Tech & Communications

Analytics: Addressing critical issues within data collection in the Middle East

by  — 26 February 2015
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IT investment in the Middle East has led to a massive enterprise infrastructure sprawl. This has been accompanied by spending on applications aimed at streamlining business processes and, crucially, the digitisation of information. The inevitable by-product of all this has been increased complexities around IT management as, organisations across the region are now generating huge amounts of data.

Nearly 69 percent of all Middle East chief information officers (CIOs) expect data growth to be between 20 to 30 percent over the next 12 months, the majority of it largely unstructured. Making sense of this massive amount of data and using this information to improve decision-making, inform strategy, and drive competitive advantage is becoming increasingly critical for organisations, and this has led to growing interest in business analytics investments across the region.

Middle East CIOs ranked business analytics as the third most important transformation technology for their organisations in 2014. Business analytics is defined as software tools and application markets, with the functionality to aggregate, manage, organise, analyse, access, and deliver structured and unstructured data; this includes business intelligence tools, performance management and analytics applications and data
warehousing platforms. 

Many business applications now come with embedded analytics so as to provide reports on the data that is being captured or generated. And while there is a wide range of solutions available in the market, there are a number of aspects that CIOs must address if they are to ensure a successful and, more importantly, useful business analytics deployment within their companies.

The business aspect

When it comes to implementing business analytics solutions, it is not simply a case of IT deploying the solution and expecting the organisation to use it to aid decision making; executive buy-in is required from senior management. This will help develop a clear picture of how the technology can be leveraged to gain better and faster insights in a timely manner. Once this buy-in has been secured it is important to gain support from the various lines of business (LoB) across the organisation. While the executive board may seek financial metrics, the LoB managers will be more interested in how they can leverage the data that is most relevant to their particular teams.

Gaining this LoB backing is crucial as it will help justify the business use case and budget, and we have even seen examples of organisations where LoB heads brought up the issue of business analytics even before IT. Marketing departments, for example, are interested in customer analytics in order to help improve their product/service positioning. Another important step is to secure agreement on the key performance indicators (KPIs). IT needs to work with the business heads to define the relevant KPIs, and this should be done from the time of project initiation so as to ensure that the correct data is being filtered out and recycled for reporting purposes.

Given the amount of unstructured data floating around organisations, ad hoc requests are inevitable, but it will always be more efficient to have the relevant stakeholders define a set of KPIs so that the right data streams can be leveraged.

The aspect that can really decide whether a business analytics solution will be successful or not is change management. Once the KPIs have been agreed upon and the project is about to go live, IT and business functions need to work together to ensure that the organisation is ready to adopt the changes they are about to experience. Educating users on how to use the data and reports is critical, and some employees will inevitably need a certain amount of basic skills training. They will also need to agree with the fact that decision making within the organisation is about to change.

 The technology aspect

When implementing business analytics, data quality is a critical factor that can impact the type of value the organisation will ultimately see. Resolving data quality is crucial given that various systems may be capturing data differently; there may be multiple iterations of the data, and IT may not know all the factors that are being taken into account while creating Excel reports. IT heads will have to work closely with business leaders to better understand this aspect.

IT will also need to work with business on the issue of data governance – defining data assets, standardising the way data is captured, and determining exactly what data can and cannot be accessed. There needs to be cross-functional ownership of this data, with all stakeholders working together to ensure the governance framework is managed effectively. This goes hand in hand with the issue of data security, as business analytics solutions gain access to a wide variety of data right across the organisation. It is therefore important that the data being accessed is secure and that any relevant security guidelines and legislation are adhered to at all times.

The biggest technology aspect that IT needs to address is data integration, ensuring that data is being properly integrated into the relevant business analytics systems given the various application silos in existence across the organisation. It is also important to keep in mind that not all data is created equal and that certain applications may create more data volume than others.

The one aspect that is common to both business and IT? Finding the required skills for new technologies. This is a persistent challenge across the Middle East, and companies need to either invest heavily in training or seek to ensure that the majority of their business analytics processes
are automated.

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