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5/20/2013
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Big Data Tool Mimics Human Problem Solving Technique

Case-based reasoning compares real-time information with past cases to provide companies with the best course of action, says Norwegian firm Verdande, maker of CBR product Edge.

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We humans solve problems every day of our lives. In most cases, we base our decisions on past experiences. Now an emerging technology called case-based reasoning strives to emulate that problem-solving strategy.

Verdande Technology, a Trondheim, Norway-based startup founded in 2004, is using case-based reasoning (CBR) to provide workers in healthcare, financial services, and the oil and gas industry with real-time information to help them identify and act up upon critical events before they occur.

Verdande's Edge platform is a CBR system based on a pretty basic idea: similar problems require similar solutions. It identifies and analyzes data patterns in real time, uses historical events to predict future issues, and quickly diagnoses and corrects problems, the company says.

[ Find out how one big city is using data to deal with niggling problems such as stolen garbage cans. Read Chicago CIO Pursues Predictive Analytics Strategy. ]

"Say you have a situation where you're drilling. A situation comes up; it's compared automatically to similar situations in the past," said Verdande CEO Lars Olrik in a phone interview with InformationWeek. "It's all about enabling the decision process to be better and more informed, and to avoid (problems) before the situation happens.

In a world awash in big data -- with much more on the way -- Verdante hopes its case-based approach to problem solving will prove popular with businesses, particularly those in highly regulated industries where mistakes can lead to costly fines or more serious consequences.

"Look at the transformation that technology is making in healthcare, and the legislative requirements in financial services. Look at the environment and legislative requirements in oil and gas," said Olrik. Companies need to compile and analyze massive amounts of data to demonstrate behavior that complies with complex rules and regulations. "The only way to do that is by applying a raft of different types of technologies, from complex event processing to case-based reasoning," he said.

At first glance, CBR might seem a lot like predictive or prescriptive analytics, the latter of which recommends specific courses of action and shows the likely outcome of each decision.

But rather than provide multiple what-if scenarios that professionals -- be they petroleum engineers, Wall Street traders, or cardiovascular surgeons -- need to analyze quickly, CBR compares real-time information with past cases to provide the best course of action, according to Verdande.

In a sense, CBR is designed to mimic human problem-solving behavior, only at a much faster pace and with massive amounts of data that would overwhelm human analysts. Verdande's CBR system is tailored for the company using it.

"There's a raft of decision-making processes that are put into the system, enabling (the user) to make correction actions," Olrik said. "It will then start looking for patterns and simulate what has happened in the past. And that's really what we do as human beings."

The firm's Edge solution is unique, said Olrik, who claimed that Verdande is the only company today offering a real-time CBR product. He added, however, that some large corporations use CBR technology internally, and that other vendors sell smart applications that compete with Verdande's offering.

"There are companies like GE that use case-based reasoning for internal applications," said Olrik. "And there are so many smart applications. Every day something amazing is being launched. So we typically compete with other clever technologies."

He added: "It's all about enhancing and supporting the individual's decision capabilities. The companies that are going to win this battle are those that use big data, surrounded by clever technology that enables them to make better decisions."

Interestingly, despite its big-data focus and advanced design, CBR is very human in its core philosophy: People learn from past mistakes and avoid repeating behavior that might lead to unwanted outcomes.

"If you're cooking, you know not to put your hand on the stove," said Olrik. "Here we've taken it to the next level."

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