Thursday, August 20, 2009

Data Exploration Celebration: The ENBIS 2009 Challenge

The European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics (ENBIS) has released the 2009 ENBIS Challenge. The challenge this time is to use an exploratory data analysis (EDA) tool to answer a bunch of questions regarding sales of laptop computers in London. The data on nearly 200,000 transactions include 3 files: sales data (for each computer sold, with time stamps and zipcode locations of customer and store), computer configuration information, and geographic information linking zipcodes to GIS coordinates. Participants are challenged to answer a set of 11 questions using EDA.

The challenge is sponsored by JMP (by SAS), who are obviously promoting the EDA strengths of JMP (fair enough), yet analysis can be done using any software.

What I love about this competition is that unlike other data-based competitions such as the KDD Cup, INFORMS, or the many forecasting competitiong (e.g. NN3), it focuses solely on exploratory analysis. No data mining, no statistical models. From my experience, the best analyses rely on a good investment of time and energy in data visualization. Some of today's data visualization tools are way beyond static boxplots and histograms. Interactive visualization software such as TIBCO Spotfire (and Tableau, which I haven't tried) allow many operations such as zooming, filtering, panning. They support multivariate exploration via the use of color, shape, panels, etc. and they include specialized visualization tools such as treemaps and parallel coordinate plots.

And finally, although the focus is on data exploration, the business context and larger questions are stated:

In the spirit of a "virtuous circle of learning", the insights gained from this analysis could then used to design an appropriate choice experiment for a consumer panel to determine which characteristics of the various configurations they actually value, thus helping determine product strategy and pricing policies that will maximise Acell's projected revenues in 2009. This latter aspect is not part of the challenge as such.

The Business Objective:
Determine product strategy and pricing policies that will maximise Acell's projected revenues in 2009.

Management's Charter:
Uncover any information in the available data that may be useful in meeting the business objective, and make specific recommendations to management that follow from this (85%). Also assess the relevance of the data provided, and suggest how Acell can make better use of data in 2010 to shape this aspect of their business strategy and operations (15%).
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