The practice of using data and analytics to deliver relevant and timely information to drive business decisions is still not pervasive enough in South Africa.
Why is this? Dr Tracy Dunbar, associate director at data analytics Deloitte South Africa, ponders the question …
Is it a lack of understanding of what is possible, weak leadership, poor data, legacy systems or simply a lack of strategy? Perhaps all of the above contribute. Perhaps leaders have become sceptical about investing in data and IT without experiencing the promised financial returns. Essentially, analytics professionals are simply not demonstrating tangible business value!
Increasingly analytics, specifically artificial intelligence and machine learning, is discussed in numerous mainstream publications and platforms with stories relating to the remarkable achievements in the world of innovation and new business models such as those of Uber and Airbnb. It would be inspiring to have a South African example. While discussions around analytics have become pervasive in boardrooms, actions speak louder than words, and there is a lack of evidence of insights driving decisions in day-to-day business.
At Deloitte Risk Advisory’s first Data Analytics gathering, we discussed and debated what it takes to become an insight driven organisation in South Africa. Participants offered a number of reasons as to why we might be falling behind in South Africa:
- Fear: While analytics terminology is increasingly common, people are intimidated by their minimal knowledge. They lack an understanding of how the insights are derived and how the output can be utilised in their daily businesses. If something seems like magic then it is difficult to trust. In addition, there is a perception that sophisticated analytical solutions might replace jobs, which only adds to their apprehension.
- Communication and skills: Analytics is a team sport; it requires business, IT, data, mathematics, statistics and storytelling skills. In the absence of the context of the business problem, the technical skills to develop the data and analytics solution, as well as the adaptation of business processes to consume the output, the financial benefits of analytics will never by recognised. While there are often pockets of analytics excellence within an organisation, the output is not imbedded into a process where it can be used and acted upon in a timely manner. Analytics and operations currently are two separate functions, which means that business problems are not resolved with data and information.
- Culture: In our current economic environment in South Africa, people often feel vulnerable which can lead to resistance in experimenting with new ways of working. We gain comfort in operating in the “traditional business as usual” model rather than running the risk of an unsuccessful new initiative. This culture inhibits change and innovative thinking.
- Expectations: In our personal lives, we expect instant and relevant responses; if our social media does not update within seconds then we become disgruntled; if we receive an offer that is not relevant to us then we lose interest. We manage our exercise schedule by the instructions from our fitness device! However, in our professional lives, we are satisfied with manual and lengthy processes that deliver old and irrelevant information.
- Data and IT: Often the data and IT systems prohibit the timely delivery of insights. Poor quality data that is stored in silos across the organisation coupled with inadequate data management tools make the analytics process long and frustrating.
- Strategy and Leadership: The executives do not formulate and drive the analytics strategy; hence, there is a lack of focus, investment and commitment.
The solutions to these challenges are multi-faceted but the Data Analytics discussion suggested four fundamentals that are required for change:
- Data needs to be treated as the lifeblood of the organisation.
- Employees at all levels require education around what analytics is, why it is important, how it can drive competitive advantage and most importantly how it benefits each employee.
- Analytics teams must demonstrate and deliver tangible value by solving relevant business issues. It is vital to empower cross-functional teams to collaborate and experiment.
- Executives must create the vision as to what is possible and then drive a strategy to become insights driven. The focus must be on investment, change management and people to make it happen. This will create communication, imagination and innovation.
Analytics is an enabler to capturing institutional knowledge in a country that is short of skills. Analytics, in the right business environment, can track consumer sentiment, build customer loyalty, gain competitive advantages and make more effective business decisions.
While Deloitte’s first Data Analytics forum raised more questions than answers, there was one overarching message – analytics is already part of business and those who it do properly will survive, compete and thrive. The Data Analytics forum is the beginning of a constructive discussion in the South African context around data and analytics that will help business start talking the same language across functional barriers of Business, IT, Finance and Analytics, to knowledge for the benefit of all employees, consumers and businesses. We need to become fanatical about developing solutions that are applicable, digestible and useable.