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Out of thin air, a business trend appears


When it comes to data science—that fashionable field focused on extracting meaning from collections of information—Microsoft (MSFT), Wal-Mart (WMT), and Pfizer (PFE) have one thing in common: They all using software from Chicago-based Mu Sigma to turn their business data into colorful visualizations, which they then use to tease out seemingly unrelated trends.

(Picture a business problem as a single star in space. You might notice upon inspection that the star is impacted by the gravitational pull of others near it, but you might not realize that the entire constellation is impacted by the pull of a nearby galaxy, too. Zooming out will help you get the right perspective to identify the problem; changing the orientation of a galaxy of stars, and not just a few, will actually help you solve it.)

The company employs more than 3,500 data scientists with experience across 10 industry sectors including pharmaceuticals, banking, airlines, and health care. It has attracted more than $200 million in financing from Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic.

Galactic metaphors aside, Mu Sigma’s technology distinguishes itself by automatically identifying connections between business data that could clarify a decision or provide more context that could affect the result. For example, the software could incorporate trending comments on social networks that may better explain a flood of customer service requests or product returns. Taken together, the knowledge gleaned from this related information could be used to keep a customer from switching services, the company says.

“The world is not one or two big problems but many problems that are interconnected with each other,” says Dhiraj Rajaram, the company’s founder and CEO.

MuSigma’s latest technology for “discovering” potential connections is muUniverse. The software displays a visual overview of data points that might be relevant for a particular problem. Then, it allows business analysts to add or remove them as desired.

“Identifying the ‘linkage’ across analytics problems truly is fundamental to how companies will distinguish themselves in this space moving forward,” says one Mu Sigma customer, Ruben Sigala, chief analytics officer at Caesars Entertainment (CZR). “I can think of dozens of such projects in our past where the real breakthrough occurred when we began connecting what may have seemed tangential elements or projects into one cohesive analytics exercise.”

These services aren’t inexpensive. A proof-of-concept generally takes five to 16 weeks, and a Mu Sigma engagement could cost $1 million to $2 million during the initial phase if a business decides to go ahead with applying the model regularly in decision-making processes, Rajaram estimates. Perhaps that’s why Mu Sigma signs many of its customer contracts with a company’s CMO or CFO.

This item first appeared in the Oct. 24 edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the business of technology. Sign up here.