Data and analytics: The other final frontier

Read time 9min 50sec
Claudelle Naidoo, MediaCom SA.
Claudelle Naidoo, MediaCom SA.

Oh data, where art thou?

According to Forrester, most organisations are swimming in data, but starving for insight. They're not far off - IDC has predicted that the more than 23 zettabytes of data currently available is going to double by 2020. The problem has always been that the business needs a way to turn data into action that can be implemented at scale.

For Forrester, this cycle of data demand and delivery has ignited the need for 'systems of insight' that blend people, process and technology to close the widening gaps and deliver on the potential that data has to offer. This trend has led to a rise in the insight-driven business, to the development of the organisation that places data into its DNA, and the creation of solutions that focus more on the results than on the implementation.

The reality is that many organisations have lost faith in what data and analytics can do. They were promised the world on a stick and all they got was maybe 20% of the stick. Organisations have also realised that it is vital that they find a way of moving from just creating data and capturing it to putting it at the centre of the business and its strategy. Data lakes have all the information generated by industry and the Internet of Things (IoT), but much of it is left to rot and remains raw, irrelevant and bland.

What swims through these lakes and scoops up relevant data, refining it until it turns into insight and converting it into decision-making tools that drive revenue and return on investment? What tools are the right investment for the business as its data starts to stagnate? These are the questions that industry and solution providers ponder as they look to strategic implementations of data and analytics solutions that engage beyond just the numbers.

Big data isn't so much dead as being gently shifted out of the way in favour of relevance. Hyped-up data and analytics solutions are being put under the user experience microscope. A Bain survey undertaken in 2017 found that 30% of executives lacked a clear strategy to embed data and analytics in their organisation, and that 70% of companies with data and analytics strategies would lose their way. Why? People. It doesn't matter how sophisticated the tools or smart the systems, if people aren't interested, these tools will grow cobwebs and die - except for the minority of power users and analysts who will thrive in the wondrous realm of charts, results and insights thrown out by the latest in system and solution.

The problem isn't that the technology needs to catch up, although it does, the problem is that for data and analytics to become embedded within the culture of the organisation, they require buy-in across the board.

The strategy for data and analytics must extend beyond just, 'we need to grab hold of its potential before we are too late' and into, 'deriving insights that are of value to business and employee'.

In the African context, businesses setting out to invest in data and analytics have to build strategies in a landscape that is complex, has severe limitations, but also offers amazing opportunities.

Given the difficulties these businesses have to deal with in getting data and analytics strategies right, overcoming these challenges could see the continent lead the globe in prospecting insights from data.

The three questions every organisation should be asking

Brainstorm: What are the biggest challenges that impact on the relevance, impact and potential of data and analytics?

Claudelle Naidoo, head of New Business and Insights, MediaCom SA: One of the challenges we face is that when we look at data, we need to realise that data is just data until we can gain valuable insight from it. We need to realise that analytics and insights are what brings everything together. It's about seeing the complete picture to compare and contrast with other markets.

Sudhir Juggenath, head of, Orange Applications for Business, Sub Saharan Africa: We all know that technology is not the only challenge. People are much more difficult to deal with; you can't just switch them off or change code; either way, we will need commitment to overcoming the big data challenges if we want to remain competitive in this data-driven era.

Wynand Smit, CEO, Inovo: Data costs should ideally fall to ensure accessibility for businesses and customers across the African continent.

Alan Collins, Portfolio & Delivery Solution manager, T-Systems: A big challenge is that data analytics sounds terribly expensive. Many businesses associate data analysis with high-cost, large-scale solutions - and this when most businesses aren't even certain of the related objectives. Ironically, businesses should start small with big data.

Brainstorm: What does the business need to do to unleash the power of data in the African context?

Kree Govender, AI and Data Sales lead, Microsoft South Africa: Specifically in mining, there are some really interesting use cases where through the use of cameras and machine learning models, you are able to detect whether people are entering unauthorised areas or using authorised equipment or if they have the right safety gear. This is driving efficiency on multiple levels in the African context.

Rakesh Parbhoo, CEO, Westcon-Comstor Sub-Saharan Africa: Too many organisations have meaningful information about markets, products and opportunities, but don't get that into the hands of the people who need it. In an ideal world, your customer-facing people have access to the right data to make informed decisions about where their focus should be and how to improve the customer experience.

Anesham Ramaloo, Senior Business Solutions manager, SAS: Organisations need to start thinking about how they can collect better quality data, and how they can validate that information. If they don't get this right, they might experience difficulties with delivering innovative services, like predictive modelling and deep machine learning.

Alastair Maxwell, head of Strategic Consulting, Decision Inc.: I believe that data and the ability to effectively analyse data is going to be the key business currency of the future, as it will enable you to effectively understand both your own business as well as your customer at a much deeper level than at present. Any business that can leverage this combination is going to have huge advantage over its competitors as it will be able to adapt to changing trends and customer demands faster than those companies that don't have the same insights.

Brainstorm: How is South Africa faring when it comes to implementing data and analytics strategies that deliver results?

Hans Zachar, MD for Technology Strategy, Accenture South Africa: In the local context, the question of skills also comes up. The demand for data scientists and related skills is on the rise - however this is true of the international market as well. Given the pace of technology change, South Africa cannot afford to take the traditional route in developing these skills. In the past, however, South Africa has proven it has the ability to pivot as the innovation waves have crashed upon us.

Kevin Hall, National Sales manager, Elingo: Understanding what a good data strategy looks like makes innovation and disruption possible. The opportunities for disruption in Africa are huge, as the existing business models are often antiquated. Due to the technology leaps, in the African context, the opportunities are growing faster and the adoption rates are impressive.

Rodney Taylor, CEO, Activate Group: While IoT is still in its early infancy in South Africa, we expect it to ramp up over the next two years. Organisations should, therefore, start now by preparing themselves and ensuring that they have the right analytical tools and skills in place to make the most of upcoming opportunities.

Drivers deliver data and insights to supply chain organisation Massdiscounters

One of the biggest challenges faced by the organisation when it comes to data and analytics is actually getting out measurable insights. These are the real lifeblood of data and the real reason why everybody is obsessing over getting their hands on the little nuggets that float inside it. One company that has managed to capture data and insights very effectively is Massdiscounters. This leading distribution chain adopted a solution by Trackmatic called Driver-Led Visibility that allowed them to manage and transform driver behaviour.

The goal was to use the data derived from traditional monitoring systems, which in effect measured the attitudes, driving behaviours, timing and performance of its drivers. It also wanted a system that provided deeper insights into its logistics operations. Massdiscounters needed to get more visibility and analytics to manage their warehouse operations, sales, drivers and providers with greater efficiency.

"We needed a system that would help us understand execution problems accurately and thereby allow us to address them effectively," says Marcus Vosloo, Massdiscounters, National Transport Services manager. "This technology has allowed us to become more efficient in our data usage and more proficient in our data applications. We don't really have to touch the data to get what we need out of it."

The visibility into driver behaviour means that Massdiscounters knows how long a driver takes to get somewhere, to offload, and to come back to the depot for the next trip. The use of dashboards has also allowed them to gain instant insight into where their shortfalls are, giving them more direction and the ability to focus on key areas. Their teams have a route activation score of close to 80% - this score dictates how often the teams open a route on departure and close a route once delivery is complete - and Massdiscounters has experienced positive shifts in their KPI scores with visibility into fleet movement, delivery status and driver capability.

The system is tailored to their specific requirements - a target of 80% is required across all parameters - such as routes departed on time, routes returned on time, distance adherence, duration adherence, and other organisation-defined criteria.

Their commitment to using the intelligence provided by the BI tool has shown how it can have a noticeably positive effect on performance.

Since implementation of the Trackmatic solution, Massdiscounters has executed more than 8 920 routes with 199 distinct drivers using 61 distinct vehicles and visiting more than 9 143 in the last quarter alone. There was a 14% increase in driver key performance indicators - a requirement from Massdiscounters on implementation - and measurable savings on fuel, productivity and time.

This article was first published in the May 2018 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.

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