Guest blog by Nick Finch, CTO of DataPA
Like most people in the IT industry of a similar age (close enough to 50 to see the hairs poking out its nostrils), I’ve seen a lot of change. That said, it’s hard to think of any technology that has the potential to change so many working practices and industries as the current developments in machine learning and data analytics. For an analytics vendor like DataPA, staying at the forefront of such developments is a constant (but exhilarating) challenge.
Bringing fresh, new ideas into the business
It’s one of the reasons we at DataPA often take on students for a summer placement. It not only brings new ideas into the business, but also makes long term recruitment of fresh talent much easier. Our experience this summer was a perfect example of why embracing new talent is always a good idea.
For many customers on inmydata*, our cloud analytics platform, forecasting is a critical requirement for their business. For instance, our retail customers need sales forecasts to set targets and deliver stock planning. So, we scoped out an R&D project to discover whether we could use machine learning to automate forecasting for our customers.
Luckily for us, The DataLab run a fantastic MSc placement project in Scotland for data science, data engineering and analytics that includes a 10 to 12 week industrial placement. Through that program we engaged with the brilliant MBN Academy, who within a week matched us with Callum, a Data Engineering MSc student from Dundee University.
The machine learning placement project brought fantastic results
Things progressed well over the summer. For some of us in the business it took some frantic googling to keep up. RNN, LSTM, DeepAR and Prophet!? At least we’d heard of Facebook. There was, however, no arguing with the results. Testing against data from previous years, the models Callum built could predict annual sales within 2% of the actual figure. That compared with a 15% margin of error for the manual forecasts the customer had used in practice. To put that into context, the manual forecast was over £15 million out on sales of just over £100 million, whereas the automated forecast was less than £300,000 out.
Accurate automatic forecasting on demand
Since Callum finished his dissertation with us, we’ve been integrating the models he developed into our cloud platform. We can now deliver accurate forecast models on demand, automatically building rolling forecasts on a weekly basis. It’s a development that not only offers huge opportunity to our existing customers, but also allows us to compete much more aggressively in the crowded analytics market space.
Taking part in DataLab’s MSc Placement Project this summer has been fantastic. MBN Academy made it utterly painless to recruit Callum. In the short time he was with us he was a pleasure to work with and delivered real benefit for both DataPA and our customers.
Find out more about The Data Lab’s MSc programme and how you can get involved in offering a placement opportunity.
* inmydata is an innovative cloud analytics solution. It delivers everything you need to set the right goals for your organisation, and then measure your progress in achieving them.