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Data literacy to the fore in 2017

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Last year we saw an explosion of data, but unfortunately, not aren’t enough people with the expertise to handle the increasing levels of data and computing. DAN SOMMER, Senior Director of Qlik, predicts that in 2017 a culture-wide change is needed.

Over the past twelve months we’ve seen an explosion of data, an increase in processing it and a move towards information activism. This means the number of employees actively able to work with – and master – the huge amounts of information available, such as data scientists, application developers, and business analysts, have become a valuable entity.

Unfortunately, however, there still aren’t enough people with the expertise to handle the ever-increasing, vast levels of data and computing. You would assume, with all the information currently being produced and held by businesses, that 2017 would see us in a new digital era of facts. But, without the right number of specialists to consume and analyse it, there’s a gap in resources.  Data is, unfortunately, growing faster than our ability to make use of it.

For many business leaders then, this means a reliance on gut instinct to make even the most important decisions. Unable to hone in on the most important insights, they’re presented with multiple – and sometimes conflicting – data points, so the most important ones seem unreliable.

The situation needs to change. Yes, that will mean upskilling more data scientists in 2017, but there will be a greater focus on empowering more people more broadly. That will go beyond information activists and towards providing more people with the tools and training to increase data literacy. Just as reading and writing skills needed to move beyond scholars 100 years ago, data literacy will become one of the most important business skills for any member of staff.

So, what will change to see culture-wide data literacy become a reality? Here are my predictions:

1.    Combinations of data – Big data will become less about size and more about combinations. With more fragmentation of data and most of it created externally in the cloud, there will be a cost impact to hoarding data without a clear purpose. That means we’ll move towards a model where businesses have to quickly combine their big data with small data so they can gain insights and context to get value from it as quickly as possible. Combining data will also shine a light on false information more easily, improving data accuracy as well as understanding.

2.    Hybrid thinking – In 2017, hybrid cloud and multi-platform will emerge as the primary model for data analytics. Because of where data is generated, ease of getting started, and its ability to scale, we’re now seeing an accelerated move to cloud. But one cloud is not enough, because the data and workloads won’t be in one platform. In addition, data gravity also means that on premise has long staying power. Hybrid and multi-environment will emerge as the dominant model, meaning workloads and publishing will happen across cloud and on-premise.

3.    Self-service for all – Freemium is the new normal, so 2017 will be the year users have easier access to their analytics. More and more data visualisation tools are available at low cost, or even for free, so some form of analytics will become accessible across the workforce. With more people beginning their analytics journey, data literacy rates will naturally increase — more people will know what they’re looking at and what it means for their organisation. That means information activism will rise too.

4.   Scale-up – Much a result of its own success, user-driven data discovery from two years ago has become today’s enterprise-wide BI. In 2017, this will evolve to replace archaic reporting-first platforms. As modern BI becomes the new reference architecture, it will open more self-service data analysis to more people. It also puts different requirements on the back end for scale, performance, governance, and security.

5.    Advancing analytics – In 2017, the focus will shift from “advanced analytics” to “advancing analytics.” Advanced analytics is critical, but the creation of the models, as well as the governance and curation of them, is dependent on highly-skilled experts. However, many more should be able to benefit from those models once they are created, meaning that they can be brought into self-service tools. In addition, analytics can be advanced by increased intelligence being embedded into software, removing complexity and chaperoning insights. But the analytical journey shouldn’t be a black box or too prescriptive. There is a lot of hype around “artificial intelligence,” but it will often serve best as an augmentation rather than replacement of human analysis because it’s equally important to keep asking the right questions as it is to provide the answers.

6.    Visualisation as a concept will move from analysis-only to the whole information supply chain – Visualisation will become a strong component in unified hubs that take a visual approach to information asset management, as well as visual self-service data preparation, underpinning the actual visual analysis. Furthermore, progress will be made in having visualisation as a means to communicate our findings. The net effect of this is increased numbers of users doing more in the data supply chain.

7.    Focus will shift to custom analytic apps and analytics in the app – Everyone won’t — and cannot be —both a producer and a consumer of apps. But they should be able to explore their own data. Data literacy will therefore benefit from analytics meeting people where they are, with applications developed to support them in their own context and situation, as well as the analytics tools we use when setting out to do some data analysis.  As such, open, extensible tools that can be easily customised and contextualised by application and web developers will make further headway.

These trends lay the foundation for increased levels of not just information activism, but also data literacy. After all, new platforms and technologies that can catch “the other half” (i.e., less skilled information workers and operational workers on the go) will help usher us into an era where the right data becomes connected with people and their ideas — that’s going to close the chasm between the levels of data we have available and our ability to garner insights from it. Which, let’s face it, is what we need to put us on the path toward a more enlightened, information-driven, and fact-based era.

Africa News

Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities

Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.

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Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.

Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.

Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.

African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.

Embracing mobility to drive ROI

Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.

Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.

Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.

By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:

·         Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities

·         Access both historical and planned work information when requested

·         Permit customers to sign when the job is completed

·         Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders

·         Create new fault reports on routing

·         Facilitate documentation through photo capturing

·         Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.

The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.

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Brands fall for app vanity

The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.

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Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion  of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity. 

In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis. 

While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities. 

Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI). 

It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind. 

Why apps won’t win the internet

The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement. 

Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance. 

Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps. 

However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year. 

On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.

When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience. 

In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development. 

So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base? 

The logical app alternative 

The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are. 

Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short. 

Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience. 

Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.) 

Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts. 

Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI. 

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