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December 17, 2010


I coauthored a paper with some IBM colleagues, including former INFORMS President Brenda Dietrich, for Analytics magazine that talks about the different kinds of analytics. Operations Research fits into what we call prescriptive analytics, and at IBM, we're using that term to promote our optimization products. See http://analytics-magazine.com/?tag=prescriptive-analytics

Prescriptive analytics - I like that! Thanks a lot for the link, Irvin. I enjoyed learning about the descriptive, predictive and prescriptive kinds of analytics. That article deserves to be widely read. Thanks again!

The article by Irv et al. is a good step in defining "analytics" in an inclusive way. The one thing I don't see (and don't usually see in definitions of OR, for that matter) is what I think is sometimes called "decision analysis" or "decision theory" -- the process of making decisions. In any case, while the descriptive/predictive/prescriptive classification appeals, I'm worried that for most people "analytics" will become more or less synonymous with data mining.

I'm sorry that I've to say that I'd rather oppose the idea of sth. like "prescriptive" analytics. While I'm perfectly fine with the definitions of descriptive and predictive analytics, the prescriptive "branch" of the given definition approach doesn't make sense to me at all. Analytics in its broadest sense is commonly defined as "the science of analysis" (kind of) - where analysis derives insights from given structures or data. To me, and with all respect, the term "analytics" is over-hyped these days (and will ultimately follow the fate of all hypes, cf. http://twitter.com/fbahr/status/15706213656301568). That's not to say that analytics as defined in terms of statistical analysis, data mining and "predictive science" isn't a big deal these days - yes, it is, for sure: but not everything has to be redefined in terms of a "analytics" discipline (especially when it's the opposite of analytics: planning!).

While the word "analytics" has its flaws (its close association to data mining is one of them), it gives people a better idea of what we do than "operations research". Of course, we don't only analyze things, we improve them too. I like "optimization" but it makes laypeople think we're working on pure math topics. My favorite description of my field, when I don't want to use "mathematical models in business", is "quantitative decision-making", but that is a bit long.

Maybe we should make up a new word.

I added a few more terms the the Ngram Google trend tool.


Notice how much growth in the term "data mining". That definitely accounts for something.

I loved that article from Analytics Magazine on Prescriptive Analytics. That is such a great term to describe Operations Research with relevance to today's buzz.

Wow! Thanks a lot for the graph. An eye-opener! I wonder what the recent little bump in the popularity of data-mining means.

Here's another one, with optimization added in (and a couple of words removed) http://bit.ly/e20BFP

Nice to see "optimization" do so well as a keyword.

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