Get your data IOT-ready

By the time the IOT hits SA, it will be too late to get your big data analytics ducks in a row.

By Ilva Pieterse, ITWeb contributor
Johannesburg, 27 Jul 2016
Gary de Menezes, NetApp.
Gary de Menezes, NetApp.

The proliferation of big data is such that it's become almost redundant to refer to it as 'big' - it should simply be 'data'. In fact, Gartner dropped the concept from its hype cycle last year, claiming it has become too prevalent in our lives to be considered hype. So where should companies be looking to now?

Since big data started flowing into our organisations, we've learned how to make way for it, and store it. However, this is not where big data's story ends ? the importance now lies in how it's utilised and analysed, in order to benefit companies when the Internet of Things (IOT) hits.

In the local context, the market is still in a nascent phase, with factors such as data security, lack of appropriate skills and an unconvincing business case acting as major deterrents to investment, says Frost & Sullivan ICT research analyst Mauritz Venter.

Data analytics is not very mature in SA. It is mainly embedded at departmental level and not entrenched as an enterprise-wide initiative to drive decision-making, KPIs and strategy. This is according to BSG's associate consultant Steven Ing, who stresses how important it is for leadership to realise the value of making decisions with the right intelligence, thereby utilising advanced analytics for an organisation's culture to change. "Fact-based decisions can improve the customer service and experience, risk management and operational efficiencies, and performance can be better managed," he says.

Companies need to prepare for a tidal wave of change.

Gary de Menezes, NetApp

Furthermore, South African companies tend to approach big data as extensions of their existing business intelligence systems. "So, the focus tends to be on making an existing system bigger, or reducing the cost that comes with licensing more expensive SQL platforms. This results in systems that are mostly capable of reporting and measurement, but are, in fact, not true analytics at all," says Jeff Fletcher, who is involved in research and innovation at Internet Solutions.

It is now widely acknowledged that big data is the new fuel for innovation and the backbone for building the digital economy that brings so many promises of growth and progress. Yet, as NetApp's country manager Gary de Menezes points out, as big data starts to permeate companies and public services, the challenge that lies ahead does not reside in the volume of data, but to make sense of all that data. The key is to turn data into dynamic knowledge that will - ultimately - lead to the development of new products and services, new working processes and new business models.

"Both the world and the IT industry are changing at a breath-taking speed, with the IOT set to further usher in a host of changes. Some of these transformations we can already foresee, such as a dramatic impact on storage and data management, as hitherto unprecedented amounts of data are generated, not just by people, but also by smart, connected machines," he says.

Companies should be utilising all available data comprising social, operational and machine data in future, inclusive of artificial intelligence.

Steven Ing, BSG

In fact, Venter says, big data analytics and the growth of IOT devices, along with cyber physical systems, are being earmarked as the next (and 4th) industrial revolution - set to fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another.

The IOT and innovation

Today's businesses need to be faster, more agile and driven by the information that is widely available to them, but grossly underutilised. "Through social media and other similar technologies, organisations acquire and handle enormous amounts of data that could help them better understand their customers, products, markets and competition. However, they struggle to combine effective information management with analytics to identify the best data opportunities and convert them to measurable business value," warns EMC Southern Africa's client solutions director Charlene George.

In fact, says Ing, organisations that have not embedded advanced analytics across the enterprise could run the risk of not staying alive in today's highly competitive market. "To be a top performer, organisations will require a culture that values fact-based decisioning, enabled by transforming data to intelligence, driven by senior leadership and entrenched as part of the company's DNA."

Turning BI into insight

Data and analytics practices are evolving quickly, with new tools and techniques moving the bar higher and higher, says Forrester principal analyst Jennifer Belissent. "Not to mention the explosion of data sources, and the dearth of skilled talent out there. As executives become more aware of the value of data and analytics, they become increasingly dissatisfied with what their organisations can deliver."
According to a Forrester survey conducted in 2014, 53% of decision-makers were satisfied with internal analytics capabilities, but by 2015, those satisfied fell to 42%. "These are the leaders who will look for external service providers to deliver insights. They realise they might not get there themselves, Belissent adds.
As urbanisation increases, cities provide big opportunities. "But not all cities are alike and differentiating what they take to a specific market requires deep local knowledge - and a lot of diverse data," Belissent adds.
Luckily for business, new services are being offered that help accelerate the time-to-value of these new technologies. "You don't need to wait to build out your own platform, or chase scarce data science talent. Insights services providers combine business knowledge, analytics and data science expertise and technology skills to help their customers throughout the 'insights services cycle'."
According to Belissent, that cycle starts with defining or refining the business problem. "Which questions are you looking to answer? And there are a growing number of firms offering insights services - from traditional software vendors, systems integrators, business consulting firms and new players with specific functional or industry expertise."
Source: Forrester

Companies should be utilising all available data comprising social, operational and machine data in future, inclusive of artificial intelligence (AI). "Recently, Absa announced it will be piloting a chatbot using AI to answer simple customer queries, and Standard Bank is utilising IBM's Watson technology to assist customers and business with the interpretation of data," says Ing.

Venter believes South America, Eastern Europe and Africa will be the fastest growing regions through 2025, and smart manufacturing, enabled by big data analytics, would allow for emerging markets to surpass industrialised economies and capitalise on an ever more connected era.

"Investing in technological innovation, such as big data analytics, can see SA capitalise on these global advances and trends, and gain a competitive advantage as a nation."

Our country can boast hosting the majority of the Square Kilometre Array project, possibly the largest big data project on Earth, which will require computing power of over 100 petaflops per second (three times that of the most powerful supercomputer available in 2013).

"Another local leader in the use of big data analytics is Discovery Vitality, which uses connected devices to track user fitness in order to gain a competitive advantage in the insurance space," says Venter.

The big data winners will be the companies that have proactively set up big data strategies and prioritise structuring and analysing big data. "Defining a big data strategy means being able to move from traditional analysis (what has happened, where and what was the impact) to predictive analysis: modelling scenarios, anticipating activities and providing answers. It means moving away from a static outlook to dynamic, forward-looking insight. This is how major innovation and new business models will come to life," De Menezes concludes.

This article was first published in the July 2016 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.