At PASS Business Analytics Conference, a look at history to see the future of data analytics

The 2016 PASS Business Analytics Conference kicked off at the San Jose, CA Fairmont on May 2 with a day of pre-conference sessions ahead of this morning’s keynote address and general sessions.  PASS President Adam Jorgensen welcomed the attendees to this year’s PASS Business Analytics Conference by highlighting that the attendees are part of a community that they sometime don’t realize exists due to the sheer breadth of those individuals and roles that create and consume stories driven through analytics.  PASS brings a unique sense of community in the data platform space having been a hub for technical data professional since 1999.

Said Jorgensen: “For years we’ve seen the value and transformation that a strong technical community provides and we’re now seeing a new audience embrace that concept of community and are excited to be able to provide an event that fits their needs.”

Jorgensen then introduced Jer Thorp, a data artist and educator who is the co-founder of The Office for Creative Research, an Adjunct Professor at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Design Innovation. Thorp, who was also the Data Artist in Residence at The New York Times from

2010-12, asserted in his keynote that adding meaning and narrative to huge amounts of data can help people take control of the information that surrounds them, and revolutionize the way we utilize data.  That data truly is everywhere is not disputed. Just through the first four months of 2016 Thorp pointed out there were 6,263 stories referencing the word “data” in The New York Times.  Ten years ago those stories would have been relegated to the business section. Now those stories permeate all sections of the paper and cover everything from business to parenting. This is what it’s like now to live in data. It’s in our lives at every level. To highlight this Thorp presented his visualization highlighting air travel showing flights arriving and taking off over a standard day. Each of these points representing a single plane; those planes packed full of people like you and I.

Thorp then jumped back in time – to one of the first modern visualizations of a social network from Jacob Moreno highlighting the social intricacies of a turn of the twentieth century 4th grade classroom (including the lone brave interaction between genders he observed.)

It’s that process that was how data was collected until modern data collection systems emerged: you had to physically immerse yourself in the source of the data itself and observe the data firsthand. The modern counterpart to this comes from an article in the September 25, 2013 New York Times article by Corey Kilgannon identifying a study that identified Hunter College High School as the “Saddest Spot in Manhattan.” The study utilized a hook into the Twitter API to run a mood analysis against tweets the results highlighted in that article. In 100 years we moved from having to sit in a classroom to conduct a study on social networks to using a social network to derive insights into a classroom’s mood.

Thorp went on to discuss how our active measurements create data. Data does not exist without us. From those individuals on thousands of flights landing and taking off every minute to Florence Nightingale’s visualizations of deaths due to disease versus trauma in the Crimean War we are data points.

It was then when the address changed to how he attempts to make the data stories he tells more human. Something he calls the Ooh/Aah Principle:

“A good data visualization should do two things, it should catch the attention of humans who wouldn’t otherwise pay attention to it (ooh) and it should teach them something (aah). I use this measure all the time as can you to determine if your data visualization is good: Is it too much ooh and not enough ahh? Too much ahh and not enough ooh? When the fulcrum is just right, when it’s balanced perfectly you’re going to get the best imact for your visualization and more humans are going to care. Sometimes we spend so much time working with machines we forget it’s humans that are going to care or base decisions on our visualizations.”

Overall, Jer Thorp was driving the point that data doesn’t doesn’t exist without humans, that how humans have interacted with data continues to evolve, and that we need to keep the human aspects of our data intact as we visualize it for our audiences.

The PASS Business Analytics Conference continues through May 3.

Over the last four years, PASS has held the Business Analytics Conference, which has provided the opportunity to build essential skills for tomorrow’s business analyst through expert sessions, hands-on labs, and inspirational keynotes. The conference has allowed attendees to return to their jobs and unleash the analytics power within Excel, Power BI, SQL, Hive, and other technologies to drive performance and optimization for their organizations and customers.

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