Model Drift: How It Affects Your Predictive Models and What to Do About It

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Changes in the business world, like shifts in customer behavior, economic factors, or events such as the global pandemic, are becoming common. These changes can affect the performance of machine learning models used in businesses. Over time, it’s normal for these models to lose their accuracy, a phenomenon known as “drift.”

At its core, model drift refers to the change in model performance over time. This change is usually due to the evolving nature of the real-world data that the model was trained to predict. When the underlying patterns in the data shift, the model, which was trained on historical data, starts to lose accuracy.

In the context of machine learning, this concept becomes even more critical. Machine learning models are often designed to learn from data and make predictions or decisions based on that learning. However, as the world changes – new trends emerge, consumer behaviors shift, and market dynamics fluctuate – the data that the model was trained on no longer represents the current environment, leading to a drop in model performance.

Model drift detection

Detecting model drift represents an important first step in addressing it. Model drift detection involves monitoring the model’s performance over time to identify significant changes in accuracy or other metrics. This can be done through various techniques, such as:

  • Statistical methods: These involve using statistical tests to compare the distribution of the model’s training data with new incoming data. Common statistical tests include the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, Chi-square tests, and more.
  • Performance metrics monitoring: Regularly monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) such as accuracy, precision, recall, or F1 score. A significant change in these metrics can indicate drift.
  • Machine learning-based approaches: Using machine learning algorithms to predict the probability of drift by analyzing patterns in the data over time.
  • Change detection algorithms: These algorithms are designed to detect changes in the data distribution or in the relationship between input and output variables.

In order to implement drift detection, we should follow the following steps:

  • Data splitting: Split the data into chunks or time windows and compare models trained on different chunks to detect changes over time.
  • Resampling: Using bootstrapping to simulate different scenarios and test the model’s stability under various conditions.
  • Constant learning: These involve continuously updating the model with new data, allowing it to adapt to changes dynamically.

Model Drift: How It Affects Your Predictive Models and What to Do About It

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Model drift metrics

To effectively monitor model drift, specific model drift metrics are used. These metrics can include changes in accuracy, precision, recall, or F1 score. By regularly evaluating these metrics, data scientists can get early warnings of model drift and take necessary actions. Here’s a detailed elaboration on some model drift metrics:

  • Accuracy decline: Measures the change in the percentage of correct predictions made by the model. Comparing the current accuracy with the baseline accuracy established during the model’s training phase.
  • Precision, Recall, and F1-Score: These metrics are particularly useful in imbalanced datasets and for models where false positives and false negatives have different implications.
  • Area Under the Curve (AUC) for ROC curve: AUC provides an aggregate measure of model performance across all possible classification thresholds. Particularly applicable for binary classification problems. AUC is robust to imbalanced class distributions.
  • Mean Absolute Error (MAE) and Root Mean Squared Error (RMSE): Commonly used in regression models. They provide a measure of how far the model’s predictions are from the actual values.
  • Kolmogorov-Smirnov (K-S) statistic: Measures the degree of separation between the positive and negative distributions. Useful in models where the separation between the classes is important, such as credit scoring models.

Model drift monitoring

Continuous model drift monitoring is essential for maintaining the health of predictive models. This involves setting up systems that regularly check the performance of the model against current data. Such monitoring helps in quickly identifying when a model starts to drift, enabling timely interventions. Some techniques to monitor the model drift are given as:

  • Statistical Process Control (SPC): Using control charts and other statistical methods to monitor the performance and stability of the model.
  • A/B testing: Comparing the current model’s performance with a new version or against a control group to detect drift.
  • Concept drift detection algorithms: Implementing algorithms specifically designed to detect changes in the data, such as ADWIN, Page-Hinkley, or CUSUM.

Types of Model Drift

Since drift indicates a change in the relationships within the data, it’s important to monitor different types of drift in a production:

1. Concept drift

Concept drift is the most common type of model drift. It occurs when the statistical properties of the target variable, which the model is predicting, change over time. This shift can be due to various factors like evolving market trends, changes in consumer behavior, or external environmental factors.

Concept drift is common in stock market prediction models. The volatility and unpredictability of financial markets, influenced by factors like economic policies, geopolitical events, and market sentiment, can cause significant changes in the data patterns that these models rely on.

Moreover, E-commerce and retail businesses often use predictive models for customer behavior, product recommendation, and sales forecasting. Changes in consumer preferences, market trends, and socio-economic factors can lead to concept drift in these models.

2. Data drift

Data drift is characterized by changes in the model’s input data. This can occur when the distribution of the data changes, often due to factors unrelated to the target variable.

A practical example of data drift can be observed in the domain of wine quality prediction. In this case, a model might be trained on a dataset with certain characteristics of wine, like a specific range of alcohol content. However, if the model is later used to predict the quality of wines that have a different alcohol content range, it may experience data drift. The underlying assumption that the training and new data are drawn from the same distribution is violated, leading to potential inaccuracies in the model’s predictions​​.

The other example analyzes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on consumer behavior. Almost overnight, consumer behavior patterns changed dramatically. Models that were trained on pre-pandemic data, such as those used in demand forecasting, suddenly found their predictions to be inaccurate. For instance, there was an unexpected surge in the sales of certain products like yoga pants, which a model would not have anticipated based on historical data. Similarly, models used in healthcare, like those predicting pneumonia from X-ray images, had to adapt to the new types of cases that arose due to the pandemic​​.

Data drift can occur in the financial sector due to external factors like changes in interest rates by central banks. Such changes can alter financial and investment behaviors, affecting the performance of predictive models in this domain. For instance, models used for credit scoring or investment prediction might no longer be accurate if they fail to adapt to the new patterns of financial behavior​​.

3. Seasonal drift

Seasonal drift is a predictable and recurring change in the model’s performance due to seasonal factors.

An example of seasonal drift can be observed in e-commerce platforms. These platforms often use machine learning models for fraud detection or to identify fake stores or products. As the platform grows and incorporates more users and products, especially during peak seasons like holidays, the model must adapt to the new data to maintain accuracy. Failing to do so can make the model less effective at identifying fraud activities, as the buying patterns and user behaviors change during these peak times.

Another instance of seasonal drift is found in environmental forecasting, such as predicting solar radiation. For example, a study in South Korea used SARIMA (Seasonal ARIMA) to forecast solar radiation based on hourly data collected over several years. This model takes into account the seasonal variations in solar radiation, which is important for accurate predictions in this field​​.

4. Population Drift

Population drift occurs when the population represented in the training data changes over time, leading to a mismatch between the training data and the current population.

A classic example of population drift can be seen in machine learning models used for loan approvals in banks. If a model was initially trained on data mostly from loan applicants aged between 32 and 40, its predictions might have been optimized for this group’s behavior patterns. However, over time, if the bank starts receiving loan applications predominantly from people under 30, the model may no longer perform accurately. The change in the age profile of applicants represents a shift in the population the model is applied to, necessitating adjustments or retraining of the model to align with the new demographic characteristics.


To effectively manage model drift, it’s important to implement robust drift detection techniques, maintain regular model updates, and employ adaptive models that can respond to changes in data patterns. Regular monitoring using appropriate metrics and tools is essential for maintaining the health and accuracy of predictive models.

Model drift in predictive analytics represents an inevitable challenge, but with proper detection, monitoring, and management strategies, its impact can be minimized. By understanding and actively managing model drift, data scientists can ensure that their models remain accurate, reliable, and valuable in making data-driven decisions.

Staying proactive in model management can significantly improve the reliability and usefulness of your predictive models, especially nowadays in a constantly evolving data environment.


Model Drift: How It Affects Your Predictive Models and What to Do About It

  • Reduce Risk
  • Simplify Compliance
  • Gain Visibility
  • Version Comparison

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