James G. Kobielus By James Kobielus

Advanced analytics is a key competitive weapon of companies everywhere. Visionary organizations are those that take a future-facing, analysis-driven perspective on new challenges. They do this by grounding management forecasts in solid historical information sets, leveraging and extending companies’ existing investments in data mining and predictive modeling.

To become truly future-focused, organizations must build out their predictive muscles through deepening commitment to these and other advanced analytics technologies, which also include interactive visualization, multivariate statistical analysis, text analytics, and massively parallel enterprise data warehousing. However, enterprises must be careful not to adhere to the common practice of implementing advanced analytics tools in tactical, application-specific silos. One of the downsides of this traditional practice is that diverse predictive modeling teams can find it difficult to share their deep domain expertise, best statistical approaches, and most powerful data exploration and visualization features.

How can companies realize the transformative potential of predictive analytics for business success? For starters, you must get rid of siloes that fragment your data mining initiatives into separate camps. You must also build a bridge between your data mining operations and the teams that manage your text analytics, business intelligence, complex event processing, and business process management efforts. And the key approach for silo-smashing is service-oriented architecture (SOA).

At first glance, SOA may seem like a foreign topic to many analytics professionals, but it shouldn’t be. In the broadest perspective, SOA refers to best practices for encouraging greater reuse, sharing, and cross-platform interoperability among key business resources. Typically, one associates SOA with reuse of one specific type of resource: application functionality that is distributed across heterogeneous, networked platforms. Nevertheless, key SOA principles—such as standards-based service virtualization, reuse, brokering, and governance—are as applicable to predictive models as to any other resource that lives online.

Predictive models empower your product managers, marketing specialists, risk managers, process analysts, senior executives, and other personnel with access to sophisticated forecasting, time-series analysis, and scenario-testing tools. Each model is a statistical encapsulation of your business’ current view of the future in some specific application, subject, or decision-support area. Incorporating the expertise of subject-matter experts, these models allow organizations to gauge the potential impact of future projects, campaigns, and other initiatives, and also to adjust execution of these initiatives in mid-stream.

Predictive analytics need not be a purely blue-sky planning tool. This technology can sit at the core of your SOA strategy, and leading-edge enterprises are in fact doing that. Companies in such verticals as financial and telecommunications are embedding predictive logic deeply into data warehouses, business process management (BPM) platforms, complex event processing (CEP) streams, and operational applications.

What will it take for your company to fully align your advanced analytics efforts with your SOA strategy? Most important, Service-Oriented Analytics requires an executive-level commitment to becoming a predictive enterprise on all levels. From the perspective of your existing predictive modeling teams, this will require an ongoing focus on collaboration across business, function, and subject domains. You should create a culture and offer incentives that encourage modeling professionals to reuse each other’s expertise on problems that cross multiple domains.

Reuse is everything. Here are some high-level guidelines for establishing a reuse-friendly Service-Oriented Analytics practice in your company:

  • Reuse modeling best practices:Start by consulting Forrester’s report on setting up a Business Intelligence Solution Center (BISC), which we defined as “an institutional steward, protector, and forum for BI best practices.” Given that predictive analytics is a key segment of BI, you will find it necessary to incorporate this technology into your BISC’s scope.
  • Reuse modelers: Cultivate a professional cadre of predictive modeling experts who are more than just wizards in advanced statistics and mathematics. Encourage subject-matter experts in all business areas to undertake predictive modeling projects and to team with modeling experts in other projects, applications, and business units. Provide incentives for modelers to regularly move between business units and subject domains, thereby spreading their expertise throughout the enterprise.
  • Reuse models: You should begin to investigate predictive-model governance tools, which support version control, check-in/check-out, and other controls over models created in and imported from diverse tools. Model governance tools—from vendors such as SAS, SPSS, and KXEN–facilitate reuse, consolidation, combination, and cross-synthesis among disparate models. And you should also investigate options for embedding predictive models within BI, BPM, and other operational applications, thereby leveraging your growing analytic asset into new deployments.

As you deploy predictive models into operational applications, you should provide other applications with SOA-based access to them through Web services, Web 2.0, and other standardized interfaces. In that way, you will be creating a critical bridge to your application development teams and be creating a thoroughly Service-Oriented Analytics environment.

Your first steps down this road are clear. Forrester will be happy to assist you in developing a detailed enterprise roadmap for Service-Oriented Analytics. In so doing, you’ll be better able to tap into the future-facing analytic expertise that exists throughout your business.