Big data is predicted to have a profound impact on most industry sectors in the near future. It underpins competition, productivity, innovation and growth, and businesses are recognising the need to manage their data to help them make quality decisions.

However, the value of data to an organisation must be measured against the insights that can be drawn from it. This can only be achieved by asking the right questions and ensuring the integrity of the data being used.

Karin Kruger, managing executive of BCX Data Science, says progressive companies are more digitally focused and positioned to make decisions based on their data findings.

“When people [initially] did big data or machine learning or artificial intelligence, they wanted to have the bragging rights and felt the need to say, ‘I’ve also got a big data team,’ often without having a clear business problem. That’s where a lot of companies burned their fingers. There wasn’t a clear business need to have big data or analytics, or to even source external data, whatever it might be.”

She likens this approach to searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, with many companies not knowing what they’re searching for.

“Sometimes you need to search, but that needs to be the smaller focus, while the bigger focus of data analytics or big data should be answering a business need. And that’s very often a discussion around a business problem, not around analytics, for that matter.”

Karin Kruger, managing executive of BCX Data Science. Picture: SUPPLIED/BCX
Karin Kruger, managing executive of BCX Data Science. Picture: SUPPLIED/BCX

Kruger works with large amounts of clients’ data, helping them reduce costs, grow their businesses in new areas or solve business problems that were previously considered unsolvable.

Data analytics enables technologies to be born out of the almost insatiable need for data in the current business environment.

“Analytics is so closely tied to many of the new technologies that are becoming available and it’s a function of the Fourth Industrial Revolution where we’ve got computers that can process data faster or process data that we’ve never been able to process. And that computing power is becoming cheaper and cheaper by the day,” says Kruger.

“Something like the Internet of Things for me is probably a technology stemming from someone getting frustrated because they did not have a certain portion of data, and IoT was born to create that data set.”

Kruger says that once her team has identified a problem, it spends some time analysing a client’s data. Only thereafter follows the decision whether to continue with advanced analytics to solve the problem.

“If we don’t find anything or have any indication that data might solve the problem, we rather go back to the drawing board. I want to create a culture of failing fast. Don’t torture the data to tell you something if there is nothing. Either find new data or move onto the next problem. It’s perceived as expensive to fail, but it’s not. If you fail fast, you can move on and find the value faster.

“Analytics might not always solve the problem but it will often give direction on where to deploy some of the new emerging technologies. It is an enabler and something that gives you direction.”

Kruger is also passionate about the training of data analysts and scientists and the expected increased focus on data analytics in the country’s educational system.

BCX is a partner to the Cape Town-based Explore Data Science Academy, headed up by Shaun Dippnall, who believes that people do not have to be qualified actuaries to work with data.

The academy took in its first 100 students this year without any entry prerequisites.

“You don’t need to have a formal education to be a data scientist. The prospective students go through a logic assessment, a problem-solving assessment, a written assessment and face-to-face interviews,” says Kruger.

The online programme takes 12 months to complete. Part of the programme is an internship that prepares the students to enter the market.

“It is a phenomenal programme. I’m fortunate enough to currently have some of the students doing their internships with BCX. The Explore Data Science Academy programme yields both data scientists and data analysts,” says Kruger.

“The distinction between data analysts and the data scientists is the ability to write machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms, but data analysts can also work with data, they can do visualisation and would also add tremendous value to any business.”

Analytics might not always solve the problem but it will often give direction where to deploy some of the new emerging technologies. It is an enabler and something that gives you direction
Karin Kruger

A key achievement of the programme is being able to prove that someone with no coding background, who has never worked with data, can be taught to be a data analyst or data scientist. Kruger also believes that education as a whole will change, with a great focus being placed on data analytics.

“Not everyone will write algorithms, but most people will know how to work with data on a spreadsheet, how to visualise it, how to draw conclusions and how to know intuitively when something is wrong. I do think the schooling system will see the introduction of programming languages soon. Can you imagine how different the country will be and how much opportunity for self-starters that will enable? It would be a complete overhaul in the education system.”

Kruger says her passion for analytics started at a young age when she would always search for a formula to see how something worked.

“I always thought analytics found me. I’ve always been good with numbers and the application of maths really appeals to me.”

She has a master's degree in business mathematics and a degree in informatics from the University of the North West. After completing her studies, Kruger joined FNB.

“I ended up in the credit card division and they had just appointed their first quantitative data analyst who was tasked to start a team. I ended up in his team. I fell in love with customer data. The sheer amount of customer data and what you can derive from how people behave and what will happen next based on their credit card spending made me stay in retail banking for 11 years,” she says.

Following her stint at FNB, Kruger searched for a new challenge. At the time KPMG was starting data analytics in SA. “I spent a lot of my KPMG career talking to a lot of people about big data. That was when big data was the hype. Now I see a massive trend where there is an understanding of data, and data engineering is becoming as much a sought-after skill set as data science because people understand the importance of data.”

After five years at KPMG, Kruger joined BCX to head up its data science unit. In a world where there is an exponential expansion of data, BCX Insights delivers tangible value from data in the form of perceptive solutions that drive optimised decision making.

For more information, visit the BCX website.

This article was paid for by BCX.