Archive for Digital Transformation

Our 5 Rules of Data Science

In manufacturing, the better the raw materials, the better the product. The same goes for data science, where a team cannot be effective unless the raw materials of data science are available to them. In this realm, data is the raw material which produces a prediction. However, raw materials alone are not sufficient. Business people who oversee machine learning teams must demand that best practices be applied, otherwise investments in machine learning will produce dubious business results. These best practices can be summarized into our five rules of data science.

For the purpose of illustration, let’s assume the data science problem our team is working on is related to the predictive maintenance of equipment on a manufacturing floor. Our team is working on helping the firm predict equipment failure, so that operations can replace the equipment before it impacts the manufacturing process.

Our 5 Rules of Data Science

1. Have a Sharp Question

A sharp question is specific and unambiguous. Computers do not appreciate nuance. They are not able to classify events into yes/no buckets if the question is: “Is Component X ready to fail?” Nor does the question need to concern itself with causes. Computers do not ask why – they calculate probability based upon correlation. “Will component X overheat?” is a question posed by a human who believes that heat contributes to equipment failure. A better question is: “Will component X fail in the next 30 minutes?”

2. Measure at the Right Level

Supervised learning requires real examples from which a computer can learn. The data you use to produce a successful machine learning model must demonstrate cases where failure has occurred. It must also demonstrate examples where equipment continues to operate smoothly. We must be able to unambiguously identify events that were failure events, otherwise, we will not be able to train the machine learning model to classify data correctly.

3. Make Sure Your Data is Accurate

Did a failure really occur? If not, the machine learning model will not produce accurate results. Computers are naïve – they believe what we tell them. Data science teams should be more skeptical, particularly when they believe they have made a breakthrough discovery after months of false starts. Data science leaders should avoid getting caught up in the irrational exuberance of a model that appears to provide new insight. Like any scientific endeavor, test your assumptions, beginning with the accuracy and reliability of the observations you started with to create the model.

4. Make Sure Your Data is Connected

The data used to train your model may be anonymized, because factors that correlate closely to machine failure are measurements, not identifiers. However, once the model is ready to be used, the new data must be connected to the real world – otherwise, you will not be able to take action. If you have no central authoritative record of “things”, you may need to develop a master data management solution before your Internet of Things with predictive maintenance machine learning can yield value. Also, your response to a prediction should be connected. Once a prediction of failure has been obtained, management should already know what needs to happen – use insights to take swift action.

5. Make Sure You Have Enough Data

The accuracy of predictions improve with more data. Make sure you have sufficient examples of both positive and negative outcomes, otherwise it will be difficult to be certain that you are truly gaining information from the exercise.

The benefits of predictive maintenance, and other applications of machine learning, are being embraced by businesses everywhere. For some, the process may appear a bit mysterious, but it needn’t be. The goal is to create a model which, when fed real-life data, improves the decision making of the humans involved in the process. To achieve this, data science teams need the right data and the right business problem to solve. Management should work to ensure that these five questions are answered to their satisfaction before investing in data science activities.

Not sure if you have the right raw materials? Talk to BlumShapiro Consulting about your machine learning ambitions. Our technology team is building next generation predictive analytics solutions that connect to the Internet of Things. We are helping our clients along each step of their digital transformation journey.

Berry_Brian-240About Brian: Brian Berry leads the Microsoft Business Intelligence and Data Analytics practice at BlumShapiro. He has over 15 years of experience with information technology (IT), software design and consulting. Brian specializes in identifying business intelligence (BI) and data management solutions for upper mid-market manufacturing, distribution and retail firms in New England. He focuses on technologies which drive value in analytics: data integration, self-service BI, cloud computing and predictive analytics

Technology Talks Episode 4: Cybersecurity

Listen to our new podcast, Technology Talks, hosted by Hector Luciano, Consulting Manager at BlumShapiro Consulting. Each month, Hector will talk about the latest news and trends in technology with different leaders in the field.

In this episode, Hector speaks with Jeff Ziplow, Partner at BlumShapiro Consulting about cybersecurity and the tips your organization can take to keep themselves protected.

Listen to our previous episodes on our SoundCloud page >>

Microsoft Announces Power BI Premium: Removes Functionality on Free Version

Many of our clients come to us looking for solutions to help them achieve “Business Intelligence for Everyone” in their organization while avoiding the pitfalls of reporting in Excel. Our response is simple: Microsoft Power BI is an easy-to-use, non-technical business intelligence tool which is far more robust than Microsoft Excel for reporting. End users who rely upon Excel for reporting often view Power BI as a logical step up. With Power BI, users can automate mundane data transformation steps, connect to a broad range of data sources and securely collaborate with colleagues  —all within an environment that looks and feels just like Excel. Our clients have reported that Power BI’s free edition includes enough functionality to get started on any reporting initiative, automate data extraction and transformation activities and share the results with a team of executives, analysts, managers and colleagues. However, as Power BI data and report volumes grow, organizations may choose to step up to Power BI Pro, which upgrades users from 1GB to 10GB of data and enables complex analytics sharing capabilities, even outside the organization.

Finding a Solution for Larger Organizations

The current Power BI service does present some challenges to larger, more sophisticated organizations. Some of the issues include:

  •   Sharing and collaboration features would often become complex and difficult to manage
  • Compute resources are shared, not dedicated, and there is no ability to provision additional compute resources
  • Structured reporting capabilities are not well suited for interactive reports and “single pane of glass” dashboards delivered in Power Bi

These issues begged for a simpler, more manageable model for large organizations.

Introducing Power BI Premium

In early May 2017, Microsoft announced its intention to introduce a new licensing level for Power BI, Power BI Premium. Power BI Premium is designed to address the shortcomings of Power BI Pro. Here are three things to know about Power BI Premium:

  1. Power BI Premium Edition will support Power BI Apps. Power BI Apps replace Content Packs and Power BI Embedded. Organizations that currently share Power BI content externally with Power BI Embedded should plan to migrate to Power BI Premium Edition.
  1. Power BI Premium Edition offers dedicated capacity for organizations that need more control. Instead of paying strictly per user, Power BI Premium is licensed on a combined capacity and usage model. This enables organizations who struggle with the per user data limits enforced on Free and Pro Edition users (1 GB and 10GB maximums, respectively) to load data models that are much larger. As with other Azure services, organizations can scale up and scale down capacity as their needs change.
  1. Power BI Premium Edition includes a license for Power BI Report Server—a full featured on-premises solution supporting both Power BI (interactive) reports and Reporting Services (paginated, structured) reports.

Important Note for Power BI Free Edition Users

Power BI Free Edition became quite attractive because many users within the same organization could share content without paying any fee. Unfortunately, Power BI Free Edition functionality will be changing soon. Users on the Free Edition will no longer be able to share dashboards with colleagues, other than by printing them out, or showing others their “personal dashboard” in a browser. As of June 1, users enjoying dashboard sharing will no longer be able to do so under the Free Edition.

June 1st is right around the corner, and some organizations have built fully functional company dashboards using Free Edition licenses. These organizations now face the prospect of having to either upgrade to Power BI Pro Edition ($10/user/month) or lose vital collaboration features. This is why Microsoft is offering a 1-year trial of Power BI Pro licenses to users who have previously signed up for Power BI Free Edition. This allows organizations to carefully consider which users need Power BI Pro for data model, report and dashboard creation and collaboration and which do not. Some organizations will stay on the Free Edition, and simply share their BI content via PowerPoint. Others will look at Power BI Pro or Premium licensing and continue to see value.

Next Steps

Microsoft has stated that general availability of Power BI Premium is on the horizon, but no specific release date has been communicated. If your organization has many users creating reports and dashboards with the Free Edition, here are some things you can do to get ready for the change.

  1. Take advantage of the 1-Year Power BI Pro trial – encourage users to respond to any email communication from Microsoft and take advantage of the grace period
  1. Download the Power BI Report Server and take it for a spin
  1. Review the Power BI Premium Calculator to understand what your costs would look like under the Power BI Premium model

For more information on how to achieve high performance analytics and reporting with Power BI, contact Brian Berry and our Data Analytics team at bberry@blumshapiro.com, or by phone at 860.570.6368.

Berry_Brian-240About Brian: Brian Berry leads the Microsoft Business Intelligence and Data Analytics practice at BlumShapiro. He has over 15 years of experience with information technology (IT), software design and consulting. Brian specializes in identifying business intelligence (BI) and data management solutions for upper mid-market manufacturing, distribution and retail firms in New England. He focuses on technologies which drive value in analytics: data integration, self-service BI, cloud computing and predictive analytics

How Non-Developers Can Use Microsoft Flow to Create Automated Workflows

In my previous article, Develop Workflows and Business Processes without Developers, I mentioned how there are numerous options for creating workflows without the need to write actual code. In my second article on workflows, I’m going to go a little deeper into one of the options I discussed: Microsoft Flow. As I mentioned, Flow is a drag and drop service solution used to create automated workflows within Office 365. These workflows can connect different applications and services; including enterprise apps (Office 365, SharePoint Online, Salesforce, CRM) and social apps (Twitter, DropBox, MailChimp), to name a few. The drag and drop interface allows for a relatively simple solution for creating an automated workflow.

Getting Started with Microsoft Flow

To get started with Flow, it’s as simple as going to the Microsoft Flow site and then starting to build new applications within the browser. Other options and software require separate applications for you to install to get going. Flow is completely browser-based, so no need to download anything else! Once you are logged into the site, you have the option of using any of the hundreds of templates already built, create a new process from a template or even start out with a blank canvas to create your new workflow. Some templates available with Flow can help with tasks such as:

  • Sending yourself a reminder in 10 minutes
  • Sending a “Working from home today” email to your manager
  • Blocking out your Office 365 calendar for an hour

Note: If you do not have an O365 plan that includes Flow, you can sign up for a free 90 day trial.

Automated Workflow Integrations and Templates

In addition to the many triggers and steps Flow has to offer, there are a lot of different services that integrate with Flow. There are too many to list, and it keeps growing, so follow the URL to see the latest services that integrate with Flow.

Some of the services and templates available can truly make your day to day office tasks easier. For instance, of the out-of-the-box templates, there is a flow to send a “working from home today” email to your manager. You can even take that template and tweak it so that it’s also a “don’t forget to submit your timesheet” button that you press once a week to your direct reports. Anything that is repeatable can easily be made into a Flow process.

Some more advanced templates integrate with other third party services. For instance, there is a template which automatically creates a Dynamics CRM entry from a SharePoint list item. Imagine having a SharePoint list which allows users from across the company to add in potential sales contacts. Not all users in your organization may have access to CRM, so when they create an entry using the SharePoint list, Microsoft Flow will automatically trigger and enter the sales contact entry into CRM without any action. You can easily configure this template to have an approval step if the process feels too automated!

Microsoft Flow on the Go

For remote workers, there is a mobile app for iOS and Android that allows you to trigger the workflows or get notifications by the press of a button. So you can open the Flow app, and trigger your email without the use of your computer. You even have the ability to send SMS (text messages) from the flow itself. So, if you are out-of-the-office, enable the Flow which texts you anytime your favorite client emails you, and you will be ahead of the game.

By using Microsoft Flow, your users can create workflows into back-end systems to help run business processes – all without having to call IT! Flow has provided users with the empowerment to work and create their own automated workflows. Still need help implementing automated workflows for your organization?  Looking for help with a workflow that is too advanced for Flow or need to integrate with systems not yet available with Flow? Contact us and see how BlumShapiro Consulting can help get you started on your way and assist.

About Brent:

Brent

Brent Harvey has over 10 years of software development experience with a specific focus on SharePoint, Project Server, and C #and web development. Brent is an Architect at BlumShapiro Consulting. Brent is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert in SharePoint 2013, Solutions Associate in Windows Server 2012, Specialist in Developing Azure Solutions and Professional Developer in SharePoint 2010.