Data Analytics: Basics Everyone Should Know

Data analytics is the practice of taking raw data and drawing conclusions based on perceived trends. The people typically involved in this work are known as data scientists, but business owners and marketing professionals also engage in the science of analytics. Understanding the trends in any market or niche allows for more holistic, comprehensive approaches, and understanding true data trends can alter preconceived ideas or cognitive biases concerning information. Data analysis and visual models can improve businesses or offer a reliable means for course correction if necessary, and understanding why data matters is the first step to appreciating the value in learning how to best analyze results.

Big Data

Many large companies use big data to create powerful visualizations, to improve performance, to spot trends, and to increase efficiency. Boeing, one of the world's largest producers of aircraft, uses data analytics to ensure that airplane flights remain safe for everyone involved. Another interesting, albeit potentially creepy, example is how Target began guessing when female shoppers were pregnant according to their purchases. This allowed Target to target (see what I did there?) women with marketing ads corresponding to their data-assumed pregnancies with astounding accuracy. For executives, becoming the chief data officer—a position created within the last decade—is promising to be a lucrative position, at least for the time being.

Having substantive information about trends and direction creates a greater sense of transparency and a more firm understanding about the ways in which the company is succeeding or failing. Having access to factual information is crucial for all businesses, because having knowledge about what is or is not working can lead to improvements that would otherwise be overlooked. According to Stan Christiaens, co-founder and chief technology officer of data governance at Collibra there are seven key truths concerning data. One of these truths is automation, and he's right. It's completely necessary to automate data in order to streamline processes. Using integrated services in order to produce automated scenarios increases efficiency.

All business owners should employ data analytics in order to spot trends in their sales and marketing strategy. With valuable data, it becomes possible to support structured approaches to succeeding in any industry. Top companies know this and regularly navigate trends in order to avoid bottlenecks or to find better approaches in their marketing tactics.

By observing data, managers, supervisors, or executives can easily articulate which areas of a business are needing more attention or guidance, or data can show how successfully a particular method is performing. In order to scientifically measure results, it’s important to use objective standards. One of the most difficult aspects of analyzing data is deciding how to do so and where to begin.

Analytics Tools and Resources

There are a myriad of paid and free resources for data analytics, but some are better than others. Knowing which tools to use and which are more effective than others is a great start. Google is awash with paid advertisements for data analytics companies and services clamoring for new business. Here are some recommended tools for understanding data models and resources in order to integrate data analysis in your business:


Google
Would you like to learn from some of the best? If so, Google offers free courses on data analytics via Google Analytics Academy. Some of the online courses offer certifications (with accompanying tests along the way), and there are videos that help explain the information along with with reading materials. If your goal is to learn more about how analytics works or how to incorporate analytics into your business, then look no further. With Google at the podium the information is likely top-notch and filled with relevant content. In addition, Google’s productivity suite for businesses (only $5/month per user) features a spreadsheet application that can be connected to other Google applications for analyzing data.

Keen.io
Keen.io creates graphical data analytics by allowing data to be piped in via their API. Not only is Keen an excellent resource for analytics, the user interface (UI) is decadent and appealing. Plans start out free for anything under 50,000 events, but once you begin pumping data into Keen you’ll soon realize that any substantial business will exceed the free rate. The first paid tier is $20/mo, so it’s not exactly cost prohibitive. Keen.io is a worthy investment for anyone who wants to get serious about crunching data and discovering trends. Having access to your data in one centralized location is both helpful and practical. Keen.io has an API, allowing for integrations among services already in use.

WolframAlpha
This quirky and smart, computational knowledge engine can solve calculus homework and other advanced problems, and the site offers both a free and a pro version. Even using the free site is useful and fun, and it offers some resources for statistical analysis of data sets. There may be a learning curve if you’re new to any of the terminology, but this resource is an excellent tool for any data scientist in the making: or, for anyone who simply thinks it's cool to test the statistics behind tossing a coin.

Wikipedia
Your college professors probably gave you the spiel about Wikipedia not being considered a reputable source of information. That's because anyone can edit the site. However, the information often features external citations, and there are many gems available for the inquisitive mind. That being said, there is no greater (free) resource for accessing reference materials and articles on the web, and there are many excellent articles about data science and data analytics. In addition, Wikipedia lists “thought leaders” in the field of data science, links to relevant articles, and helpful tools and examples. The site relies on donations in order to remain active, but anyone can access this powerful database without paying a dime.

Microsoft Excel
Although Microsoft Excel isn't for everyone (there's a steep learning curve), the software does feature extensive and powerful tools for understanding data trends and capturing key information, including the ability to create custom formulas within the application. In addition, for Microsoft Office users, Excel integrates (with semi-ease) into other Office software, such as Word and PowerPoint. Microsoft offers courses for certification training, but with the cost of the software, learning materials, and testing, this may not be feasible for anyone on a tight budget.

Crunching the Numbers

From financials to turnover (i.e., churn) rates, data analytics encompasses a wide range of possibilities for understanding trends in any company. Having a firm grasp on data and metrics allows owners and leaders to make wiser, more informed decisions that make an impact on their processes. Every company should understand what is happening and why.

Having evidence and knowledge to support decisions empowers people and increases accountability and transparency. Learning how to effectively analyze data takes time, but it’s a worthy investment that will pay for itself by highlighting bottlenecks and inefficient processes. Learn how to measure results, not only because it’s trendy (pun intended), but because it’s smart.

James David Wade

About James David Wade

James is an automation analyst for Twin Engine Labs' CodePilot.io. He also happens to be our chief documentarian and an excellent editor who enjoys helping our customers better understand what we do.