As we collectively climb up the hype cycle towards the peak of inflated expectations for analytics, and I think this can be argued for many industries and applications of analytics, a bit of historical perspective makes a good antidote both to exaggerated claims but also to the pessimists who would say it is “all just hype”.
That was my starting point for a paper I wrote towards the end of 2012 and which is now published as “A Brief History of Analytics“. As I did the desk research, three aspects recurred:
- much that appears recent can be traced back for decades;
- the techniques being employed by different communities of specialists are rather complementary;
- there is much that is not under the narrow spotlight of marketing hype and hyperbole.
The historical perspective gives us inspiration in the form of Florence Nightingale‘s pioneering work on using statistics and visualisation to address problems of health and sanitation and to make the case for change. It also reminds us that Operational Researchers (Operations Researchers) have been dealing with complex optimisation problems including taking account of human factors for decades.
I found that writing the paper helped me to clarify my thinking about what is feasible and plausible and what the likely kinds of success stories for analytics will be in the medium term. Most important, I think, is that our collective heritage of techniques for data analysis, visualisation and use to inform practical action shows that the future of analytics is a great deal richer than the next incarnation of Business Intelligence software or the application of predictive methods to Big Data. These have their place but there is more; analytics has many themes that combine to make it an interesting story that unfolds before us.