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Why machine learning is the new BI

Mary Branscombe | April 21, 2016
Get ready for artificial intelligence and automation that helps you make business decisions rather than just understanding what happened in the past.

“The fundamental customer challenge hasn't changed; how do I go from the data that I have, to getting some insights, to actually enabling some an action or driving something forward?” What the tools in Cortana Analytics can do is reduce the number of manual steps you have to take to get to those actions.

“The basic way to go from data to decisions is a static report that says what happened. If I'm in sales and I want to look at what my sales look like by region for the last quarter, that's my static report, and then there's some manual steps I take before I go make a decision,” he explains.

“The next piece of it is not just something happened but why it happened. My sales went down last quarter, but did they go down because my top three deals didn't go through or because my average deal size went down? How do I slice and dice the data [to find out]? So I have a dashboard with reports I can interact with to understand why something happens, and that typically reduces the numbers of manual steps before I can make a decision and take some actions. Then we get into prediction; not just after-the-fact ‘my sales went down and I know why’ but tell me beforehand, based on my forecast, that I might not make my target for the month so I can respond.”

Business automation would mean the fewest possible manual steps. Oberoi explains what that might look like.

“The final piece of it is recommendation and decision automation. Ultimately, you want to get to a place where the system is proactively informing you, not just what might happen but what you can do about it. ‘It looks like you're going to miss your forecast next week. Based on that, you have two promotions lined up and those are hooked up to your CRM system; do you want to pull those promotions forward by a week, yes or no?’ You say yes, and you have the business process and the workflow set up, fully automated, and it helps you pull that forward by a week.”

That kind of advice will often come from an intelligent assistant; in Microsoft’s case, that’s Cortana, who can already take reminders and suggest when it’s time to leave for a meeting, as well as answering questions. Oberoi thinks that’s just as useful for business tasks where a reminder could tell employees they need to send in their expense report and those questions can be about your business; “what were the biggest deals we closed last quarter?” or “which of our customers are most likely to churn in the next quarter?” or “alert me if this customer ever has a 90 percent chance of churn in the next 30 days.”


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