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Innovative Ways to Enhance ML Models with Feature Engineering

March 14, 2024
min read

Feature engineering is a cornerstone of data processing that plays a pivotal role in extracting meaningful information for effective machine-learning models. It enhances model performance and decision-making by transforming raw data into insightful features.

The process involves selecting, modifying, or creating variables that provide valuable insights. It improves model accuracy and allows users to make informed decisions.

Enhance ML Models with Feature Engineering
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By addressing challenges such as missing data and categorical variables, feature engineering focuses on extracting relevant information. Other than that, it aims to optimize model efficiency and ultimately contribute to the success of data-driven applications. 

Let’s delve into the feature engineering basics, challenges, and strategies to understand how we can implement the right techniques in the evolving digital landscape.

Foundations of Feature Engineering 

Feature engineering involves transforming raw data into meaningful features, influencing the success of machine learning models. Techniques include handling missing data, converting categorical variables, scaling, creating new features, and addressing sequential data. 

The foundation of feature engineering lies in the fundamental techniques employed to transform raw data into informative features for machine learning models. The process includes several key steps, as mentioned below: 

  • Handling missing data
  • Converting variables into a numeric format suitable for modeling
  • Scaling features to ensure uniformity
  • Creating new features to capture additional insights
  • Addressing sequential data patterns

As professionals gain expertise in these foundational principles, paving the way for impactful enhancements in the performance and interpretability of machine learning models, the integration of an automated tool becomes paramount. MarkovML, for instance, excels in creating reusable workflows that seamlessly integrate into these established practices. The no-code platform provides an efficient and streamlined approach to enhance the overall effectiveness of your machine-learning processes. 

The thoughtful application of feature engineering principles is essential for unlocking the full potential of data. This will help in improving the accuracy of machine learning models while allowing the extraction of meaning patterns from diverse and complex datasets. 

Challenges in Feature Engineering

From handling high-dimensional data to selecting relevant features and managing missing volumes to adapting to evolving datasets, the area of feature engineering involves numerous challenges. 

1. High Dimensionality

When organizations manage datasets with numerous features, it usually poses a challenge in computational efficiency, model interoperability, and the risk of overfitting.

Implementing effective feature engineering strategies such as dimensionality reduction techniques is essential to mitigate this particular challenge. These strategies will help extract relevant information and optimize model performance.  

2. Missing Data

Since missing data can distort analysis and modeling, which may lead to biased results, it is considered a challenge in the area of feature engineering.

Strategies for missing data elimination require careful consideration to avoid introducing false or incorrect patterns. Decisions about handling missing data impact the quality and reliability of the features used in machine learning models. 

3. Categorical Variables

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Examples of categorical variable handling include color or job titles. These variables are a challenge because they cannot be used directly in machine learning models.

Instead, encoding methods such as one-hot encoding can be utilized. For example, converting colors into numeric values can be easy for the algorithm to understand. By doing this, users can address this challenge. 

4. Data Scaling

Variables with different scales can dominate model training and affect accuracy; therefore, data scaling is considered a potential challenge in feature engineering.

Let’s take an example of housing data. If house prices and square feet are on different scales, scaling methods like normalization will ensure fair contribution from each feature, enhancing model performance. 

5. Feature Creation

Developing new meaningful features requires domain knowledge; therefore, feature creation is challenging in feature engineering. For example, transforming timestamp data into day-of-the-week features may help enhance predictions.

However, improper creation may introduce noise. So, balancing creativity and precision is crucial to generating informative features that improve performance. 

6. Temporal and Sequential Data

Due to their dynamic nature, the temporal and sequential data present challenges in feature engineering. Predicting stock prices requires extracting trends.

Lag features, representing past stock prices, help capture temporal dependencies. It is, therefore, crucial to choose the right time window and encode sequential patterns for the model to understand the evolving nature of the data over time.

7. Imbalanced Data

Since the imbalanced data skews model training towards the majority class and results in biased predictions, it is considered a challenge in feature engineering.

Let’s take fraud detection as an example, where fraud instances are rare. Balancing techniques such as using specialized algorithms are crucial to ensure accurate model learning and performance. 

8. Domain-Specific Challenges

Unique complexities in various fields lead to challenges in feature engineering. Let’s understand this with the help of an example. In the field of medical diagnostics, interpreting imaging data requires domain expertise.

One needs an in-depth understanding of medical nuances to craft relevant features such as texture patterns and characteristics. Addressing these specific challenges ensures the development of effective features for developing accurate predictive models in healthcare. 

Innovative Feature Creation Techniques

1. Embedding Layers for Text Data

This advanced text data embedding technique is used to transform words into dense numerical vectors similar to Natural Language Processing (NLP).

For example, the word cat might be represented as (0.2, 0.8, 0.5) in continuous vector space. This embedding captures semantic relationships that allow the deep learning model to better understand and process textual information. 

2. Automated Feature Generation

Automated Feature Generation is a technique where algorithms create new features from existing ones to optimize model performance. It involves mathematical operations and interactions between variables that allow models to extract complex patterns automatically.

For example, consider a dataset with variables age and income. The automated feature generation technique will automatically create a new feature called wealth that combines both fields by multiplying the two (age*income). 

3. Feature Scaling and Normalization Innovations

Feature scaling and normalization innovations involve advanced methods to scale and normalize data using Robust Scaling and Min-Max Scaler techniques. The feature scaling innovations improve model performance by ensuring that features are appropriately scaled and normalized for accurate predictions.

For example, in a housing price prediction model, applying Robust Scaling to the square footage feature can mitigate the impact of outliers, while the Min-Max Scaler can normalize the number of bedrooms. This ensures a balanced influence of both features on the model's prediction. 

Feature Selection Strategies 

1. Advanced Statistical Methods

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The statistical methods for feature selection aim to enhance data representation and capture intricate relationships to improve the performance of machine learning models.

Here is a list of advanced statistical methods that help assess feature importance. Let's discuss these methods in detail to gain a better understanding of their functional areas. 

Filter Methods

The Filter method accesses the intrinsic characteristics of features using statistical measures or scores. For example, in a customer churn prediction model, the filter method could be employed to access the correlation coefficients between each feature and the target variable.

Features with high correlation, such as customer satisfaction scores or usage patterns, may be selected as top-ranked features. 

Univariate Feature Selection

The Univariate feature selection method evaluates features independently based on statistical measures. For instance, using statistical tests like chi-squared or ANOVA ranks features by their relevance.

By setting a significance threshold, only the top-ranked features are selected. This method enhances model performance while reducing dimensionality. 

Mutual Information

In the context of feature selection, the mutual information method helps identify informative features for predicting the target variable.

For example, in a spam email detection model, mutual information analysis could reveal that the frequency of certain keywords has high mutual information with a target variable (spam or not). This instructs the selection of relevant features crucial for accurate clarifications. 

Features with high mutual information are considered more relevant, and those with low mutual information can be potentially eliminated.  

2. Model-Based Feature Selection

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The machine learning-based feature selection techniques help assess feature importance through model performance metrics. These methods allow for the extraction of key features that contribute significantly to predictive accuracy and optimizing model efficiency. 

Wrapper Methods

The Wrapper method assesses feature subsets by training and evaluating models iteratively. Different subsets are considered to identify the optimal feature combination.

Examples include forward selection, backward elimination, and recursive feature elimination. These methods utilize a specific learning algorithm to evaluate feature subsets and select the most informative subsets. 

Embedded Methods

Embedded methods incorporate feature selection within the model training process. Feature importance is assessed during model training.

For example, LASSO (Least Absolute Shrinkage and Selection Operator) for linear models is used to minimize the absolute values of the coefficient and simplify the model by excluding less relevant features.  

Feature Importance from Trees 

A strategy that assesses each feature's contribution in a tree-based model. Higher importance indicates a more influential feature in predicting the target variable that helps feature selection.

For example, the Random Forest strategy is used to build multiple decision trees and merge their predictions. It quantifies the feature’s impact on reducing impurity or information gained during decision tree construction. 

Sequential Feature Selection

The process of evaluating feature subsets sequentially to find the best combination is referred to as sequential feature selection. Forward selection starts with an empty set and adds features one at a time, while backward elimination begins with all features and removes them iteratively. 

For example, in a medical diagnosis model, forward selection might sequentially add patients' vital signs, starting with the most influential, to optimize the combination for accurate predictions of a specific condition. 

Evaluation and Validation of Engineered Features

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In machine learning model development, the evaluation and validation of engineered features are crucial steps. When evaluating engineered features, the focus is on measuring the effectiveness of the features, while validation ensures generalization to new data.

For example, in a predictive maintenance scenario, if the engineered feature is “time since last maintenance,” evaluation involves measuring its correlation with machine failures. 

Validation ensures the feature’s reliability across diverse machines or in different periods, preventing overfitting to specific instances. Techniques like cross-validation and holdout sets aid validation and ensure robust performance. Ultimately, a well-evaluated and validated feature contributes to a more accurate and reliable machine learning model. This will enhance the predictive capabilities in real-world applications. 

Case Studies: Real-World Applications 

Let’s have a look at real-world feature engineering examples to understand how it has helped improve machine learning performance in different domains. 

1. Text Classification for Customer Feedback

  • Challenge: Diverse and unstructured customer feedback data. 
  • Feature Engineering Solutions: TF_IDF Representation, sentiment analysis, and word embeddings. 
  • Outcome: Improved model accuracy by capturing nuanced sentiments and relevant keywords to enhance the performance of customer feedback classification. 

2. Medical Diagnosis with Imaging Data

  • Challenge: High-dimensional medical imaging data. 
  • Solution: DImensionality reduction using PCA, feature scaling, and extraction of texture features. 
  • Outcome: Reduced computational complexity, improved interpretability, and enhanced accuracy in disease classification. 

3. Credit Risk Assessment

  • Challenge: Imbalance data sets with varied features.
  • Solutions: Synthetic minority oversampling technique (SMOTE), feature scaling, and interaction term creation.
  • Outcome: Mitigated class imbalance, better capturing of risk factors, and increased precision in predicting credit default. 

4. E-commerce Product Recommendation 

  • Challenge: Sparse user-item interaction data. 
  • Solution: Collaborative filtering, matrix factorization, and feature encoding. 
  • Outcome: Enhanced recommendation accuracy by uncovering latent patterns and improving the personalization of product recommendations for users. 

Future Trends in Feature Engineering

The future trends in feature engineering are expected to focus on several key areas to address emerging challenges and leverage advanced technologies. 

1. Automated Feature Engineering

Continued development of automated tools and techniques, such as AutoML and neural architecture search, to streamline the feature engineering process and Handle increasingly complex datasets. 

2. Deep Learning for Feature Extraction

In the healthcare industry, deep learning models such as convolutional autoencoders and transformer networks are employed to automatically extract features from raw images, aiding in tasks such as disease detection and diagnosis.  

3. Feature Interpretability and Explainability

Emphasis on interpretable feature engineering methods, including feature importance techniques and model agnostic interpretability tools to enhance the transparency and trustworthiness of machine learning models. This can be seen in the finance industry for understanding features such as credit history, income, and debt-to-income ratio. 

4. Integration of Contextual Information

The transportation and logistics industry is poised to benefit significantly from the incorporation of textual information, such as temporal dynamics, spatial relationships, and user context. Incorporating real-time data on traffic patterns, weather conditions, and user preferences can enhance the accuracy of route optimization. It helps create more informative and context-aware features leading to improved model performance

5. Domain-Specific Feature Engineering

The energy sector can leverage domain-specific feature engineering in the analysis of sensor data from equipment and machinery in energy production and distribution. Customizing feature engineering techniques for particular domains such as natural language processing, genomics, and sensor data analysis can improve model performance by capturing domain-specific characteristics.


To sum up, the above article about feature engineering outlines its indispensable role in elevating machine learning performance. From navigating challenges in high-dimensional data to employing advanced strategies and feature-creation techniques, the journey through feature selection, exemplified by insightful case studies, showcases its transformative impact. 

As we anticipate future trends embracing automation, interpretability, and domain-specific tailoring, the essence of feature engineering persists–a dynamic process that harmonizes the intricacies between data nuances and model efficiency.

Leverage MarkovML functionality to simplify your machine learning workflows using a no-code platform. The tool dynamically adapts to data patterns and improves the efficiency and effectiveness of machine learning models.  

This paradigm shift not only enriches predictive capabilities but cements feature engineering as a linchpin for sustained advancements in the ever-evolving landscape of machine learning.

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