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Africa not a data desert

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The data age has opened up a world of renewed understanding in the ways we live and work, providing insights that hold the potential to improve lives for billions around the globe, writes BEN LEO, CEO of Fraym.

The ability to collect and process vast numbers of data points, and to discover both deeply sought after and wholly unexpected insights as a result, is currently the best way for the public and private sectors to understand people. Regardless of the sector, an understanding of the target market is an essential contributor to business success.

This applies both at the granular, individual level, and at the aggregate level. Such insights play a valuable role in delivering services and products to the communities with the most demand – and Africa is a prime example.

Africa’s rapidly expanding digital footprint demonstrates one way in which data is becoming available, with an estimated 557 million mobile internet users, and a smartphone market that is expected to triple in size over the next five years. Over and above the rich potential insights from mobile technology and data from household surveys, satellite imagery, machine learning and emerging analytic approaches also provide more accurate insights about people. Both conventional and unconventional sources can offer governments and companies the information they need, to ensure access to reliable, sustainable and affordable services and to help businesses grow.

But Africa is large and diverse. Gathering actionable data through traditional means is difficult – but far from impossible.

Here are just three ways enterprising data scientists are finding creative ways to close the gap.

Making Sense of Unstructured Data

Africa thrives on its informal economies, which contribute considerable amounts to each nation’s GDP (less than 30% in South Africa, but as much as 60% in Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe). Informal borrowing and trading is big business, but with it comes a frustrating lack of formal record-keeping, consumer data and transaction histories that could, in the right hands, open a world of opportunity to Africa’s corporate organisations, as well as SMEs and microbusinesses. All of these off-the-record transactions, as well as rising amounts of unstructured text and social data generated by Africa’s mobile users, means that it doesn’t fit neatly into databases organised by fixed categories like name, address, or identification number.

Fortunately, the storage and processing capabilities of the region are rapidly improving, and government bodies are working more closely with corporate innovators to harvest, manage, store and protect these data points, as a first step to eventually mining them for useful insights. As skills and resources on the continent improve, this data will be put to better and better use, as it reveals population insights that can’t be found in more conventional data types.

A Steady Increase in Computing Power

Roughly 2.5 billion GBs of data are created worldwide per day, presenting an exponentially growing problem, even for nations and businesses with the means and expertise to store and interpret it effectively.

But Africa’s private sector is surging ahead, with larger firms showing ever-more aggressive interest in how data can augment their bottom line. In Nigeria and Kenya, both considered beacons of African digitisation, at least 40 percent of large businesses are in the planning stages of their own data projects, with the global average at 51 percent. Partnerships between well-resourced corporates and forward-thinking governments are already bearing fruit, and will only become more impactful as the digital disruption continues to shake up both the private and public sectors.

Innovative techniques and data sources are also being used to better understand the nuances of the African consumer. The ability to understand how a consumer in Johannesburg thinks and buys, in comparison to a consumer in Durban, is often more useful than thinking about consumer behaviour at a national, aggregate level. For far too long, corporations and investors have considered the African consumer as a monolith. But it is possible to use existing data and new techniques, like geospatial analysis, to drill down and understand consumer interests and consumer purchasing power at a more granular level than ever before and across non-traditional geographies.

Closing the Skills Gap

According to the African Data Forum, the continent’s growing demand for predictive analytics has exposed a data skills shortage that leaves Africa sorely under-equipped for the data demands of tomorrow. Even as access to software and hardware continue to improve, there is little substitute for the skill and experience that data scientists can bring to the table. The skill and experience brought to the continent by expatriate consultants has had a positive effect on data science in Africa, but the continent’s vast human resources will need to be developed with greater urgency, if we are truly to realise the potential of data to improve lives and to drive Africa’s digital awakening to new heights.

Thankfully, data science is becoming a prominent feature in Africa’s schools and universities, and the proliferation of technology training hubs springing up throughout the continent promise a data-rich future. Even in comparatively advanced South Africa, the country’s first dedicated data science training academy was opened only a couple of months ago. There is also a great trend toward businesses and organisations taking the upskilling mandate seriously in the workplace, with programmes designed to improve in-house data science skills already proving effective.

Through such skills development, new and cutting-edge methods of data collection, from geospatial satellite imaging to artificial intelligence, are added to existing resources of mobile data, surveys and other more traditional statistical methods, to create a more holistic and insightful picture of the continent and its inhabitants than ever before. Those who label Africa a “data desert” and give up on using data for their needs are missing a great opportunity – there is no lack of consumer data on the ground, only a perceived lack of methods for managing and making use of it. Huge amounts of data are generated every day, and with a little creative application and plenty of computing power, the sky is the limit in terms of the insights that can be gleaned.

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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

Click here or on the page link below to read on: Page 2: Soldiers and Health in 2099.

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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Street art goes electric

Kaspersky Lab and British street artist D*Face have unveiled the first-ever “art helmet” design at the Formula E finale for electric cars in New York.

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The ‘Save The World’ helmets will be raced by DS Virgin Racing’s drivers, Sam Bird and Alex Lynn, as they traverse the New York street circuit during the final races of the Formula E season.

The announcement signals the first art helmet by a Formula E team, continuing the heritage of art in motorsport and the cybersecurity brand’s commitment to contemporary art, creativity and innovation. D*Face took inspiration from Kaspersky Lab’s tagline, “A Company To Save The World”, and hopes that his colourful work will inspire people to take positive action.

D*Face will announce his first-ever art car design with a custom-made livery for the DS Virgin Racing Team. Its design will be released at the “Art Goes Green” event after Saturday’s race. The helmets and art car are the latest installations in the “Save the World” collection, following a major permanent public mural that was installed in Brooklyn, New York, in May.

D*Face, whose real name is Dean Stockton, said: “It is exciting to work with Kaspersky Lab on this project and create art with a real message of hope for a better future. After all, this is our world and we need to look after it. It will take every one of us to make a real lasting, impactful change. I love the mentality of the DS Virgin Racing Team and that of Formula E by showcasing sport in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, but is still just as exhilarating and fun.

“It is time for us all to stand together and make a change… be that stopping data steals, climate change, plastic waste or using damaging fuels. I want everyone to make a pledge to do one thing that will help make a change.”

As a sponsor of DS Virgin Racing Team, Kaspersky Lab is responsible for protecting the team’s devices against cyber threats. The company sees the technical environment in the global sport of Formula E as the next frontier in furthering its research and development of new technologies to keep vehicles secure in the digital world.

Sylvain Filippi, Managing Director at DS Virgin Racing, said: “The whole team fully supports this great initiative and our thanks got to Kaspersky and D*Face for their collaboration. It’s an honour to have such an innovative artist bring his talents to bear in our team ahead of the season-finale; the car, drivers’ crash helmets and mural all look amazing.”

Aldo Fucelli Pessot del Bo, Head of Global Partnerships and Sponsorships at Kaspersky Lab added: “There is a need for innovation on a global scale, both in contemporary art and in the fast-growing sport of Formula E. Now, for the first time ever, Kaspersky Lab is proudly bringing together the two sectors in an effort to Save the World and unleash creativity, encourage freedom of expression and further innovation.”

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