People frequently express their concerns about technology overtaking humanity. It's a common theme of our age: will the machines replace people?
This is often a fear around big data analytics. If instinct is a distinguishing value of living creatures, then surely handing that over to digital technology is a bad thing. But saying so betrays a misunderstanding of what big data actually brings to the conversation.
"When it comes to this whole digital play, we need to go back to say ‘are we taking humans out of it?'," says Jakes Jakobsen, Managing Executive: Vodacom Corporate and Collaboration, StorTech. "But ultimately I believe it will make humans more important than ever going forward. However this is reliant on humans wanting to change, the only constant in life is change."
Analysing big data delivers insight. In response to the oft-said maxim ‘You don't know what you don't know', big data analytics does not replace our ability to make decisions. It simply enhances it. This can be seen at its most profound and effective when used to drive customer experiences.
Jakobsen is adamant about this: "Big data is there to improve the customer experience. Bottom line."
Big data analytics is in essence taking data from your environment and shaping it in order to reach new conclusions. Data analysis is not new and companies have engaged in it all the time. The internal records of a business contain insights that are used often. For example, financial results are nothing more than analysing the financial data of a business to determine its performance.
What has changed is which data is used and how we approach the analysis process. Starting with the latter, digital platforms make it possible to engage with and turn data in ways not possible before, especially at the low costs available to the market. Businesses are now able to access substantially more powerful, smarter and yet much cheaper platforms that add entire new dimensions to analytics.
This has made it feasible to feed far broader datasets into the equation. Prior to big data platforms, companies hardly even scraped the surface of their internal records. Now analysis not only dives deeply into the various relationships that exist inside a company's records, but can also draw on various external resources.
Companies are able to capture and interrogate information, thus driving decisions in the three areas that matter: understanding customers, reducing risk and improving efficiency. This can be accelerated to even occur in real-time.
"It goes without saying that the faster you can analyse data, theoretically you have access to a broader customer base ahead of your competitors. We provide that capability to be more nimble in making decisions based on information and facts."
There are three stages of data analytics. The first is historic (what you have done thus far), real-time (what you are doing now) and predictive (what you can do next). The third stage is the holy grail: knowing what a customer might do in the future. For example, a company such as Vodacom can predict if a customer might be planning to leave. It can then pre-empt that decision with special offers and other nuanced remedies, thus reducing churn.
Said Jakobsen: "If you understand the customer better, you can make decisions about the customer and what their behaviour will be. Thus you reduce risk in your business and improve operational efficiency around the lessons learned. Good analytics create a positive knock-on effect."
But returning to our topic, what about humans? Doesn't big data analytics just threaten to sideline the decision-makers?
Big data can lose the human touch, but that is counter-productive. It should be used to help humans drive better decision-making. Information can be pooled, allowing agents to make faster and smarter decisions when engaging with clients. Big data is unbelievably empowering and should not be feared. Instead it should be seen as another way to be better at your job.
"When it comes to this whole digital play, we need to go back to say ‘are we taking humans out of it?' But ultimately I believe it will make humans more important than ever going forward. It's the willingness for people to change that really stands in the way. Big data won't take your job away. But without it, the company could fail. That will cost many jobs, no doubt about it."