If you’ve read a few news reports about data mining, you may have gotten the impression that it’s more complex than brain surgery. It isn’t. You may have heard that data miners can learn things about you that you don’t even know yourself. That’s unlikely. You may have heard that you need a Ph.D. and reams of data to get started in data mining, and that’s ridiculous.
You can be a data miner
Data mining is something that people in many professions have integrated into their work to get better information for making everyday business decisions. Data mining can be applied to any field, and many real-life data miners have produced positive returns on their first projects.
So, who can be a data miner? You can.
Data mining isn’t the exclusive realm of people with advanced degrees. You don’t need to be an expert in statistics or have a huge quantity of data at your fingertips.
Data mining is for people who have a good understanding of their own business and its challenges, who are comfortable with ordinary computing (such as using office applications and other business software), and who have a decent grasp of numbers (such as the ability to properly interpret graphs and tables).
A data miner also needs patience and time to devote to the process. Data mining is fast compared to the alternatives, but it isn’t instant.
Get some inspiration from these real-life data-mining successes:
Public safety: The New York Fire Department uses data mining to identify factors that put buildings at risk for fire. Data miners have identified dozens of these risk factors, and developed a model to produce a fire risk score for more than 300,000 New York City buildings. Inspectors use these scores to decide which buildings to inspect first. Their aim is to reduce the number of fires and protect the lives of New Yorkers.
Retail: Amazon.com uses data mining with its extensive data resources to provide individualized product recommendations to each of its customers. This retail giant doesn’t just use data to decide what products to offer. It also tests every functional and cosmetic aspect of its website and email to discover details that increase sales.
Medical and survey research: Smoking threatens the life and health of millions of Americans. A partnership of the Centers for Disease Control academic and commercial interests used data mining in combination with survey research to identify messaging that could effectively discourage youth from smoking, and used that information as the basis for an anti-smoking advertising campaign.
Use the knowledge you have to mine data
To become a data miner, you will discover new things. You’ll find new data analysis methods, the data-mining process, and ways of evaluating and testing your discoveries. You’ll try out new tools. You’ll broaden your resources for obtaining data, whether you create it new or get it from a government or commercial source.
But you already have the most valuable resource for data mining: your own knowledge of your business. You know who does what and how. You know how your data is obtained. You know a lot about what solutions for your problems may be possible. No kind of mathematics, computer, or software substitutes for that information.
You also know something about who’s who in your organization. And that means that you can tap into an even more extensive repository of relevant business knowledge, the knowledge held in the minds of your coworkers and other colleagues. This is the most valuable resource available for data mining, and it’s yours already.