Business Analytics Innovation Summit 2014 Chicago: Day 2 Highlights

Highlights from the presentations by Business Analytics leaders from State of Illinois, Navistar, BMO Harris Bank and McGraw Hill Education on day 2 of Business Analytics Innovation Summit 2014 in Chicago.

With business analytics becoming an integral part of successful organizations, businesses are truly embracing data insight at every level. As organizations have developed the capacity to gain greater insight from data and statistics - and with the increase in the volume of data available - it is now essential to use innovative analytics practices to succeed.

The Business Analytics 2014 Chicago Business Analytics Innovation Summit (May 21 & 22, 2014) organized by the Innovation Enterprise at Chicago, IL covered major challenges and opportunities being observed by Analytics leaders across industries. Executives at the forefront of analytics shared their innovative approaches, providing insight into how they have gained valuable information from raw data. Executives discussed the challenges faced within some of the world leading organizations and provided case study examples of how they are pushing the boundaries of analytics.

We provide here a summary of selected talks along with the key takeaways.

Highlights from Day 1.

Here are highlights from Day 2 (Thursday, May 22, 2014):

Peter HarlanPeter Harlan, Data Steward, State of Illinois talked about the State of Illinois Framework Project ( in his talk "Innovating for 21st Century Data-Centric Health & Human Services". The Framework, a Statewide collaboration funded and chartered by seven major State Agencies, is designing Cross-Agency HHS (Health & Human Services) Business Intelligence, Multi-tiered Dashboarding and User Centric workflows that bring together datasets and processes from 200+ existing HHS Programs and 60+ major HHS IT platforms. The Framework is leveraging Affordable Care Act funding opportunities, the State’s “Cloud First” policy and the maturing of Cloud Apps, API’s and Federal NIEM Standards to drive evolution toward User Centric, Integrated and Interoperable State Health and Human Services delivery.

He stressed on the need to move away from siloed approach towards an enterprise architecture designed for interconnectedness and interoperability. He identified the key enterprise analytics challenges for government websites as: highly distributed IT management, limited awareness of analytics advancement in private sector, and other factors (such as governance, legal, privacy, etc.). Emphasizing on dashboards, he explained the key differences as compared to reports. The reports are static, backward looking, usually compliance driven and hard to customize. On the contrary, the dashboards are interactive, forward as well as backward looking, highly visual, user need driven, and easily customizable. To boost innovation, it is important to decouple the dashboards and other user interfaces from the back-end data processing. Talking about the results so far, he mentioned that the framework has enabled cross-agency decision making and accountability.

Hui JiangHui Jiang, Director, Business Analytics & Strategy, Navistar explained the importance of visuals in her talk titled "Data Visualization Drives Your Success". Data visualization is a key aspect of both the analysis and understanding of complex data. Nowadays, we are constantly challenged to create clear, meaningful, and integrated analysis that can stimulate our thinking process at the speed-of-thought. Visual analysis has proven effective at any phase of data exploration. For corporate executives, good visual presentation is vital in identifying issues and advance decision making.

Visualization requires a good understanding of your target audience, proper presentation of the key message (less is more!), and perpetual review from reader's view. Good graphics comprise of rich content, inviting visualization and smart execution. Next, she went into the details of best practices for visualization and talked about reference points, fair comparison, missing data in charts, legibility, color, lines, tables, maps, etc. Effective visualization serves to maximize data exploratory capabilities, reveal answers, and can even lead to more questions.

KimKim VanderSchaaf, Vice President, Commercial Analytics , BMO Harris Bank gave an interesting talk on "Transforming Analytics with 'Soft Skills' - How to Get Your Analysts to 'Talk the Talk'". In many companies, rather than driving decisions, the analytics team is reactionary- instead of being strategic partners, they operate as a back office function. In today’s data driven environment, moving analytics to the front of the house is imperative for organizations to succeed. And the key to becoming strategic partners is more than building a cutting edge model or innovative algorithm. It lies in developing the team’s ‘soft skills’. The analytics team’s future will be decided not only by the data mining they do and the models they create, but also by how well they understand the business, connect with people, and build relationships across the organization.

She suggested that the analytics team needs both skills and reputation of top performance to gain full support. Besides technical skills, the analytics team need to be able to promote and sell ideas to decision makers, through excellent soft skills such as understanding the "big picture", effective communication, listening, building relationships, etc. Analytics team must find promoters within the organization and help them reach their goals by making analytics invaluable to them. Analytics are a key component of business strategy. Progress may not be linear but with well rounded analytical teams, our organizations and people will be on the right path for success.

Alfred-EssaAlfred Essa, Vice President, Analytics & R&D, McGraw Hill Education delivered an insightful talk on Analytics in Education. Thought leaders such as Clayton Christensen have argued that education is prime for disruption. The key challenge is how to increase the value of education. In other words, how to improvfe learning outcomes that matter while decreasing cost per learner. Currently, the analytics in education is limited mainly to data access and reporting. In future, it needs to be focussed on risk forecasting and predictive modeling. The ultimate goal should be to have analytics focused on optimization and strategy.

He demonstrated state-of-the-art applications of Big Data in education, including adaptive learning, learning analytics, and advanced visualizations. As an example, he showed the Student Success Dashboard of Desire2Learn ( and SmartBook, which provides adaptive reading and learning experience.