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Editor's note: Join ebizQ for BPM in Action on June 23, 2010.

Flood of digital information increases the need for accuracy -- including knowing which data to leave out.

Remember when we used to ride around in our cars and listen to AM radio? Maybe you're not quite old enough to remember, but there was a time when AM radio was all we had - and that was fine. There also used to be only a handful of television channels, which we had to get up out of our chairs to change. That was fine, too. I don't remember longing for a wider variety of music on the radio, or more channels to watch on TV. We had what we had, and it was all fine - it was all "good enough."



There was also a time when the level of accuracy that our intelligence and law-enforcement systems offered was "fine." We connected the dots well enough to eliminate the greatest threats.

Not any more.

Today, there is an intense push for accuracy in our data and, particularly, in our ability to accurately "connect the dots." Why now? What's changed? What's pushing the accuracy button more than it's been pushed before?

Turn off the radio, put down the remote, and I'll explain.

What is accuracy?

I'm a mathematician. When I think of accuracy I think of numbers and percentages, of false-negatives and false-positives. But for law enforcement or intelligence officials, accuracy means tracking down and mitigating a potential risk before it happens. Both perspectives are critical in understanding what accuracy is and how to improve your results.

Mathematically, accuracy is a pair of numbers. Accuracy compares the number of times you "miss" (present a false negative) and the number of times you incorrectly "hit" (present a false positive). Accuracy measures how well your process makes a decision - how well it can find a "true-positive" result amid the false negatives and false positives.

When you hear a phrase like, "our system is 95 percent accurate," it usually refers to the false-negative rate - or the connections it missed. To gauge the true accuracy of that system, you also need to know the false-positive rate. If the system floods you with false positives, and touts a 95 percent accuracy rate (focusing on the things it missed), that's not going to get you very far. You're going to be spending all your time chasing false threats.

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