By Linet Kwamboka
“My people perish from a lack of knowledge” ~ Hosea 4:6
Today, Hosea would be disappointed that people have knowledge but lack the ability to use it.
There is talk all over the world about the next frontier in technology and business.Big data. Big companies in the west have started to sign up clients that have data, helping them analyze the data, use it for predictive modeling and productivity.
Governments have not been left behind. With the rise of the Open Data movement around the world, there are great expectations for improved decision making within government, and as a ripple effect, affecting how private sector interacts with government and does business.
This is all already happening, in the west.
With this rise of using data, Data Science is becoming inevitable. We have seen an emergence in data scientists, by training or experience but it’s all not really hard to figure out. A little dedication to the subject goes a long way.
In Africa, data has been defined as the new oil! Data is becoming such a valuable crude resource. The good news is that everyone is a potential stakeholder. In fact, everyone has something to bring to the table. The better news is, most of this valuable resource is available, for free. It might not be within the bounds of ‘big data’ but I am sure even the existing ‘small data’ can truly be transformational.
We are seeing initiatives like the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI), the Africa Development Bank data site and many other initiatives through the World Bank and other key industry players that are releasing data with major indicators of where to do business, what market segments to target, what products to work on, what the growth rates are etc. Putting information like this together can easily draw a picture of the expected profits. It might not be very obvious, identifying trends within data takes a lot of intelligence and creativity but it can be done.
Growth of entrepreneurship around the world and with a massive exodus of international entrepreneurs to Africa, the new competitive edge for an industry player is the quality of data that runs their business, whether from internal or external sources. The best move for a lot of the starters would be to invest in people who are dedicated to gathering this information and using it to carry out business intelligence. People or an algorithm is a good question. What should be invested in? Remember, an algorithm without a clear mind that feeds it key indicators might give the correct answer but not necessarily the right one. The people are key!
Demographic data gives deeper understanding to information on populations and can easily be harnessed to help entrepreneurs understand their market or what products would be best suited for them to invest in.
The unfortunate bit is that we have our entrepreneurs focusing on producing products or giving services without as much as a little research into the subject matter to find out if the time and money investments they are undertaking are suited for the markets they are targeting. Some do not do any form of literature review or customer analysis to see if any of their proposed solution would work within the existing environment or with existing technologies.
The reason Hosea would be more disappointed is the fact that this information exists in some form out in the web and in reports but local entrepreneurs have not made it any of their work to use it.
This post is not at all to say that all the information needed to elevate startups exists and that they are just being lazy. Or to be oblivious of the fact that some entrepreneurs are already using data to make their businesses better. In fact, that is very far from the truth. Some of the information that is necessary to help steer things is either outdated or non-existent all together. Some information on donor funding, profit margins, growth trajectories etc. that can be very vital in informing businesses might either be considered confidential or might also not exist. Some entrepreneurs have already seen the value of using data within businesses and are already out investing in this to help their businesses grow.
My recommendation moving forward is for entrepreneurs to not only use data in their day to day decision making but for them to also develop a culture of data sharing, at acceptable levels to allow others benefit and build their businesses.
Linet Kwamboka is a software engineer at Carnegie Mellon University and a technology consultant for multiple firms in the areas of open data, data analysis and in use of technology in product development. She is @g33kmate on twitter and blogs at datascience.co.ke and mkurugenzi.com