Analytics 'must get back to basics'

While Big Data technologies present a wealth of potential for deep, real time and predictive analytics, enterprises need to first take a step back and get back to basics, in order to maximise the potential of analytics.

This emerged at the SAS Forum Johannesburg, staged in Bryanston last week. The two-day annual event attracted over 500 registrations this year, as South African analytics and business professionals convened for an in-depth look at best practices and the state of analytics.

Opening the Forum, an executive panel said analytics could be seen as one of the three biggest disruptive technologies of the past 20 years – along with the internet and mobile phones. However, they noted that while more data than ever before is now available to enterprises, there is still a gap between this data, and the information needed to drive better business. The key to closing the gap is understanding business needs first, then using the data to answer the questions that matter, the panel said.

Derek Schraader, Director : Risk Advisory at Deloitte & Touche, said there was a disconnect between analytics and business, with the result that many businesses were not realising the full impact of advanced analytics on business decision-making.

In many cases, the variety, volumes and complexity of the data available today stands in the way of deriving value from it, said the panel. Simplicity needs to be distilled out of this complexity, they said, with agility, relevance and immediacy of information crucial.

Andrew Murray, Group Chief Information Officer of JD Group, said in some cases, data modelling in enterprises took too long to deliver answers. He noted there could be no delays if insights from data were to deliver real business benefits.  “We need to build models that deliver the information that is relevant today. Analytics needs to work with the C-suite to ensure that the information being delivered meets the immediate business needs.”

This, said the panel, meant that ideally, the data owners should be the ones interrogating the data.

Sal Laher, CIO and Divisional Executive, Group Information Technology Division of Eskom, said this was why the CIO of the future would have to become more than an IT professional – he or she would have to be a strategic enabler of business.

Only when enough people had the necessary combination of IT and business skills and experience, would the gap between business and analytics be closed, the panel said.

Tony Fisher, President and General Manager of DataFlux at SAS, also highlighted other prerequisites to using data to effectively improve business. These prerequisites, he said, include master data management and data models, quality management and data ownership. "By defining the best attributes of the data across the entire enterprise, data consistency across the organisation becomes achievable," he said. Data governance also plays a key role in achieving the best representation of data across the organisation, allowing businesses to make cross-functional use of the data and derive strategic insights from it, he said.

Business needs to be responsible for defining its data requirements, and data stewards must manage it, so allowing the gap between data and business to be bridged, Fisher said.

Desan Naidoo, Managing Director of SAS Southern Africa, urged businesses not to procrastinate, and to begin their analytics journey now.

Echoing this sentiment, Kimberly Nevala, Director of Business Strategies at SAS, noted: "The most important thing is to get started. It need to begin as an enterprise-wide roll-out - businesses might choose to begin with data visualisation, real-time analytics or predictive analytics to address a key challenge – such as fraud and fraud – and use the implementation as a proof point for further implementations."

"Now, analytics is a 'must have' for businesses to operate effectively. However, a data scientist cannot deliver business value working in a vacuum. Analytics must engage with business users and business practices must be modified, for the information resulting from analytics to add business value," she said.


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