What Is Analytics?

There is a surprising admission in an article entitled ‘What Is Analytics?’:

“It’s not likely that we’ll ever arrive at a conclusive definition of analytics…”

In an article entitled ‘Operational research from Taylorism to Terabytes: A research agenda for the analytics age’ the authors state:

“…may be the lack of any clear consensus about analytics’ precise definition, and how it differs from related concepts.”

The failure to construct a single definition that encompasses the meaning of analytics is not surprising: the word analytics is used in three different ways, with three separate meanings, and therefore, analytics requires three separate definitions:

  • analytics is used as a synonym for statistics or metrics. Examples are website analytics (how many views or clicks) or scoring analytics (number of points scored per 100 possessions).
  • analytics is used as a synonym for data science. Examples are data analytics, predictive analytics, or operations research and advanced analytics [the preceding phrase refers to two separate things: operations research and data science(advanced analytics)].
  • analytics is used to represent all of the quantitative decision sciences. This is the Davenport ‘Competing on Analytics’ usage.

Once it is recognized that three definitions are needed, it becomes possible to answer questions about analytics that previously caused problems. For example:

Question – Is analytics a discipline?

Answer – no, yes, no

The answer depends on which meaning of analytics we are referring to:

  • analytics = statistics/metrics. No. This is a type of measurement, is context sensitive, and essentially involves counting.
  • analytics = data science. Yes. Data science can be considered to be a discipline that combines elements of statistics and computer science.
  • analytics = all quantitative decision sciences. No. Analytics represents disciplines, but is not itself a discipline. (See Confusion Over Analytics)

So, not only can we arrive at a conclusive definition of analytics, we can (and must) arrive at three conclusive definitions of analytics!

3 thoughts on “What Is Analytics?

  1. prubin73

    Second bullet in the first set: Did you just lump OR in with data science? I’ll buy that connections between the two exist, but to me the intersection of OR and DS is a relatively small subset of OR.

    1. Robert Rose Post author

      I did not mean to imply that operations research and data science were the same thing. I should have made it clear that the example referred to the words advanced analytics when they are connected to operations research in the way shown. The phrase ‘operations research and advanced analytics’ is frequently seen in INFORMS communications, and it seems clear that the authors of that phrase are referring to two separate things (operations research and advanced analytics), and that the words advanced analytics refer to data science.

      I agree with you that operations research and data science are separate disciplines.

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