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Painting a picture with data

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Visual data analytics is a lot like painting a picture. The image might not look like much in the beginning, but after time a picture starts to take shape and you’re left with something that speaks louder than words, writes GREATERMAN NKOMO of SAS.

Visual communication is nothing new. Our ancestors used paintings and carvings to make sense of their environment, and it seems they were on to something – research has found that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and that visuals are processed 60 000 times faster in the brain than text.

Much like cave dwellers back in the day, today’s businesses are also trying to make sense of the data-driven world they operate in. But there’s a bigger picture involved. If they want to increase their competitiveness, it’s not enough just to understand the environment; the real value lies in the ability to use data to improve decision-making and performance, predict the future and mitigate risk.

Yet businesses still struggle to cope with the exponentially increasing volumes of data generated internally and externally by clients and partners. They are still looking for more efficient ways to store and retrieve data rather than focusing on the value hidden in that data. Traditional architectures are also not designed to deliver the fast analytical processing needed for rapid insights, a problem that is worsened by the fact that data is still stored in silos in many organisations, providing a fragmented view of the business and any potential opportunities or risks.

Fostering a culture of analytics

Businesses can no longer afford to operate this way – and they don’t have to. Modern visual analytics tools provide a complete platform for analytics visualisation, enabling businesses to identify patterns and relationships in data that were not initially evident. Drag-and-drop functionality and automatic visualisation puts business intelligence into the hands of even the most statistic-averse team member, allowing anyone to visually explore data without having to call on the data scientist or IT department.

This creates a decision-making culture within organisations, equipping people with the tools they need to gain insight into complex problems in order to make well-informed, business-changing decisions.

Follow the data breadcrumbs

Just as artists experiment with different techniques and colour combinations to produce different effects, so can people play around with data to uncover the unexpected. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to visual analytics. Bring whatever data you have – your oils, pastels and acrylic paint, if you will – integrate it with social media and other web data, and see what happens. The data doesn’t have to make sense at first – the beauty of visual analytics software is that everything is automatic – you only need to follow the data’s lead and let it paint its own picture. Automated analytics makes value extraction easy. In-memory processing makes it fast. Businesses can explore billions of rows of data, without the need to subset or sample it, to identify new patterns, explore hidden relationships, test hypotheses in seconds, and share those insights with the right people, at the right time, in a format that they can understand, whether that’s on a desktop or mobile device. These reports enable collaborative, engaging discussions that can drive deeper insights – and better decisions.

Don’t know why you’re losing customers? Analytics can show you where the churn is happening and you may be surprised to know that it has something to do with the service they get from your call centre, for example. How do you know this? By analysing the sentiment of what people are saying about your business on social media and comments on other online platforms, which can be conveniently displayed in a format that the decision makers understand. By digging deeper, you may find that it’s not the call centre staff that are providing the bad service, but perhaps dropped calls and poor quality lines due to ageing infrastructure. The knee-jerk response might have been to retrain your call centre staff rather than replace your equipment; through scenario planning and predictive analytics, you can save thousands in lost time and money.

Ultimately, everyone, in any role, is a decision-maker. Having tools that present data in a way that is visual, easy to understand, fosters collaboration and supports mobility enables savvy businesses to recognise trends and use them as competitive differentiators. Visual data analytics might be messy at first, but with a bit of creativity and exploration, you could be left with a masterpiece that’s worth more than any amount of money could buy.

* Greaterman Nkomo, Account Executive, Visual Analytics, SAS

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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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.”

Use the page links below to read about Tan’s vision of 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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Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com

This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.

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Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.

What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.

However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.

As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.

It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.

The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.

To enter the competition follow the steps below:

Competition entry details:

1. Follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter. (We will ONLY be accepting entries via Twitter, so please don’t enter through the comments section of this article.)

2. Tell us on Twitter, via @GadgetZA, mentioning @Takealot in your posting, how many Watts the Poster Heater consumes.

cleardot.gif3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.

4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.

5. The competition is only open to South African residents.

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