What is R?
R is an open source and free programming language that was developed for statistical analysis and production of high-quality graphics. It has long been popular with statisticians and academics who make up part of the large active user community behind R. This community has contributed over 15,000 packages that extend the base functionality of R, making it easy to implement a vast range of techniques for data manipulation, analysis and visualisation.
Making data-driven decisions
With growing access to larger amounts of data about their sales, costs, products, customers and other factors that influence their performance, innovative companies have been utilising data in creative ways. McDonalds are customizing menus according to customer preferences, weather and time of day, using data-driven algorithms. Walmart have used their vast data sets to predict customer demand, identifying that hurricanes surprisingly lead to a huge increase in demand for strawberry Pop Tarts. By using this information, they were able to send more stock to affected stores to meet increased demand and increase sales.
A range of different industries have adopted R to make sense of their data. From customer segmentation, to demand forecasting, R can be used to improve operations by uncovering patterns within data, using a range of statistical methods, including sophisticated machine-learning techniques.
Microsoft and R
Microsoft have recognized the power of R and offer not only their own enhanced distribution of R, Microsoft R Open, but the ability to use R within Microsoft products and services such as Power BI, SQL Server / SQL Server Machine Learning Services and Visual Studio. Microsoft have also developed several packages, including the Microsoft Machine Learning Package for R.
Rather than being a point and click tool, R is a language that is used by writing reusable scripts, enabling automation and repeatable workflows. Because it is a language, it offers a huge amount of flexibility in manipulating data and the ability to write new functions. Even without a background in programming, it is relatively easy to get up and running once you know the basics.