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The data game is changing

The introduction of new data-centric roles such as chief data officer and data scientist are coming into play, as organisations realise the competitive edge that can be gained through insights from information.

So says Yolanda Smit, strategic business intelligence manager at PBT Group, adding that in the SA financial services sector, we are increasingly seeing the introduction of chief data officers. "Data and data principles are being elevated to ‘C' level, as businesses realise data is a real asset that needs to be leveraged." 

For financial services, it's not only a question of competitiveness, adds Smit. "The role of the CDO is also being driven by the increasing need for compliance in data practices and risk decision-making processes to new regulations such as The Protection of Personal Information Act and Basel's BCBS239. The CDO formally governs data and what is done with that data, as this process proliferates through all elements of the organisation's systems, people and processes."

Similarly, she says, there's an upswing for data science in the retail sector, as retailers start looking scientifically at data and embedding insights derived from it directly into operational business decision-making processes. "Retailers are largely impacted by data regulation too," she says. "Retail giants handle massive volumes of customer data, particularly those with loyalty programmes in place. Either way, there are vast amounts of not only personal information, but financial and credit card details too."

According to Smit, retailers are also using their data to get insight in terms of customer spending patterns, which helps them target customers directly with personalised special offers and suchlike more effectively. "However, ethically this is a bit of a grey area. While retailers are allowed to use data for historical and research purposes, there are other privacy implications that need to be considered and debated."

In terms of engineering, Smit says firms in this sector have been using predictive analytics and data for the last two decades already, but are refining the process today. "These firms are employing data scientists," she says.

"Engineering is also leveraging IOT, as connectivity is built into all their equipment, and smart devices are giving these entities the ability to refine and monitor these processes. There are also opportunities around improving health and safety conditions from insights gained. There's no question the volume of data is elevating analytics to a new level."

For manufacturing, IOT and the high volumes of data are also driving the need for data professionals to come on board, she explains. "The massive volumes of big data are driving what is effectively a fourth industrial revolution. Not only do they need to harness that data, but a world where all devices are talking to each other and connecting to the Web, must have security built in from the ground up. Security is an issue. Manufacturers must have stewardship in promoting ethical values and use, and not appliances that can be abused."

Referring to Porter's five forces analysis, essentially a framework for analysing the level of competition within an industry as input to business strategy development, Smit says data and the ability to exploit that data is becoming fundamental capability in strategy development. "Businesses who don't leverage their data to gain insight into the five forces as well as market, competitors, the economy, and clients insights, will not be able to come up with competitive strategies."

"In the future, all companies will have data people, in order to become or remain competitive."

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