Data mining (sometimes called data or knowledge discovery) is the process of analyzing data from different perspectives and summarizing it into useful information – information that can be used to increase revenue, cuts costs, or both. Data mining software is one of a number of analytical tools for analyzing data. It allows users to analyze data from many different dimensions or angles, categorize it, and summarize the relationships identified. Technically, data mining is the process of finding correlations or patterns among dozens of fields in large relational databases.
Data mining is the practice of automatically searching large stores of data to discover patterns and trends that go beyond simple analysis. Data mining uses sophisticated mathematical algorithms to segment the data and evaluate the probability of future events. Data mining is also known as Knowledge Discovery in Data (KDD).
The actual data mining task is the automatic or semi-automatic analysis of large quantities of data to extract previously unknown, interesting patterns such as groups of data records (cluster analysis), unusual records (anomaly detection), and dependencies (association rule mining). This usually involves using database techniques such as spatial indices. These patterns can then be seen as a kind of summary of the input data, and may be used in further analysis or, for example, in machine learning and predictive analytics. For example, the data mining step might identify multiple groups in the data, which can then be used to obtain more accurate prediction results by a decision support system. Neither the data collection, data preparation, nor result interpretation and reporting is part of the data mining step, but do belong to the overall KDD process as additional steps.
- Data – Data are any facts, numbers, or text that can be processed by a computer. Today, organizations are accumulating vast and growing amounts of data in different formats and different databases. This includes:
- operational or transactional data such as, sales, cost, inventory, payroll, and accounting
- non-operational data, such as industry sales, forecast data, and macro economic data
- meta data – data about the data itself, such as logical database design or data dictionary definitions
- Information – The patterns, associations, or relationships among all this data can provide information. For example, analysis of retail point of sale transaction data can yield information on which products are selling and when.
- Knowledge – Information can be converted into knowledge about historical patterns and future trends. For example, summary information on retail supermarket sales can be analyzed in light of promotional efforts to provide knowledge of consumer buying behavior. Thus, a manufacturer or retailer could determine which items are most susceptible to promotional efforts.
- Data Warehouses – Dramatic advances in data capture, processing power, data transmission, and storage capabilities are enabling organizations to integrate their various databases into data warehouses. Data warehousing is defined as a process of centralized data management and retrieval. Data warehousing, like data mining, is a relatively new term although the concept itself has been around for years. Data warehousing represents an ideal vision of maintaining a central repository of all organizational data. Centralization of data is needed to maximize user access and analysis. Dramatic technological advances are making this vision a reality for many companies. And, equally dramatic advances in data analysis software are allowing users to access this data freely. The data analysis software is what supports data mining.
Data mining is ready for application in the business community because it is supported by three technologies that are now sufficiently mature:
- Massive data collection
- Powerful multiprocessor computers
- Data mining algorithms
Data mining derives its name from the similarities between searching for valuable business information in a large database — for example, finding linked products in gigabytes of store scanner data — and mining a mountain for a vein of valuable ore. Both processes require either sifting through an immense amount of material, or intelligently probing it to find exactly where the value resides. Given databases of sufficient size and quality, data mining technology can generate new business opportunities by providing these capabilities:
- Automated prediction of trends and behaviors. Data mining automates the process of finding predictive information in large databases. Questions that traditionally required extensive hands-on analysis can now be answered directly from the data — quickly. A typical example of a predictive problem is targeted marketing. Data mining uses data on past promotional mailings to identify the targets most likely to maximize return on investment in future mailings. Other predictive problems include forecasting bankruptcy and other forms of default, and identifying segments of a population likely to respond similarly to given events.
- Automated discovery of previously unknown patterns. Data mining tools sweep through databases and identify previously hidden patterns in one step. An example of pattern discovery is the analysis of retail sales data to identify seemingly unrelated products that are often purchased together. Other pattern discovery problems include detecting fraudulent credit card transactions and identifying anomalous data that could represent data entry keying errors.
Data mining techniques can yield the benefits of automation on existing software and hardware platforms, and can be implemented on new systems as existing platforms are upgraded and new products developed. When data mining tools are implemented on high performance parallel processing systems, they can analyze massive databases in minutes. Faster processing means that users can automatically experiment with more models to understand complex data. High speed makes it practical for users to analyze huge quantities of data.
The most commonly used techniques in data mining are:
- Artificial neural networks: Non-linear predictive models that learn through training and resemble biological neural networks in structure.
- Decision trees: Tree-shaped structures that represent sets of decisions. These decisions generate rules for the classification of a dataset. Specific decision tree methods include Classification and Regression Trees (CART) and Chi Square Automatic Interaction Detection (CHAID) .
- Genetic algorithms: Optimization techniques that use processes such as genetic combination, mutation, and natural selection in a design based on the concepts of evolution.
- Nearest neighbor method: A technique that classifies each record in a dataset based on a combination of the classes of the k record(s) most similar to it in a historical dataset (where k ³ 1). Sometimes called the k-nearest neighbor technique.
- Rule induction: The extraction of useful if-then rules from data based on statistical significance.
Data mining parameters include:
- Association – looking for patterns where one event is connected to another event
- Sequence or path analysis – looking for patterns where one event leads to another later event
- Classification – looking for new patterns (May result in change in the way the data is organized)
- Clustering – finding and visually documenting groups of facts not previously known
- Forecasting – discovering patterns in data that can lead to reasonable predictions about the future
Stages of Data Mining
- Stage 1: Exploration. This stage usually starts with data preparation which may involve cleaning data, data transformations, selecting subsets of records and – in case of data sets with large numbers of variables (“fields”) – performing some preliminary feature selection operations to bring the number of variables to a manageable range (depending on the statistical methods which are being considered). Then, depending on the nature of the analytic problem, this first stage of the process of data mining may involve anywhere between a simple choice of straightforward predictors for a regression model, to elaborate exploratory analyses using a wide variety of graphical and statistical methods in order to identify the most relevant variables and determine the complexity and/or the general nature of models that can be taken into account in the next stage.
- Stage 2: Model building and validation. This stage involves considering various models and choosing the best one based on their predictive performance (i.e., explaining the variability in question and producing stable results across samples). This may sound like a simple operation, but in fact, it sometimes involves a very elaborate process. There are a variety of techniques developed to achieve that goal – many of which are based on so-called “competitive evaluation of models,” that is, applying different models to the same data set and then comparing their performance to choose the best.
- Stage 3: Deployment. That final stage involves using the model selected as best in the previous stage and applying it to new data in order to generate predictions or estimates of the expected outcome.