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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.

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read about Netflix’s international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement,” he adds. “To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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