Behavioral Analytics

What is Behavioral Analytics?

Behavioral analytics focuses on how users behave, and why. This covers a wide range of applications, starting from online shops and up to connected devices in your smart home. Deep understanding of the behavior allows to optimize for future circumstances, serving customers better or optimizing the use of resources. There is a lot of good that can be done here.

For example, a smart restaurant might use weekly visitor patterns, combined with information about reservations and some forecasts to plan for the daily cooking routine and product replenishment. Smart online store could provide personalized product recommendations, just like Amazon does (or do it even better). Smart houses can help to reduce energy consumption or warn on various dangerous situations (e.g. unexpected spike in energy consumption at night or unusual person entering from the window).

Design Requirements

Behavioral analytics is one of these areas where multiple interesting software requirements are present at the same time:

  • responsive and high-load (we don't want to degrade performance during the holiday shopping rush);
  • personalized (we need to track events at level of a single user);
  • large scale data mining is required, since we have to process all the accumulated date in order to create new models, verify them and track their performance);
  • user interactions have to be captured and quantified properly in order to have some data to process.

All this might sound high-tech and complicated, however it is quite easy to start approaching such problems. Devil is still in the details, though.

It all starts with domain events.

Role of Domain Events

User interactions with a system could be represented as a sequence of events in a stream. For example, in online store we could have such sequence:

If a system emits events, these could be captured and persisted in an event store, suitable for further processing and integration.

Towards a Deeper Insight

With event store, it is quite easy to start using events for greater benefit (aside from integrating different modules and 3rd party systems).

First of all, we could to set up a dashboard with various reports derived from such events and updated in real-time. Or easier yet - we could project events to some OLAP system and let managers slice and dice the data as they see fit. Even Excel has such capabilities.

Given this initial insight, domain experts could come up with interesting ideas for improving user experience and getting more revenue out of the system.

Then, we could run batch processing across the event streams to verify new theories or fine-tune existing models. These could later be expressed in form of rules that will run in real-time and interact with users, reacting to their behaviors.

Not only we could execute various rules in real-time (with extremely low latency), but we could adjust their behavior and verify them through A/B testing. This approach, perfected by Amazon, involves splitting user base into multiple groups and giving each group slightly different experience. Nature of the experiment is recorded along with the user behavior captured in events. These are later compared to pick the most efficient approach.

With A/B testing you could verify various theories:

  • What is the best location of an advertisement on a page?
  • Which promotion offers for users buying product A drive more sales?
  • Which room brightness is the most comfortable for people in the evening?

Evolutionary process of iterating over theories, models and real-time rules is a reflection of a usual software development process to a slightly different field. The purpose of this process is still the same though: gain deeper insight into the domain. One might even claim that the principles of domain-driven design could still apply here.

To be continued

Behavioral analytics and its application to various aspects of our life is something that interested me for a long time. I hope to continue this topic in a series of posts.

If you have some comments, insights or interesting ideas to share, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

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