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The Importance of Data Preparation for Machine Learning

Mariam Anwar

Product Marketer

October 24th, 2023

Machine Learning (ML) focuses on developing algorithms and models that enable computers to learn from and make predictions or decisions based on data. It encompasses various techniques, such as supervised learning, unsupervised learning, reinforcement learning, and more. In ML, getting accurate results depends on having clean and well-organized data.

That’s where data preparation comes in. It’s the process that ensures the data is in the best possible shape for making reliable predictions and gaining meaningful insights. Data scientists commit nearly 80% of their time to data preparation, but only 3% of company data fulfills basic data quality standards.

This highlights the critical importance of investing in data quality and efficient data preparation processes; they form the foundation for successful machine learning projects.

Data Preparation’s Importance in ML

A machine learning model’s performance is directly affected by data quality. Let’s explore what happens if the data is not prepared thoroughly:

  • Compromised Model Accuracy: Machine learning models rely on data patterns. Inaccurate data leads to models built on ‘dirty’ data, resulting in off-the-mark predictions. This can result in both compromised accuracy and increased costs. For instance, a healthcare model trained on unclean data may show an impressive 95% accuracy rating during testing, but when deployed in real healthcare settings, it could fail to diagnose critical conditions.
  • Compounding Errors: In interconnected systems where outputs from one model feed into another, poor data quality can lead to compounding errors. This cascading effect can result in large-scale inaccuracies, especially in integrated digital ecosystems or complex supply chains.
  • Biased Models and Ethical Concerns: When models learn from biased data, they mirror and exacerbate these biases, raising ethical concerns. In areas such as hiring or lending, this perpetuates unfair practices. For example, a hiring algorithm trained on historically biased data might consistently discriminate against qualified candidates from certain demographics.

How To Effectively Prepare Data for Machine Learning

Machine learning model efficiency hinges on data quality. Let’s explore key steps of data preparation for machine learning to ensure that the models yield reliable and actionable insights.

Problem Identification and Understanding

First, you must have a comprehensive understanding of your goals, desired outcomes, and any constraints or limitations.

With a clear objective you can easily identify which data features are vital and extraneous for the model’s training. Additionally, the nature of the problem inherently dictates the standard for data quality. For instance, a machine learning model tasked with predicting stock prices needs a higher level of data precision than one designed to suggest movie recommendations.

Data Collection

Next is gathering relevant data that can feed into our machine learning model. This process might involve tapping into internal databases, external datasets, APIs, or even manual data logging. It’s crucial at this stage to ensure data diversity and comprehensiveness in order to safeguard against potential biases and ensure a representative sample.

Data Exploration

This phase involves summarizing key statistics, creating visual representations of the data, and identifying initial patterns or outliers to check for data quality issues such as duplicates, inconsistent data types, or data entry errors.

Data Cleaning

Data cleaning focuses on sifting through the data to identify and rectify imperfections in the dataset. It involves tasks like handling missing data, detecting and handling outliers, ensuring data consistency, eliminating duplicates, and correcting errors. This step is crucial as it lays the foundation for reliable insights and ensures that machine learning models work with accurate, high-quality data.

Data Transformation

Once the data is clean, it might still not be in an optimal format for machine learning. Data transformation involves converting the data into a form more suitable for modeling. This can entail processes like normalization (scaling all numerical variables to a standard range), encoding categorical variables, or even time-based aggregations. Essentially, it’s about reshaping data to better fit the modeling process.

Feature Engineering

With the data transformed, the next step is to delve deeper and extract or create features that enhance the model’s predictive capabilities. Feature engineering might involve creating interaction terms, deriving new metrics from existing data, or even incorporating external data sources. This creative process involves blending domain knowledge with data science to amplify the data’s potential.

Data Splitting

Lastly, once the data is prepared and enriched, it’s time to segment it for the training and validation processes. Typically, data is split into training, validation, and test sets. The training set is used to build the model, the validation set to fine-tune it, and the test set to evaluate its performance on unseen data. Proper data splitting ensures the model isn’t overfitting to the data it’s seen and can generalize well to new, unseen data.

Data Preparation with Astera

Astera has exceptional data preparation capabilities for organizations seeking to harness the power of clean, well-prepared data to drive insightful machine-learning outcomes. Astera not only provides real-time data health visuals for assessing data quality but also offers an intuitive point-and-click interface with integrated transformations.

This user-friendly approach makes data preparation accessible to individuals without extensive technical expertise. Let’s look at how Astera streamlines the process of data preparation for machine learning models:

Data Extraction

Astera excels in data extraction with its AI-powered capabilities that allow you to connect seamlessly with unstructured sources. This feature ensures that even data from unconventional sources can be effortlessly integrated into your machine learning workflow.

Data Profiling

Astera’s preview-centric UI provides a detailed preview of your data, enabling you to explore and understand your data better before the actual preparation begins. Real-time data health checks ensure you can spot issues immediately and address them proactively.

Data Cleansing

Astera offers advanced data cleansing capabilities, including the removal of null values, find-and-replace operations, and comprehensive data quality checks. Additionally, its “Distinct” action ensures that your data is clean and free from redundancies, making it ideal for machine learning applications.

Data Transformation

Astera’s visual, interactive, no-code interface simplifies data transformation tasks. You can perform actions like normalization, encoding, and aggregations using point-and-click navigation, making it easy to reshape your data to suit the requirements of your machine-learning models.

Ready to optimize your data for machine learning success? Download Astera’s 14-day free trial today and experience the power of effective data preparation firsthand!

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