Hurricane Earl was whistling by the East Coast the week prior. Oracle OpenWorld comes up next week where I am sure we will be bombarded with talk about Exadata and other analytical tools. I am thinking ahead to my keynote on data and analytics at Defrag.
Given all that, in the last few book events I have found myself talking about the National Hurricane Center case study in the book just a bit longer.
My voiceover about the NHC goes something like this:
“After trillions invested in analytic technology over the last few years, most businesses blew – badly – their forecast of our “economic hurricane” in 2007-2008. We did not even come close. In contrast, The National Hurricane Center has steadily improved its forecasts. The track forecast error in the 1980s, 48 hours out, was 225 nautical miles. Today, that error is a little less than 100 nautical miles.
Living in Florida, I am glad the NHC keeps improving its forecasts. But I am even more grateful for their reduction in“false positives” – they don’t make me evacuate unless absolutely necessary. Evacuations typically cause chaos – emergency services, panic shopping, and other community disruption. Over the years, the improvements in track forecasts have amounted to hundreds of miles of coastline not evacuated and billions of dollars saved in emergency services. Think of the ROI – how many enterprise analytic projects even attempt to show a quantifiable payback?
To deliver those forecasts, the NHC team takes an invasive approach to collecting a wide variety of external, real – time data. They use satellites, dropsondes, Hurricane Hunters, ocean buoy based sensors to collect air pressure, humidity, temperature, wind, and plenty of other data points.
Then the information is processed using multiple forecast models – many contradictory – both for redundancy and for validation. They want models to challenge each other. Errors are a statistical reality. And then each year they audit and publicly report their forecast accuracy.
Finally, it is impressive in how many different formats the NHC reports its data from the simple bulletins radio stations read out to large streams of data that websites like StormPulse use to generate awesome graphics of the hurricanes”
So, here comes the Jack Nicholson admonition. Most enterprises cannot handle the truth about their analytics, nor can vendors about their customer’s analytics about why they missed the “economic hurricane” so badly. Here are some things we need to face up to: