May 10, 2024

Control and innovation: How SA enterprises can extract value from their data

By Tiaan Taljaard, GM Data Officer at SEACOM

On 11 May, the world celebrates Data Innovation Day, which spotlights the role of data and data professionals in propelling business growth and transformation. The day provides an opportunity to reflect on the latest developments and consider how innovations in data operations and technologies can be employed to assist companies.

For organisations across South Africa, data offers so much potential. The proliferation of cloud computing and digital transformation means organisations have greater access to platforms that enable data control and subsequent innovation and decision intelligence. At the same time, entire industries are exploring how this translates into meaningful change, learning about what tools they need to make that change possible, and discovering how data can unlock new opportunities.

Control, growth, and innovation

Data control encapsulates a systematic process of gathering, monitoring, and analysing relevant data points related to various business functions and activities. The goal of this is to gain insights, make better-informed decisions, and achieve outlined goals. Data control involves architecting data points into a foundational platform, building ingestion pipelines and data warehouses, with which enterprises can then compile reports. Data visualisation is critical as it lets organisations communicate complete data relationships and other findings to decision makers.

Having established control over their data, enterprises can then focus on what they want to achieve using it. Data innovation aims to create new, value-added products and services, or to enhance existing business functions and processes. Advancements in technologies, methodologies, and architectures give way to decision intelligence as well as humans using machines to assist in their decision making, namely by supporting, augmenting, or automating those decisions.

Data innovation also leads to new products that can enrich a customer’s life. Or it can be internally focused to equip a business with new tools or help optimise business activities. This is slowly becoming standard operating procedure, as surveys of global technology leaders reveal organisations are heavily focused on retooling themselves for a data- and AI-driven future.

Industry-wide transformation

Many enterprises in South Africa, especially those with large corporate structures, already have a vested interest in data control functions. The growth of the local cloud computing market, enabled by hyperscalers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft, means that data control – functions such as computation and storage – is more accessible and cost-effective. Smaller businesses and start-ups have an opportunity to capitalise on this, investing in managed services and solutions that let them focus less on the fundamentals and more on pure innovation.

Telecommunications is one of the industries benefitting from this technological trend. Operators are leveraging data collection and analysis to create and implement new strategies. With data analysis, operators can track customer behaviour and sales growth, and offer personalised services based on insights such as customer profiles and purchase preferences. An important use case for the industry is network performance analysis, where operators can monitor the speed, security, and overall status of their networks to ensure high-quality reliable service.

For many telecom operators, the priority is to have a clear view of every client, their needs, company product, and function. Data makes this possible and the reward is an enhanced customer experience with tailor-made solutions and continuous support throughout a client’s connectivity journey.

A defining tr(AI)t of business

Previously, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies were relegated to computer labs and the hands of engineers. However, exponentially growing levels of data ingestion and computing power have put them within reach of nearly every industry in the world. And, with popular products such as ChatGPT and virtual assistants, companies have realised the practical value of AI in their respective markets.

A focus on AI/ML and maximising its value requires organisations to adopt a data-centric approach. This includes prioritising data engineering to ensure high-quality, structured data, the utilisation of software-as-a-service (SaaS) to accelerate delivery, and an improvement in human and AI collaboration opportunities. While there are many concerns that the technology will lead to job losses, the optimal scenario is one where humans carry out tasks and fulfil their responsibilities with the help of systems that improve their performance, efficiency, and overall results.

Imagine a world where a telecoms technician is dispatched to repair a cable at an exchange point and equipped with AR-enabled devices, such as smart glasses or tablets, can overlay real-time data and instructions onto their field of view while repairing cables. This is the promise of data innovation. With the right solutions and infrastructure, enterprises can develop exciting internal and external products and extract as much value from their data as possible.