation of efficiencies.

3) Multi threading- Multi core usage are trends to be incorporated.

4) GUIs like R Commander E Plugins for other packages, and Rattle for Data Mining to have focussed (or Deducer). This may involve hiring User Interface Designers (like from Apple 😉  who will work for love AND money ( Even the Beatles charge royalty for that song)

5) More support to cloud computing initiatives like Biocep and Elastic R – or Amazon AMI for using cloud computers- note efficiency arguements dont matter if you just use a Chrome Browser and pay 2 cents a hour for an Amazon Instance. Probably R core needs more direct involvement of Google (Cloud OS makers) and Amazon as well as even Salesforce.com (for creating Force.com Apps). Note even more corporates here need to be involved as cloud computing doesnot have any free and open source infrastructure (YET)

_______________________________________________________

Debates will come and go. This is an interesting intellectual debate and someday the liitle guys will win the Revolution-

From Hugh M of Gaping Void-

http://www.gapingvoid.com/Moveable_Type/archives/cat_microsoft_blue_monster_series.html

HOW DOES A SOFTWARE COMPANY MAKE MONEY, IF ALL

SOFTWARE IS FREE?

“If something goes wrong with Microsoft, I can phone Microsoft up and have it fixed. With Open Source, I have to rely on the community.”

And the community, as much as we may love it, is unpredictable. It might care about your problem and want to fix it, then again, it may not. Anyone who has ever witnessed something online go “viral”, good or bad, will know what I’m talking about.

and especially-

http://gapingvoid.com/2007/04/16/how-well-does-open-source-currently-meet-the-needs-of-shareholders-and-ceos/

Source-http://gapingvoidgallery.com/

Kind of sums up why the open core licensing is all about.

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