Relief efforts hampered by lack of optimal data use

Johannesburg, 21 Jul 2021
Varsha Ramesar, cluster executive for data and analytics, iOCO
Varsha Ramesar, cluster executive for data and analytics, iOCO

Relief efforts to help communities impacted by the unrest of the past week could have been supported through pooled data and optimal integration and analytics, especially when it comes to security and the enablement of vulnerable people such as children and the elderly, according to Varsha Ramesar, cluster executive for data and analytics at iOCO.

Speaking ahead of a webinar on improved data analytics, Ramesar said the recent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng was a prime example of a situation that could have been improved by optimal data use. “Much of the necessary data exists to track and analyse developing situations and co-ordinate relief for communities affected by it. But when the data exists in silos, it cannot be used effectively. By creating an active repository of all the good quality data available, organisations are in a position to change the variables quickly and take immediate action in crisis situations,” she says.

"In the past week, there was a massive action of solidarity as people worked together to bring relief to people impacted by the recent unrest, which made us all proud to be South Africans and call this nation our home. But the recent unexpected events make us wonder what we can do to be better prepared should a further crisis occur. How do we plan for the unplanned? Optimal data use can help," she says.

Ramesar says having all the necessary data could position relief organisations to understand which suppliers are offering food and basic necessities, which communities most need assistance, and what routes are safest for delivering supplies to them, for example. “In KwaZulu-Natal, communities ran out of food, fuel and medicines, with thousands of people having to queue for hours to get supplies. There were also major challenges in getting oxygen and medicines to patients. By bringing together data on volunteers, suppliers, traffic, danger zones, unrest damage and communities in need, it becomes quite easy to develop an app to inform citizens and relief workers,” she says.

Businesses too could have used their existing data better during the unrest, she notes. “Big brands have detailed information about their customers, and they have their marketing databases." By integrating those, they would have been in a position to pool together customers in the affected areas and send them marketing more appropriate to their circumstances during the unrest.

The recent events should make us re-evaluate what value from data means, she says. "Value could be about revenue, saving lives, implementing preventative measures or ensuring safety and security."

Ramesar says the lesson for organisations is that data cannot deliver full value in silos. “There’s only so much value you can get from that; the integration of data is really where you get value. It should be noted that silos exist because of technology, but also because of people and organisational culture. It’s important to address these to ensure that data within the organisation is accessible and ready for use whenever the market changes or a crisis emerges.”

Ramesar, together with Louis de Gouveia, data competency manager at iOCO, and Nicole Adriaans, divisional head for data and analytics at iOCO, will participate in a panel discussion on: 'Translating data into money (and other value): Why you have been failing and how to get it right' as part of the ITWeb Data & Analytics webinar series on 28 July. For more information and to register, go to