Big data role in Africa’s economic growth

Posted on November 22, 2016 12:01 am

In the past, I have shared my views on big data and how I think it will help transform Africa.Big data has been thrown around in so many places such that most people have heard about but hardly understands it beyond basics. For the past two years, the understanding of big data in Africa has been fairly limited, with variations of terms such as data warehouse and €œbusiness analytics being put forward by a range of corporations looking to apply a more technological approach for their business moving forward. In essence, experts defines big data as a dynamic activity driven by technologies that cross many IT borders, as well as a method to decipher valuable information from a wide variety of data, by enabling high speed capture, discovery and real time analysis. In short, what matters most is making sense of the mass of data stored throughout a complex network of devices and locations. Me thinks for starters, alleviating confusion on what big data means would be the first logical step in driving meaningful discussions on technology implementation in the future. A recent study has found that 60 percent of the African business enterprises interviewed mentioned big data as a technology to pilot for the year 2017, rating it the second most important technology with regards to investment behind mobility.It should be noted that out of this group, more than half of them noted that there will be an increase in spending on big data technologies in the coming year driven by companies that need to stay competitive, and are looking keenly into aspects such as acquiring customers, optimising their business and retaining their existing customer base. The big data market in Africa is still in its infancy, and market awareness remains low when compared to its European counterparts.With such nascent adoption, and low number of tangible case studies and no large scale implementation to use as a yard stick, the market is blown open for interpretation, and this leads many enterprises to embark on projects doomed for failure. I have noted fundamental issues with the current landscape of €œadopters€, ranging from not having the right skill sets or the adequate infrastructure as well as not having useful€ data to indicate common pitfalls for many of these abandoned projects.

Regardless of an organisation’€™s maturity, the explosion of data has caused many African organisations to reassess their existing infrastructure and to stand up to take note of what information they could potentially be missing. The evolution of competition has caused these companies to look at different ways to stay ahead of their competition, and to do that, they need to stay closer to their customers. Enter €œbig data€, as the promised land of technology that will help an enterprise slice and dice information, therefore opening a brand new way of understanding for African enterprises in pursuing their customers. Sounds simple, yet it is truly complex. To begin understanding big data, African enterprises should take the immediate step to first understand what data it currently collects and I can say with extreme confidence that only a handful of African organisations truly do so. Understanding the differences in structured and unstructured data, and understanding how best to manage both sets of data across multiple devices and platforms seems like the most logical first step.It is often an ignored step, and one too many implementations or project executions have taken off in a large way without a coherent road map or end game in mind that has led to cost over runs, and ultimately, project failure. Having this roadmap is critical for the organisation in defining its required data sets, and simply put identifying what data it is looking for. While there is no expectation for African enterprises to fully understand the entire ecosystem immediately, the concern put forward here is when African enterprises actually do embark on their projects with limited understanding, and will ultimately be left grasping for the coveted return of investment that will never emerge. This leaves a no win situation for both the end user and the vendor, as experiences sour, and potential future implementation is scrutinised to a greater degree. So in order to reap tangible benefit from project implementation, it is ultimately critical for the organisation to first view where it stands on the readiness€ lifecycle, to examine its intent in embarking on such a project, and the elements involved in making it a success. When that happens, objective, goals and the requirements of the initiative will be different from the first time the implementation idea was mooted. Such will provide African organisations the solution in making past the intent stage, and ultimately toward a strategic transformation journey. With the Big Data market expected to grow at a six year compound annual growth rate of 40 percent in Africa, I predict the the market leaders will break away from the market starters over the course of 2017.

Contador Harrison