African Tech Voices: Africa has a major opportunity to play leapfrog when it comes to data integration
My previous article made the case for data integration within the context of business’s need to compete in a fast-changing global marketplace. Now I want to look more specifically at why data governance is so important and how getting it right can help African companies gain a definite advantage.
Africa has leapfrogged straight into the mobile-first environment that underpins business agility, and similarly is free to adopt a cloud-first posture
In the technology space, Africa’s relative underdevelopment compared with Europe, the United States and Asia actually seems to have played out to its benefit. As many have observed, African companies do not face the challenge of legacy technology and are thus in the position of investing for the first time in the latest and greatest technology without the need to sweat existing assets. For example, Africa has leapfrogged straight into the mobile-first environment that underpins business agility, and similarly is free to adopt a cloud-first posture as continental connectivity continues to improve.
Similarly, African companies have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes and wrong turnings of the First World when it comes to data integration. By adopting the latest thinking and next-generation data-integration tools, African companies can position themselves to integrate data-driven insights into their business models much more quickly and effectively than global competitors, who are not starting with a clean slate.
To pull this off, African companies need to get to grips with data governance. Don’t be put off: it may sound boring or intimidating, but it’s the key to the golden data treasure chest!
At the most fundamental level, data governance should be seen primarily as a framework through which a company creates, manages, and ultimately uses data to make better decisions, and develop new products and solutions that the market actually wants. But, as noted, the challenge with data today is that it is being generated in huge volumes, creating a significant challenge.
Just to give a sense of the scale of the problem—but also of the opportunity—consider that in 2020, every person generated 1.7 megabytes of data in one second. The vast majority of businesses (95%) cite the management of unstructured data as a problem. And data creation will grow to more than 180 zettabytes by 2025.
How to deal with this? More specifically, how to ensure that the data is clean and consistent? The old IT adage, “garbage in, garbage out” remains true—but with bells on now that data is being relied increasingly to run the business. Insights based on shaky data will likely be outright harmful and will certainly inhibit the business’s adoption of the data-driven approach, to its ultimate detriment. Data that is properly governed will be clean and profiled, and it won’t be siloed in the organisation’s business units. Siloes are a universal problem in business, and they are fatal to data, whose value is directly proportionate to how universal it is.
Well-managed data governance also increases efficiency because it reduces the amount of duplication, in turn limiting the number of errors and so the cost of fixing them.
A second major issue is data security. As data has become more important, regulators have stepped in to ensure it is protected—not just from hackers but also from improper use by the company itself. Already, South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA) is in force, modelled on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Similar legislation is in place or planned across the First World, and African companies will have to be compliant if they are trading with entities from these jurisdictions. The financial services industry is particularly affected.
Benefits of data governance
Let’s unpack the benefits of data governance a little more. They are:
Improved business decision-making. Data that is more accurate, and spans the entire organisation, will lead to better decisions—and trust in those decisions will be higher. Companies can draw on trusted data to formulate new products and services, and to support a wealth of other decisions that formerly relied on incomplete knowledge and good old gut feel.
Improved data quality. Fewer duplications and errors mean that costs are reduced.
Regulatory compliance. A robust data governance framework makes it much easier to ensure that relevant data protection regulations are complied with, and that new compliance with new regulations can easily be achieved in the future.
Increased operational efficiency. Data can be used to understand the business better, and specifically to identify - and then eliminate - inefficiencies and bottlenecks.
Clearly, implementing the data governance framework across such huge amounts of data is a tall order. Luckily, next-generation data-management tools exist to support data integration. Two important technologies must form part of whatever solution is chosen:
Automation. Moving away from manual processes not only enhances accuracy, but it also means that the rules and policies related to regulatory compliance are automatically followed. In similar vein, improvements aimed at improving data quality can be introduced, along with control of who sees which piece of data. Automation is essential because it can achieve all this at scale, to cope with the data volumes every company has to deal with.
Cataloguing. Taking the old-style library catalogue into the digital age, this technology provides a consistent way to onboard, profile, describe, secure and even mask sensitive data so it is ready for use. The digital catalogue allows everybody in the organisation to see which data is available to them, while securing it by only allowing employees to access the data they need.
As we’ve seen, data is the prime lever of competitive advantage in the global and digital marketplace. Data governance is the only way to manage that data effectively, and ensure it is ready for use. Because they typically do not have failed or ineffective data warehouse projects in existence, African companies have a unique window of opportunity to implement an automated data-governance platform that works today and can adapt to tomorrow’s needs.
Now that’s future proofed.