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Harnessing data-driven insights for positive societal change

By , Managing Executive for Cloud, Hosting & Security at Vodacom Business.
Africa , South Africa , 07 Jun 2021
Kabelo Makwane, Managing Executive for Cloud, Hosting & Security at Vodacom Business.
Kabelo Makwane, Managing Executive for Cloud, Hosting & Security at Vodacom Business.

We have seen a surge in digital information and technologies in every aspect of our lives in the past year and with that, comes the exponential growth of data. In its annual DataSphere and StorageSphere forecasts, the International Data Corporation (IDC) estimated that we produced 64 zettabytes of data – equivalent to just 2 trillion 32GB SD cards - in 2020.

The result of this proliferation of data is a boom in data science. Businesses of every size and industry have realised that by adopting the right digital tools and capabilities they can use data to obtain critical insights for improved decision-making, efficiencies and performance. These ‘intelligent businesses’ are investing in the Internet of Things (IOT) and cloud-based technologies including machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) from the likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft.

Going beyond business

A data-driven approach to addressing complex business challenges is more than a boardroom discussion on how to increase the bottom line. As the capacity and tools for capturing and understanding data increases and different types of data become more accessible, data analytics can be used for the greater good in so many areas of our lives. The use of data does not have to be equated to privacy violation when data is anonymised and is able to provide key insights with economic value.

Advanced data analytics, when anonymised to protect privacy, can not only help resolve complex societal issues but also unlock value and productivity for businesses. For academics, researchers, governments, for profit and non-profit organisations, data analytics provides grounded evidence to inform decision-making and inspire solutions, in turn, making a positive difference in society.

A better built environment

By 2050, it is predicted that almost 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. As urbanisation continues to surge, data analytics has the potential to make a significant social impact by improving overall quality of life in newly populated urban areas.

For instance, when developing a smart city, the use of location services can provide insights on the relationship between geographical space and people. This ranges from measuring and analysing footfall for the success of retail developments in the area, to finding ways to ease traffic congestion and optimise transport routes.

Furthermore, through IOT solutions such as smart meters, data can help inform better environmental decisions on air quality, waste management and energy conservation. It can then be used to increase citizen safety and manage infrastructure to meet demand. Essentially data-driven insights can further enable the creation of greener, safer and smarter cities.

Improvements in healthcare

When it comes to healthcare, data analytics is proving to be a game changer in preventing outbreaks and predicting health issues before it is too late. Using data-driven findings, health experts can assess and apply methods and treatments faster, keep track of inventory in real time and empower patients to take an active role in their own health.

More recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, data analytics has supported the health and safety of those who are returning to workspaces and public locations. Installed sensors can receive data on building occupancy figures to make social distancing easier.

The rise of the intelligent business

Research by Vodafone Business on ‘future ready businesses’ found that a main differentiator of a business that is ready for the future, is that it sees a crisis as a natural time to experiment with new

The potential to create positive solutions for some of our most pressing challenges is even greater if this industry-mined data can be shared with others. A report by the GSM Association notes how key anonymised meta-data from the networks of mobile operators can have widespread social impact in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. However, these insights need to be harnessed by governments and development agencies if they are to have a lasting effect.

Applying data analytics for positive change is not without its challenges, with data access, privacy protection and security concerns. Nonetheless, this vast amount of data we are producing on a daily basis has the potential to offer us insight on how we can transform our world and go further together. 

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