Archive for February 24th, 2016

  • Is the Internet of Things a data opportunity?

    Armandè Kruger, Regional Sales Director for PBT Group

    
    

    There is no denying the sheer amount of data at our disposal. And thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), data is increasing by the minute. However, for those of us that work with data or need to understand the influence this data has on businesses/clients or markets, we are now faced with the task of sorting through this mass of information from various interconnected devices.

    Those who rate IoT as a fad, should consider the transformational impact this is likely to have on business, specifically on the data centre side. Take for example the amount of data that these interconnected devices are producing (and will continue to produce). Surely this alone offers organisations an opportunity to analyse the data and use this information to gain a much stronger competitive advance in an increasingly saturated business market?

    In fact, Gartner estimates that 6.4 billion connected ‘things’ will be in use worldwide this year, which is a 30% increase from 2015 alone – indicating that the IoT phenomenon is not going away. As a result, decisions around how best to process the associated data from these various devices, should be an organisational priority in 2016.

    Along with this, analysing the data is key – and a practical way businesses can go about doing this is turning to advanced analytics. In fact, companies can apply advanced analytics to their entire data realm, to ensure that they can leverage off the information and integrate it within various areas of their business.

    In other words, advanced analytics can be used to turn data coming from various business areas; including the IoT, sales, marketing, call centre feedback, transactional data and even social media, into something more powerful. Can you imagine the impact if a business could not only manage the data within, but also analyse it correctly, to make business decisions that are accurate, add value to customers, improve the bottom line and in return increase profit margins? This is what will give a business a new and substantial competitive edge – and this is why IoT is no fad.

    Advanced analytics can actually generate predictive information for a business. This means that an organisation can now gain insight into future outcomes using advanced analytics. And it is this that allows advanced analytics to assist a business in becoming more customer focused, as the data being analysed can tell a business more about their customer’s needs, wants and expectations. Having this information at their fingertips means businesses can effectively satisfy a customer’s needs instantly.

    So, as organisation’s start to make sense of 2016 and the challenges and opportunities the year is likely to bring, remember that the IoT and data is starting to play a very important role in the success of companies globally (if utilised correctly).

    Don’t discount the impact these so called technology terms will have on your own business. Additionally, be careful of thinking that if you have implemented some form of big data, you will solve your data problem – as this in isolation offers very little value. Analysing the data correctly through aspects such as advanced analytics, is what will help determine how you can create or capitalise on opportunities in this digital marketplace in 2016.

    Source : IT News Africa

     

  • A visualisation love story

    By , strategic BI manager at PBT Group.

    The fellowship of humanity is founded in stories – stories that evolved from cave drawings to Shakespearian writings to the modern-day stories on the cinema canvas. I know the debate between reading versus watching movies is probably as old as the television itself and is still ongoing. However, the fact that cannot be debated is that people are infatuated with stories.

    The visualisation of stories in movies has simply made stories more accessible to the portion of the population not inclined to find reading as enjoyable as others. This does not mean books are redundant, as some people will never sacrifice the joy of immersing in their own imaginations through the written word, but ultimately, visualisation of stories continues to enrich a much wider part of the population.

    In a similar way, one of the latest buzzwords in business intelligence (BI) – visualisation – is causing quite a significant uproar. Let’s set the record straight from the beginning: Visualisation is not the new BI. Visualisation is just an added medium through which one can publish the intelligence in the data so a larger portion of the company can benefit from discovering the story ‘hidden’ therein.

    Picture it

    Way back, in the Shakespearian BI era, data and intelligence were expressed in data tables. It never ceases to amaze me when I come across BI end-users who can glance at a data table with 25 columns and 72 rows showing regional weekly sales data for the last 18 months, and – within seconds – become excited by the trends they observe in the data. Yes, such data whizzes exist, and sometimes leave me reeling, convinced that Neo stepped out of ‘The Matrix’ through my computer screen. However, I tend to fall on the side of the masses, and for me to make sense of large data sets, the golden rule applies: “A picture is worth a thousand words (or numbers, in the case of BI).”

    Over the past couple of years, managers have started to realise that, instead of being solely dependent on a small team of highly skilled quantitative analysts to analyse and interpret the data for the masses in lengthy book reports, the latest technological advancement in visualisation capabilities of tools, like PowerBI, Qlikview, and Tableau, among others, may unlock the story in the data to a wider audience, much faster.

    However, don’t be fooled into thinking it is as simple as putting the tools and the data in the BI users’ hands, and – ‘hey presto’ – BI value is unlocked by the masses for the masses. It is not that easy. Returning to my analogy of books versus movies, consider how many people are involved in publishing a book versus bringing a movie to the silver screen. The book involves the writer, an editing team, the back-cover writer and the publisher. Judging from the credits on a movie, it can take a team of more than 100 people to effectively tell one story on the telly.

    One must understand that to unlock the story in the data through visualisation takes very careful planning and design, to ensure the right visualisation mechanism (bar graph, line graph, heat map, xy plots, etc) is used that best tells the story. I’m yet to come across a company where all BI users just intuitively know how to match the right mechanism to the data to effectively answer the business question they have.

    Unlocking value

    Cue the role of the data visualisation architect (Google it, such a person exists), who is almost like the scriptwriter, location manager, set designer, casting director and director of photography all rolled into one. This person effectively combines the right data (script) with the right visualisation mechanism (set designer), and the right formatting and structure (director of photography), and then publishes it on the right platform (location manager) to the selected target audience (casting director), who will then effectively utilise the insight to the value of the organisation, resulting in a conclusion of the story. The data visualisation architect will know the science behind how visualisation is perceived and physiologically processed by the viewer, and use this specialist skill to design the optimal visualisation for each and every insight story embedded in the data.

    As a side note, I must caution the reader not to confuse the data visualisation architect with the other buzzword, data scientist. That would be like demoting the director to become the set designer. Granted, data scientists have a very strong understanding and a keen, almost intrinsic, ability to design visualisations that tell a very clear story. However, a data scientist is usually the person who drives and steers the whole journey of discovering a new story, scripting, designing, casting, recording, and producing the movie. Data scientists are far more valuable in the exploratory analytics space where the business question is still being formulated, the hypothesis must still be defined, the suitable data sourced and analysed, and finally, the conclusions drawn and presented to decision-makers.

    Just like the data scientist discovers untold stories hidden in the data, the data visualisation architect can enable business to unlock the value intrinsic in their existing data for decisions made on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. This is done by converting existing reams of data-table book reports into well-crafted visualisation views that tell the story succinctly in an aesthetically pleasing way – empowering the other 80% who cannot intuitively see the picture in the data, like Neo.

    Source : IT Web

  • Big data a must for insurance industry

    Petr Havlik, Managing Director for CyberPro Consulting

    How to effectively manage big data is something all companies need to be aware of. When it comes to a data-driven business like insurance, it is even more critical to success or failure. Are local insurers adequately prepared for this?

    The concept of big data is certainly not a new one. Many companies have been trying to better deal with the sheer amount of raw data they have at their disposal sifting the good from the bad. But to really manage it properly, executives are faced with difficult decisions in identifying the exceptional technologies able to efficiently process large quantities of data within acceptable time frames.

    Cynics might argue that big data is just a buzz phrase and ignore it. However, an IBM study has found that 74 percent of insurance companies surveyed report that the use of information and analytics, including big data, is creating a competitive advantage to their organisations.

    In South Africa, the rise of the connected lifestyle is resulting in customers who demand more from their insurers. This connectedness has also given rise to more informed consumers who are better aware of competitive offerings than in the past. Not only do they want better pricing but they also expect innovative, value-adds that appeal to their lifestyle requirements. If an insurer is not able to deliver this, then the customer is more than willing to change companies. Insurance brand loyalty is a thing of the past.

    This means that insurance companies now compete on multiple levels ranging from premiums, customer services, and claims experience, to brand recognition and product structure, amongst others.

    And the foundation to all of this? Quality data.

    An insurer needs to implement the kind of IT systems that empower them to make informed decisions based on their customer requirements as well as market trends that will impact them from the short-term through to the long-term.

    According to IBM*, insurance companies must leverage their information assets to gain a comprehensive understanding of markets, customers, products, distribution channels, regulations, competitors, employees, and so much more.

    Of course, it is not all about just big data. Using Business Intelligence tools that integrate data management and analytics become essential to build the right kind of information needed for making quality business decisions.

    Fortunately, South African insurers are willing to adapt. A case in point is the flexibility of solutions available to cater for a range of consumer needs. This could of course not have been developed without getting to grips with big data and testing new solutions. The future is looking promising for those insurance companies that have taken heed of the call to arms and are starting to realise the treasure trove that is their big data.

    Source : Cover

  • Embracing integration in a cloud-based world

    At a time when cloud computing is becoming fundamental to business, the importance of integrating systems effectively cannot be overstated. Petr Havlik, director for CyberPro Consulting, looks at the impact this will have in South Africa.

     

    “Historically in IT, developing software systems and utilising things like business intelligence solutions were considered separate disciplines. However, this has all changed given technology needs to be much more integrated in order to help the decision-maker gain a single view of the operational areas and customers in their business – and ultimately become a more partner-driven business.”

     

    Such an approach reflects a growing shift in a world where companies are looking at expanding their traditional business lines with more value-added offerings. For example, renewing a passport at a bank could never happen without having an integration between multiple parties. The connected world is now seeing organisations playing multiple roles in the lives of their customers.

     

    “Just look at what is happening in the South African landscape. You have telecommunication providers muscling in on the banking space, banks providing all sorts of value-add online offerings, and numerous other companies across a variety of sectors identifying different ways of adding to revenue streams.”

     

    Havlik says that this diversification and working with different business partners provide an organisation with a great platform to be successful in the ‘new world’. However, while integration is topical and relevant, it is certainly not very sexy given its focus on back-end processes and systems.

     

    “The changes that cloud computing bring to the integration landscape can be exciting and frightening at the same time. In the past, integration resulted in significant infrastructure and skills investments needing to take place. Using a cloud platform, such as for example Microsoft’s Azure platform, provides the business with access to a centrally-hosted environment providing those services.”

     

    This gives companies access to a highly available and scalable environment that can be utilised to integrate with their partners. Going the cloud route brings with it significantly lower costs and faster implementation times.

     

    “In certain respects, the benefits of integration are providing traditional-minded businesses the first real use cases for adopting cloud-based systems. Even concerns around security and privacy are being addressed thanks to the strong security measures adopted by cloud providers, although customers must remain cognisant of the facts around data storage in offshore locations.”

     

    And while there is a need for more multinationals to open data centres in South Africa to address the need to keep certain information within the confines of the country, the reality of seeing this happen is still a few years away.

     

    “Irrespective of this, integration is something companies are starting to take more seriously outside of the traditional confines of the IT department. The benefits of doing this effectively cannot be ignored for longer,” Havlik concludes.

    Source : The SA Leader

  • The golden key

    By , director at PBT Group.

    Undoubtedly, cloud computing has changed the way in which IT serves companies. Virtually anything can be offered as a service (XaaS), and business intelligence (BI) in the cloud is no exception.

    In fact, there are a handful of reputable vendors offering a cloud BI as a service solution. Their options range from complete data warehousing and BI suites, in the cloud, to less complex data exploration and visualisation solutions such as Birst, GoodData, MicroStrategy, SalesForce, Tibco Spotfire Cloud, SAP Lumira Cloud, IBM Watson Analytics, Microsoft Power BI, Amazon Web Services and Oracle BI Services, to name a few.

    Cloud BI solutions typically provide multitenancy hardware and host software over the Internet – which imports business data, places a structure around it (if unstructured), applies the data models and generates a Web-based user interface. These allow for analysis and distribution of reports and dashboards. These solutions are also compatible with smart mobile devices, giving access to analysis and dashboards from anywhere and everywhere.

    Additionally, cloud BI implementations are sold as alternatives to traditional BI, given the advantages of providing faster implementation time and a significantly different cost structure from traditional implementations, which are based on on-premises data centre installations.

    The case for cloud

    Some companies commonly use cloud for proof-of-concept projects before actually implementing them in-house. Other bespoke benefits include greater agility, higher levels of innovation and improved ability to contain costs and reduce the need for capital acquisition. According to John Myers, who compiled a research report on Analytics in the Cloud, the top three financial drivers behind cloud BI platforms are minimised hardware and infrastructure cost, reduced implementation cost, and reduced administrative cost, in that order[1].

    However, cloud BI can come with its own challenges. For example, bandwidth constraints can negatively impact data transfers into the cloud; as such, large companies might still need to maintain on-premises sources for cloud BI or face additional costs for upgrading connectivity to the cloud. As a result, it is unlikely that all company data will move to the cloud. So businesses with large volumes of data may still need to transform raw data on-premises to reduce the size of the data, and only transfer ‘subsets’ of necessary company data. In other words, keeping data transfers small is important in cloud BI to manage both cost and upload/download bandwidth issues.

    Other challenges that may lead companies to hold back from expanding to a cloud-based approach are performance and latency-related issues; the fact that this approach discourages customisation; and some businesses have privacy and security concerns when it comes to sending sensitive business data beyond the corporate firewalls.

    Fear-less

    However, most cloud solutions now follow sophisticated encryption techniques with stricter security processes and certificates, which are more advanced than many companies have internally. Therefore, security should not be a worrying factor for adoption – anymore. Companies that have made the move to the cloud often state the benefits – faster time to market, no need to maintain on-premises software and simplicity of use – outweigh any downsides[2].

    An article from CIO states: “Business intelligence solutions were once the jurisdiction of the largest enterprises, which had the deep pockets and obligatory technical resources to implement what’s often a fairly complex technology. Today, though, the cloud brings BI within the grasp of small to medium-sized businesses as well. Smaller to medium companies get the benefits of enterprise software without having to have the on-premises footprint and the staff that typically would be required[3].”

    Although there is no rush to replace traditional BI applications with cloud alternatives in the near future, BI SaaS does have a number of legitimate use cases today. For large companies, it is often complementary to improving customer transparency, in coexistence with traditional BI, while it is an affordable option for small to medium organisations[4].

    Cloud BI solutions have the potential of levelling the competitive advantages that were previously enjoyed by large counterparts. The ‘pay per use’ costing models makes the cloud approach attractive to companies of any sizes across any industry. According to Analytics in the Cloud, a January 2015 report by Enterprise Management Associates, adopters’ interest has been increasing in the past three years and can be expected to continue in recent years, at an accelerated rate[5].

    [1] http://research.enterprisemanagement.com/rs/ema/images/EMA-CloudAnalytics-2015-RR.pdf
    [2] http://www.computerworld.com/article/2491281/business-intelligence/cloud-bi-going-where-the-data-lives.html

    Source : IT Web