Opinion & Analysis

Local talent crucial driver to Smart Data revolution in Africa

Big Data in itself is meaningless in its latent form and only helpful when exposed to potent algorithms that can ascribe meaning and visualised in a way that can reveal the patterns. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH
Big Data in itself is meaningless in its latent form and only helpful when exposed to potent algorithms that can ascribe meaning and visualised in a way that can reveal the patterns. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

I recently attended the Global Partnership For Sustainable Development Data Summit hosted by the Kenyan government in partnership with its Sierra Leone counterpart that sought to answer one question — How do we adapt and transform to the data revolution age?

In pursuing the answer to this question, I was privileged to draw on the insights, perspectives and questions of the range of presentations made during the high-level talks in addition to the sideline discussions I was having with a couple of participants.

It is worth noting that data mainstreaming is coming of age. Mooted against a background of emerging need to create collaborations between government, citizens and companies, the partnership has snowballed to a network of more than 200 data champions working around the globe.

At the epicentre of the triad relationship is a seismic shift that is redefining the conventional interaction of those entities.

Governments are coming to terms with the realities of open governance and democratisation of information access, citizens being driven by new emerging technologies that redefine how they lead their lives and rules of the business have changed, more so businesses founded before the Internet are on the verge of extinction.

Many of the fundamental rules and assumptions that governed the traditional businesses have been redefined. The good news is that change is possible.

As such, it emerged from the event themed unleashing the power of data and partnership for Africa, that data revolution provides one such lifeline to the rewriting the rules of the game.

Moreso, data in action, as too much time has been spent drafting strategies on data without much happening.

One of the key drivers to data revolution was recognised to be the development of local talent and solutions to Africa’s native data.

With the recognition that the key barrier to data revolution has been inadequate technical capacity, Strathmore Business School dean, Dr George Njenga, emphasised on the need to develop local talent to meet the growing demand for data skills and in retrospect take data to the market in a format that can be easily accessible, understood and consumed to the last mile.

Towards this, he hinted that the university has already started to focus on creating solutions to solve business and social problems ranging from agriculture, health energy and security.

Whereas it’s widely acknowledged that improvement in infrastructure is driving digital consumption with Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore, while quoting the State of the Internet Report by Akamai, revealed in his keynote address that Kenya is ranked first in Africa in Internet speed. Data revolution requires institutions to upgrade their strategic mindsets more than IT infrastructure.

Rosemary Orlale, director at Strathmore Business School’s Data Centre, which is domiciled at the Africa Media Hub, alluded that the centre would create linkages with various institutions and align itself to the emerging needs.

Big Data in itself is meaningless in its latent form and only helpful when exposed to potent algorithms that can ascribe meaning and visualised in a way that can reveal the patterns.

To that extent, there has been over reliance on statisticians on matters data and less involvement of the data users who often ascribe a sentimental behavioural value to the patterns being observed.

That is the role played by the data users in curating predictive algorithms hinged on their experiential rather than computation ability.

Strong collaborations and trust need to be created to allow the dual flow of information.

The other handicap we face is the data silo mentality.

Towards this end, governments were requested to spearhead the open data policy intra-government agency and spread outward, especially ought to create an enabling environment for its departments to share data.

More emphasis needs to be created by all institutional players to move towards creating a rich data culture.

One central insight emerged and it’s going to shape the data revolution landscape — It’s not about Big Data but Smart Data.

Mr Oriedo is a certified data scientist and executive coach at the Strathmore Business School

timothy.oriedo@predictiveanalytics.co.ke