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Want a competitive edge? Unlock your business data

By Dr YUDHVIR SEETHARAM, head of analytics, insights and research for FNB Business

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The businesses which will be able to count themselves amongst the most successful in the coming years will be those that have succeeded in fully harnessing the power of data. But while you’d be hard pressed to find many businesses that are not currently building or acquiring systems and technical resources aimed at unlocking the value of data, the same priority does not appear to have been given to embedding data-driven organisational cultures.

This failure to focus on culture in parallel with technology not only reveals a lack of understanding of the symbiotic nature of the relationship between the two, but also presents a real risk that the massive investments being made into data might not deliver the returns that companies are hoping for.

The problem lies in the fact that while data analytics and processing are relatively exact sciences, a data-driven culture is significantly more difficult to define. So while company owners, managers and executives may not be able to tell you exactly how data analysis works, they can tell you what they want to get out of it. The same isn’t true of their understanding of a data-driven culture, and so the creation of such a culture is either assigned a lower strategic priority, or simply handed off to the organisation’s Chief Technology Officer, Chief Data Officer or HR executive.

This approach is very unlikely to unlock the full value of being data driven. To do that, every person in the organisation has to recognise the importance of being fully data-driven as a competitive differentiator and embrace the need to build a data-driven culture within that organisation.

This is by no means a small ask. Apart from the significant challenges – both technical and human – that a business is bound to face en route to becoming truly data-driven, it’s likely that every person in a company has little to no idea of what the concept of ‘culture’ actually means in a company, let alone what a data-driven culture looks or feels like.

And that’s why the process of transforming a culture to be data driven must begin with the end in mind. That, of course, begs the question: What is a data-driven culture? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer as every business is different and will have different culture parameters. However, it is relatively safe to say that, irrespective of how businesses look or work, their data-driven cultures will have a few things in common.

For one, a data-driven culture will be built on the broad recognition of data as a vital, strategically essential business asset; one that allows the business to make well-considered decisions based on facts and figures rather than on intuition or past experience. Having a data-driven culture will also mean that the business fully recognises and embraces the ability of data and its application to empower all employees to perform their functions much more effectively. And lastly, a business will know that it has completed its transformation to a data-driven culture when it is able to identify and align its technical and business challenges and leverage data to solve both together.

When you consider these factors as characteristics of a data-driven culture, it becomes obvious that being data-driven is not solely a technical strategy. So, while it is important to recruit skilled and talented data scientists and technology professionals to give physical effect to the data-driven vision, trying to become data-driven in isolation from the business and all its other employees is almost certainly a recipe for failure. Which brings me to the second obvious question that will, or at least should, be asked by every business that wants to be able to unlock the full potential of data as a transformative, business building asset. And that is: How do we do it?

This, too, is a simple question without a simple answer. Most of the global organisations that are considered to have succeeded in becoming data driven still admit to being in the learning phase when it comes to embedding a data-driven culture. FNB is no exception. But we remain committed to the process and, I believe, have gained some valuable insights into the steps that businesses, and especially financial services organisations, need to take to move closer towards achieving a data-driven culture.

The first of these is to start by transforming thinking. You need to get the entire leadership body to commit to supporting and promoting a data-driven culture. Even if very few of them understand what that means, a good first step is to simply get board and executive management agreement to being willing to embrace a culture of openness and collaboration.

Then, with that leadership support, start to communicate with the entire organisation to create an understanding of the meaning and value of being data driven, both for the company and its employees and customers. Ultimately, any shift in culture is only possible when culture is mainstreamed. It cannot be the domain or responsibility of HR. So, an organised and strategic education campaign is essential to explain the benefits that embracing a data-driven culture will provide.

The next step is to commit to democratising data. When employees have access to data, its impact becomes obvious. Break down silos and protectionism. Make data, and its analyses, readily available, understandable, and transparent across the organization.

Obviously, it’s dangerous to just give everyone in the organisation unfettered access to all its data, since they probably don’t have the skills or tools to make use of that data. And that’s where the real culture shift happens, or must happen. Businesses need to focus on building collaborative, multi-functional teams. While tech experts may understand the technology and systems, data is first and foremost a business asset. So a data-driven culture has to be driven by the business. And since it’s unlikely that you’re going to find too many employees with a balanced combination of business and data skills, you need to build your data-driven culture on collaborative teams in which every team member is willing to acknowledge what he or she doesn’t know, and work closely with teammates that do. This approach should also inform all future recruitment decisions. In a data-driven culture, you don’t recruit just for a vacancy, you recruit to make teams stronger.

Finally, be patient. Changing a company’s culture takes time, effort and commitment. Even when the leadership sets the example, the shift only happens through organic growth and evolution.

Realise that there are legacies that have to be changed. The technology legacy systems are actually the easy part because you can throw money at those. But human legacies around how things have always been done in the past are much more difficult to shift. But it must be done, because it is impossible to change to a data-driven culture if all your people are not willing to recognise and embrace data as a key success facilitator.

While the need to build these types of data-driven cultures is becoming increasingly obvious, the unexpected, and valuable, side effect of achieving such a culture is that it has the potential to massively enhance employee morale and productivity. That’s not just because data-based decisions are infinitely more effective than those based on hunches. It’s also because employees grow as people when the work they do has meaning.

Data has the ability to quantify the impact that each employee is having on the customers and the business. And when staff see the tangible value of the contributions they are making, they become far more connected to the company values and their own professional goals, and the result is incremental improvements in personal performance and, of course, bottom-line results.

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3D printing set for $20bn boom

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3D printing is starting to be realized in a wide variety of industries, but its potential in the aerospace and defense industry is significant. The 3D printing industry was worth $3bn in 2013 and grew to $7bn in 2017. By 2025, the market is forecast to account for more than $20bn in spend, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

The company’s report, ‘3D Printing in Aerospace & Defence – Thematic Research’, reveals that most major militaries and companies are exploring options with the technology. Some are still in the testing phase, while others are deploying the technology in final production. This is particularly true in the aerospace industry, where engines, aircraft and satellites are currently using 3D-printed components.

Listed below are the militaries that have taken an early lead in implementing 3D printing technology, as identified by GlobalData.

US Marine Corps

The US Marine Corps currently has the highest uptake of 3D printing of any military service worldwide. In particular, the additive manufacturing team at Marine Corps Systems Command has created the world’s largest 3D concrete printer with the ability to print a 500-square-foot barracks hut in 40 hours.

US Air Force

The US Air Force is integrating 3D printing into its supply chain. Overseen by ‘America Makes’, the US national additive manufacturing/3D printing innovation institute, it is investigating how current systems can be used to reproduce aircraft components for decades-old planes that may no longer have reliable sources of replacement parts, without minimum order quantities.

US Navy

The Navy has created new logistical units such as Navy frontline attachments, which can rapidly create spare parts for incredibly complex military equipment such as the F-35B – and are currently operational for this purpose. The navy has also worked with Oak Ridge National laboratory to produce the first 3D-printed submarine hull.

US Army

The US Army is working on 3D-printed, modular drone systems. The army wants 3D printers that can be deployed to a forward base camp and used to produce aviation backup when necessary for troops on the ground. This plan aims to create bespoke unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems and is said to be at an advanced stage of development.

Chinese Air Force

A 3D Systems ProJet 4500 printer has been acquired by the Chinese army and has been working on replacement military truck parts for the army’s fuel tanker fleet. A number of Chinese fighter jets are believed to be carrying 3D-printed parts and are currently in operation.

Russian Army

Russia has been testing multiple applications for 3D-printed parts in its newest main battle tank, the T-14 Armata. During the development process, 3D printing was used for prototyping, but it is expected that parts will be used in the final product, of which 2,300 have been ordered.

South Korean Air Force

Collaboration between South Korea’s InssTEK and France’s Z3DLAB is producing parts for South Korean warplanes that see heavy use along the border with North Korea. The aim is to upgrade existing components, rather than replace worn parts, with a new titanium composite material.

Information based on GlobalData’s report: ‘3D Printing in Aerospace & Defence – Thematic Research’.

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SA productivity could nosedive on Black Friday

Employee productivity on Black Friday could nose dive, says local online retailer, OneDayOnly.co.za

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Finance Minister Tito Mboweni hasn’t had it easy lately. Amidst a more-than-tricky economy and having to walk the tight rope in his recent mid-term budget speech, Tito is squeezed between a rock and a very hard place that’s about to get tighter with Black Friday inspired employee procrastination.

“While the minister probably has bigger fish to fry than South Africans avoiding spreadsheets in favour of scooping a deal on Samsung’s latest flat screen – Black Friday undoubtedly affects employees’ focus at work,” says Matthew Leighton, spokesperson at leading South African e-tailer OneDayOnly.co.za .

While it started as a post-Thanksgiving blowout sale by US retailers, Black Friday has become one of the most significant calendar days for consumers and the retail industry globally. “The proof is in the OneDayOnly.co.za stats. Last year, we recorded over 150 000 website users on Black Friday alone – the average on a regular day is around 60 000 and on a high traffic day such as pay day its approximately 80 000,” says Leighton.

So the demand is clearly there but are people actually doing the bulk of their Black Friday buying while they should be working? Leighton says they are. “Although the sale starts at midnight people are online throughout the day and data from last year shows traffic on OneDayOnly.co.za spiking primarily during core working hours – 06:00, 8:00, 11:00 and 15:00.

He adds that the average user session – or time people spend on the site at any one point – is three times longer on Black Friday than any other day. “In addition to spending longer on the site on Black Friday, customers also return many times during the day so these longer sessions happen numerous times during the work day.”

To add to Tito’s woes, Leighton explains that people are also multi-screening their buying efforts by watching social platforms for tips and prompts. “Most online retailers worth their salt share prompts on social feeds to drive traffic to their websites. Last year, each time we announced via social that a 100% off deal was available shoppers flocked to OneDayOnly.co.za. Almost instantly, the web traffic would spike. The pattern shows how closely people keep an eye on the 100% off deal drops via social media, as well as how effectively the platforms cater to a very wide audience in real time.”

But while Black Friday may result in the odd deadline being missed, Leighton believes the overall impact on the economy is an extremely positive one. “Last year we saw people spending in the region of R1300 on Black Friday, compared to an average of R970 on other days. According to BankServ, South Africans’ card transactions came up to R3bn on the day last year, up 16% from 2017. That’s a nice injection into an otherwise depressed retail sector.”

Leighton says people love Black Friday because there is something in it for everyone, but there’s also nothing to lose – except for maybe a bit of work time. “With so many more products available at low prices, it makes sense to peruse. If you find nothing you like, you are no worse off. And your boss doesn’t have to be either if you’re proactive and shop before work when our doors open at midnight.”

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