I work very hard to get my MBA quantitative students to understand the relevance of the statistical underpinnings of data analytics. Since many of the students are very early in their MBA programs and some have not had basic statistics, my discussions of how Big Data Analytics will become very important to most businesses often bounces off their overworked, Teflon minds. How then do you get the average business person to buy into big data?

“Business people tend to have a high-level understanding of big data, but it’s not always easy for them to get a handle on how to take such huge amounts of information and leverage it to their advantage, according to Boyd Davis, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Datacenter Software Division.  But what a lot of people do understand is sports, and the way statistics can be used in developing insights into how a game is going to go.”

Teaming with big data solutions company Kaggle, Intel hopes that at least some of the millions of rabid March Madness fans will turn to a new approach to filling out their brackets. The March Machine Learning Mania competition is open to all comers and runs through March 19th. Currently there are 150 teams entered in the first stage of the competition, which is using the results of last five years’ tournaments to build predictive models. The first stage is optional (but obvious to data scientists important) and began in January. The money ($15k) comes with the winner of the second stage where predictive analytics are used to forecast the outcome of this year’s tournament.

“It is very important for us to use sports and to show them that with the capabilities of … technologies and tools, they can do things in a different way,” Davis said. “We’re using sports as the platform to get people learning about the capabilities of big data.” Kaggle’s (Will) Cukierski said using sports makes sense. “People love to play with sports data, and are usually willing to put up with statistics if it deals with sports.”

Now why didn’t I think of that?

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