Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Big Data Combined With Machine Learning Helps Businesses Make Much Smarter Decisions

Machine learning unveils the hidden potentials of big data to solve complex business problems


By: Deji Atoyebi • Guest Writer

Today, the importance of machine learning and big data to businesses cannot be overemphasized; both are revolutionizing business operations and consistently providing lots of new opportunities.

Although machine learning dates back to the 1950's, it's presently more subject to practical, large-scale applications than it has ever been. Big data, on the other hand, became a thing in 2013, after it was discovered that 90 percent of the world's data was produced in the previous two years.

The spate of data generation, therefore, became a challenge as well as an opportunity. As an opportunity, big data enables businesses to not grope in the dark but make wise real-time decisions by providing them with insights into various market situations and ensuring a better understanding of consumers' behaviors and preferences.

It's however noteworthy that big data by itself is of little value. To be useful, it has to be operated on by various analytical methods, many of which don't go beyond providing mere statistical insights.

Machine learning comes in handy as it goes further to unveil the hidden potentials of big data by producing and implementing solutions to complex business problems.

Here are some four ways by which combining big data with machine learning has helped improve business intelligence, and some takeaways for business owners.

1. Facilitating Customer Segmentation

It is not uncommon to find distinct groups -- each comprising individuals who share a wide range of similarities - within a business's customer base. In fact, discovering such groups is a crucial step every business should take.

Fortunately, machine learning clustering algorithms are perfect for achieving this kind of a segmentation. Many such algorithms are unsupervised in that they don't require special human direction to operate. Rather, an unsupervised clustering algorithm requires only data for exploration, so as to discover similarities and differences (where they exist), and come up with distinct clusters based on a number of features.

In 2009, Orbitz created a machine learning team to facilitate segmentation, among other reasons. Three years later, it discovered a pattern from the data at its disposal: Mac users were willing to spend as much as 30 percent more per night for hotel rooms, when compared to Windows users. This discovery made it (Orbitz) swing into action in a way I'll touch on, shortly, as it obviously helped to lay the grounds for segmenting the business's customer base based on the relative propensity to pay for varying hotel types.

Your business can also harness the power of machine learning and big data to achieve segmentation. But, first, you need to discover whether segmentation holds any potential benefit for your organization. If you believe it does, then it will become necessary to invest heavily in data analytics, make your business machine learning ready, and then employ a machine learning team. As you'll soon see, machine learning will not only help to accurately and efficiently make sense of the data at your disposal, but also help to implement core business strategies.

2. Making Targeting Feasible and Effective:

Merely knowing that your customer base is composed of different groups doesn't cut it -– you have to devise means to cater to divergent needs.

Orbitz responded to the earlier stated discovery by targeting customers differently: costlier hotels were displayed to Apple users. It's quite reasonable to suggest that this move was a wise one, for such a strategic targeting must have been highly profitable.

On the other hand, it's sometimes necessary to view one's customer base as comprising different individuals with various preferences rather than a conglomeration of different groups. This perspective will make it more pragmatic to tailor products to each individual based on his or her specific behavior and perceived preferences. Again, machine learning, under the aegis of big data, facilitates this.

Google, for example, uses big data to better understand your preferences and combines it with complex (machine learning) algorithms to provide supposedly relevant results for every query you make. This is why your past choices (for example, the sites you've visited) end up impacting on some of the results you're shown.

Machine learning and big data are also breaking grounds in targeted advertising. Pixar, for example, targets its audience with different movie advertisements which are based on learned preferences. Netflix also estimates that its algorithms produce $1 billion a year in value from customer retention, thanks to the "Netflix addiction" which is mostly spurred by accurate recommendations fostered by both user and item-based collaborative filtering.

In other words, business owners need to understand that targeting consumers differently makes a lot of sense, and that machine learning makes personalization, which is key to providing a better user experience, possible. Say you run an ecommerce business, machine learning can help you personalize your ads so that people see only products that are most likely suited to their needs. This will definitely add an unobstrusive touch to your platform and may improve your bottom line by increasing sales and engendering customer retention. Again, the "Netflix addiction" speaks volumes about the potentials of machine learning-induced targeting.

3. Fostering Predictive Analysis:

After gaining insight into consumer behavior from big data, you'll want to use machine learning to develop generalizations and thus make predictions regarding various business issues.

In other words, machine learning models can learn behavior patterns from data and determine how likely it is for a person or a set of people to take certain actions, such as subscribing for a service. This makes it possible to anticipate events and make futuristic decisions.

The American Express Company used big data to analyze and predict consumer behavior by learning from historical transactions. Through this, it was able to predict 24 percent of accounts in its Australian market that were about to close within four months. T-mobile also uses big data to predict consumer fluctuations.

To make these kind of predictions, you must employ machine learning expertise to help grapple with your business's data. Classification algorithms are usually used as the foundation for such predictions.

4. Providing Foundations for Risk Analysis and Regulation:

Big data enables machine learning models to extensively analyze and regulate risks.

For fraud detection, American Express applies machine learning to analyze large historical datasets. In fact, the machine learning system is considered to differ from the previously existent fraud detection systems which included only manually created rules, and is better off because it's likely to improve with more data inputs. It also saves the company millions of dollars, said Bernard Marr.

Your business can also make use of machine learning to decrease financial irregularities. Many organizations are, in fact, developing systems to make the process easier. IBM, for example, provides financial institutions with a machine learning system on IBM z/OS in order to aid financial risk management. This system pays particular attention to credit scoring and is targeted at deducing credit worthiness which it uses to gauge risks.

Employing machine learning models can go a long way in ensuring anti-money laundering compliance, detecting rouge trading and other trade anomalies, so it's best to not starve your business of these elements of sanity.

Machine learning and big data are presently gaining the attention they deserve, and there's no doubting that both depend on each other's strength. More importantly, both have consistently made major impacts on how we undertake business operations. This article revealed some four ways by which a combination of machine learning and big data, if applied, can be a fillip to business intelligence. It's therefore left to you to up your game as an entrepreneur.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

5 Rare But Essential Productivity Practices

Sorce: Originally published by Stephen Guise on his personal website.

Productivity is defined as “the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services.”

A simpler definition that we tend to use? Getting things done.

But I think the more complicated definition is better, because it reveals important nuances of productivity. One of those nuances is that language “being able to…” A key factor of productivity is ability, and there’s a spectrum. I’m able to swim well, but Michael Phelps is able to swim really fast.

Productivity = Effort x Ability

I swam competitively for 12 years, but my ability was never even close to that of Olympic Champion Michael Phelps. On a scale of 1–10, if my swimming ability is a 4, then Phelps’ ability is a 10.

Thus, if we both put forth full effort (10), according to the formula above, my score is 40 to his 100. Do the math — he’d still smoke me in a race even if I tried twice as hard as him.

This example highlights ability as the critical factor of productivity. Elite athletes so hard to defeat because their ability is almost always around 10/10, so when they put in a full 10/10 effort, they will win just about every time. The same concept applies to productivity.

Most of us spend a lot of time working (effort) and too little time improving how we approach work (ability). Even broader than work, I think we do this in life! We spend a lot of time “living” and being “so busy.” But how much time do we spend optimizing our practices, strategizing our routines, planning for our needs, and simply taking care of ourselves?

This article contains rare productivity practices because it focuses on skills and preparation, two things that are done outside of actual work sessions. While these things will always seem like minor details or even inconsequential, they usually bring the highest ROI (Return On Investment)!

Why Skills and Preparation Beat Effort

Ability = Skills x Preparation

Ability can be broken down into skills and preparation. That is, how skilled are you at the task, and how prepared are you to execute? I want to briefly explain why skills and preparation matter more than effort and “in session” productivity tricks. It goes back to the formula. Effort is a variable just like skills and preparation, but they all behave very differently. Here’s the formula.

Productivity = Effort x (Skills x Preparation)

Effort (1–10): Your effort can be 1 on Tuesday and 10 on Wednesday. It can and does vary wildly for various reasons.
Skills (current training level): Your skills are going to be the level to which you’ve trained, no more and no less. I can’t go from a zero on the piano one day to Chopin the next day. That would take years of practice. I also won’t regress quickly if I’ve built up the skill.
Preparation (0–3): The normal score for preparation is one, and that simply means that you’re basically ready and able to perform your skills to your current ability. If you take PEDs, then maybe your preparation goes to two. Cheater! Haha, for real though, caffeine is a PED for productivity. It doesn’t increase your skills, but it does temporarily amplify your energy state and mental acuity, which increases your overall ability. This is one reason I don’t consume caffeine — I don’t want temporary boosts and dependence, I want permanent improvement and independence. In this formula, preparation can go below one, which means it can dramatically affect productivity.

The problem with focusing on effort or PEDs is their temporal nature. Your productivity today might be at the cost of being productive tomorrow (from fatigue or withdrawal). But if you focus on skill-building, you’ll permanently increase your skill score, which will always multiply your efforts, whatever they may be! And if you take a long-term approach to preparation, you’ll multiply your skills and efforts even further!

So the question is, “What are some of the most critical skills and preparation practices for greater productivity?”

Practice #1: Get Excellent Sleep and Nutrition

This is obvious when read in an article, but not always practiced and not always recognized as a factor in real life. Who pursues sleep as a strategy for improving their work? Not many. Who thinks about their lunch in terms of varying fuel quality for their brain this afternoon? Not many.

Based on their behavior, most people think they can short themselves on sleep and eat whatever they want and still perform like champions. They continue to believe it only because they haven’t experienced their true potential. Try improving your sleep quality and length and your diet for awhile and you’ll see the difference. When I stopped eating fast food in college, I stopped falling asleep in class (for the first time in my life).

Here’s a crude example: How do you stop the greatest basketball player in the world? Be it prime Michael Jordan or some mythically good player who has perfect skills, how can you stop them? Easily. Simply withhold water from them for two days. They’ll be so dehydrated and weak that they won’t be able to do much of anything, let alone play basketball. Elite skills + no water = failure.

A severely dehydrated athlete could still provide 10 in effort and have level 10 skills, but without water, their preparation is a 0, which nullifies everything else. (Effort is not a measure of what you can do, it’s a measure of how hard you try, and trying hard with no strength will look no different than not trying.)

Dehydrated Player: Productivity = Effort (10) x (Skills [10] x Preparation [0]) = ZERO (please send him to the hospital)

Sleep and nutrition are the foundational preparation for all of life.

Preparation is a sliding scale, and many people in the world are operating at something like a 0.5 or 0.25 score in their preparation (possibly using caffeine to get closer to one). That means they’re only getting 1/4 or 1/2 the results from their efforts and skills as they should be getting with basic sleep and nutrition! Adding an extra point to preparation goes a lot further than adding a point to effort.

Ben Franklin famously said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Similarly, we could say, “An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of caffeine.” It might not translate perfectly with dosage, but you get the point.

Practice #2: Meditate (Focus Practice)

Meditation has a lot of benefits. For productivity, the clear benefit of meditation is improved focus, not through voodoo meditation magic, but because meditation improves your focusing skill. The act of moving your attention from distracted thoughts back to your breaths will prepare you to move your attention back to your work.

Focusing is the single most important skill for being productive. It’s such a simple concept — paying full attention to what you’re doing — but it’s one of those things that’s simple to understand and difficult to master. Any progress made in this area will pay huge dividends throughout your life. Meditation is the best way to directly practice focusing that I’m aware of.

Practice #3: Refine Your Processes

Life is comprised of various processes. Processes within your body, processes of nature, processes of society, and processes of your actions. The cool thing about processes is that they’re reliable. You can typically expect the same result if you follow the same process.

What does this mean for your life? Pay attention to the processes you follow and the results they bring! If your day always seems to start poorly or slowly, then take a close look at your morning routine. That’s the process responsible for those results!

Athletes are yet again a great example because of their various routines (processes) that get them ready to perform. Athletes are some of the most ritualistic people you’ll meet because rituals are processes, and any athlete worth his or her salt must respect the process if they are to succeed.

What processes should I look at?

You don’t necessarily have to look for problem areas. Good processes can be improved further. For example, I used to exercise by alternating basketball and random weight lifting (of all muscle groups), and sessions like that could last up to two hours. I was in pretty good shape, and there was nothing wrong with it, but I wasn’t getting much stronger. When I switched my process to focused, shorter sessions of just weightlifting with targeted muscle groups (push, pull, legs) always followed by a protein shake, results came faster even though I worked out for less time. I improved an already beneficial process, and now think back to the equation. Since this process greatly increased my preparation score, I can apply less effort for better results.

See the distinction here? I could have doubled my workout time or effort under the old process and still been disappointed, because the process was not ideal for my goal of getting stronger. Since I optimized the process, I was able to work less and get better results!

Look at your processes/routines for exercise, eating, grooming, mornings, bedtime, working, and emailing and ask yourself, “Is the process I’m using most optimized for the result I want to achieve?” If you find even one small tweak to improve the process, the beneficial effect will compound!

Practice #4: Set Up Strategic Conditionals (If ____ Happens, Then I Will ____)

Life is not linear or predictable. It’s a crazy, wavy line that bounces around in ways you might not expect. Your job is to try to direct the craziness in the general direction you desire. To do that, you need to both anticipate what could happen and what you’re going to do about it. This is preparation.

Let me give you an example of not doing this that has negatively affected me. I’ve been going to the gym very frequently — about 5 days per week — for full, intense workouts. But I’ve run into three unplanned situations. Here’s how I handled them.

I got a sinus infection [failure].

I was sick, and didn’t work out. I’m okay with not working out while sick, but my definition of “sick” was extremely fuzzy. Because of my vague definition of sick, I skipped working out on a few days that, looking back, I shouldn’t have. One could say a few days missed won’t hurt, but that’s a wrong and dangerous perspective. Every day counts for a lot. Every decision makes a difference. Small choices matter because they set a precedent for the rest of your life.

Am I going to be world class consistent or am I going to meddle in mediocrity because I’m not prepared? In this case, I chose the latter, and I intend to improve upon that! Now I have a clearer idea of what I expect to do depending on how I feel.
If I am feverish, I’m not doing anything.
If I have sniffles but feel I am on the upswing, I expect to walk or do some other kind of light exercise.
If I feel myself again and just have nagging post-sickness symptoms, I will work out as usual.

With a clear plan of “if X, then Y,” sickness won’t derail me for long. If it’s a long-term or complicated illness, I expect myself to define my exercise expectations based on the specific illness.

I drank wine [failure].

After I drink alcohol, I can usually feel it (negatively) on some level the same or next day. Since I had not decided how alcohol would fit into my fitness plans, after drinking, it was easy to delay working out until when I felt “completely fresh.” This caused me to miss a few days that I didn’t want to miss. I was able to exercise, but unable to respond to a spontaneous excuse I hadn’t prepared for.

I injured my pinky finger [success].

Here’s one where I got it right. I jammed my pinky finger playing basketball just yesterday. The top and middle joint have a beautiful purple hue and the finger is swollen. In this state, I am both unable and unwilling to grip significant weight with the finger, due to pain and risk of reinjury. This severely limits my options in the weight room.

I’m not sure when exactly I decided it, but I operate under the expectation that even when I’m injured, I can find a way to exercise. Seeing a girl with a full cast on her leg outwork almost everyone else in the gym on a recent cruise only solidified that view. Injury is rarely an excuse to be completely inactive because of the many ways we can exercise.

After 2.5 hours of basketball yesterday, my legs were jello, my thigh was bruised, and my right hand pinky was out of order. With my upper and lower body needing to rest and heal, I worked my core. Success!

Lastly, consider this: if you have a conditional set up in your mind, then when X happens, not only are you less likely to derail, but you’re more likely to take positive action because you pre-created the intent to act by saying, “if X happens, I will Y.”

Practice #5: Expand Your Definition of Productivity

If you generate good feelings and good health, that’s productive on a lifewide level. That is to say that even the activity I typically badmouth, watching TV, can be productive if you need the break!

Workaholics are practically worshipped in many societies, but they miss out on their true potential. If you’re not well rested, your performance suffers. This is a non-debatable limitation of humans. Some research suggests that of the typical 8-hour workday, people only work for about three hours. Yes, THREE. The human brain is a well-designed machine, and it will take breaks to cool off as needed. In the real world, this means we probably work a lot less than we think we do.

The problem with working your brain too hard is inefficiency. Do you really think the time spent browsing Facebook to burn time is as rejuvenating as lounging on your couch or bed watching your favorite show? Of course not, because one is pretending to work and the other is intentional rest.

The Inefficient Workaholic Cycle
Work hard (100% depletion = zero energy left)
Pretend to keep working as you stalk people on Facebook (10% recovery)
Work exhaustedly with your meager energy
Pretend to keep working as you check your phone (even though you didn’t hear the notification sound)

This desperate attempt to “keep working” often continues because of poor work quality (due to exhaustion). Here’s a better cycle.

The Efficient Work Cycle
Work hard (100% depletion)
Relax just as hard (100% recovery)
Work (100% depletion)
Relax (100% recovery)

Work hard. Relax hard. One of my favorite things to do is what I call the “Work and Play Carousel,” in which I’ll alternate an hour or two of work with a similar time of rest and relaxation.

Improving your productivity is rarely a matter of putting in more effort. It’s often a matter of working smarter, building key skills like focusing, preparing yourself for different situations, and simply taking care of yourself. I hope this article helps you tackle your work days in a smarter way!

About the Author

Stephen Guise is the author of three books, including the worldwide bestseller, Mini Habits, which is available in 17 languages. You can learn more about him here.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Northside Family Eye Care´s testimonial

"I have been working with Soledad Tanner for about a year now and I must say my experience with her has exceeded my expectations. Since the very beginning, Ms Tanner has provided me with steady, thoughtful strategies to improve my business profitability as well as educating me in the sometimes complex matters of accounting and key practice metrics for my practice. I highly recommend Soledad Tanner Consulting to take your business to the next level."

Thank you,

Martha Ortega, O.D. 
Therapeutic Optometrist
Northside Family Eye Care

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Childress Business Comunication´s testimonial

"Soledad Tanner, MIB has an amazing ability to see complex operations from many sides, and as result, she offers creative solutions that produce results. If your business's financials could use another pair of eyes, contact her!"

Cynthia Childress, Ph. D. (April 3, 2017)

"She is amazingly accomplished and experienced. If your business needs help with profit and productivity, she is a great go-to!" 

Cynthia Childress, Ph. D. (April 5, 2017)

Cynthia Childress

GerID Medical Consultants´ testimonial

"Soledad Tanner Consulting group assisted my medical company finding pathways to become more efficient and established mechanisms of control for employees and cash flow which has improved our overall patient care.

She and her team has become a reliable tool for us in different operation and needs".

Roberto Andrade, MD

GerID Medical Consultants
“Geriatric, and Infectious Diseases Services”


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Adriana en complicidad. Entrevista a Soledad Tanner

What to do to start a business correctly? What are the main mistakes business owners make when planning for a business?  This and more with “Adriana en Complicidad” – “Women, Let’s talk business”. (Spanish Interview)

Que hacemos para comenzar un negocio correctamente? Cuales son los principales errores que se cometen al iniciar un negocio? Esto y mas en el programa “Adriana en Complicidad”, segmento “Mujeres, hablemos de negocios”. Muchas gracias a Adriana Calhoon, President and CEO de AC Media, por tenerme en su programa

Soledad Tanner, M.I.B

Created with flickr slideshow.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

How to Determine if a Worker is an Employee or an Independent Contractor

Source (Texas Workforce commission): https://goo.gl/WGn1yg  

If a worker’s service fits the TUCA definition of employment as outlined in Section 201.041, the individual is considered an employee. The law defines employment as a service performed by an individual for wages under an express or implied contract for hire, unless it is shown to the satisfaction of the Commission that the individual’s performance of the service has been and will continue to be free from control or direction under the contract.

The three essential elements of the definition of employment are service, wages, and direction and control. Direction and control can be present in an employment relationship even if the employer does not exercise direction and control, but retains the right to do so.

TWC uses a 20-point comparative approachPDFEnglish Estatus de Empleo – un Enfoque Comparativo PDF as a guide to determine if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.