Rapid rise in data poses challenges for SA businesses

The level of data collected by businesses has become increasingly prolific in recent years, often resulting in significant challenges for these organisations to ensure that their systems are robust enough to effectively capture the data and process it into meaningful information. The mastering of these challenges will be key to organisations gaining and maintaining competitive advantage in their industries.

Royden Volans, Commercial Director at Lightstone (image: Lightstone)

Royden Volans, Commercial Director at Lightstone, specialists in spatial and data driven insights, says it is critical for companies to put strategies in place in order to ensure they are managing and addressing their data needs.

“There is an enormous amount of valuable information at the disposal of organisations – however, in today’s highly competitive environment, it ultimately relies on executive appetite to prioritise initiatives to consume and leverage it,” he says.

Volans explains that while the concept of ‘Big Data’ is not new – the volume, variety and velocity of data is increasing to such an extent that organisations need to start adapting the way in which they deal with big data.

“In 2007 the world could store 295 billion gigabytes. To put this into perspective, one would need about 404 billion CD’s to store this data. If you stack those CD’s on top of one another, it would be able to reach the moon – and go 25% past it! Whilst this is impressive, what is more impressive is the growth. Globally, 2.5 exabytes of data are created each day, and this doubles every 40 months (source: Harvard Business Review)” says Volans.

According to Volans, the massive growth in two way communications, a major contributor to the exponential growth in data, can be attributed to the rise of social media, the growth in technology and the growth in location-based services (amongst others).

“Social media plays a significant role in the rise in data. Currently, approximately 500 billion minutes are being spent on Facebook per month – the month before this figure was only 150 billion minutes – so the growth is exponential. Furthermore, as conversations grow, it becomes increasingly difficult for organisations to keep track of this valuable information. The reality is that the pervasiveness of data is increasing all the time – so the big question is what organisations are doing to accommodate that,” he says.

According to Volans, many organisations are still not at a point of being able to effectively integrate or aggregate the information available to them. He says the development of tools and infrastructure through which companies can simply and quickly interpret big data is crucial.

He points to the insurance industry as an example. “There are in excess of 325 million pieces of data to describe catastrophe risk in South Africa. However, in order for insurance companies and other stakeholders to calculate the probability of the risk, you need to be able to access, aggregate and interpret this data.  Furthermore, the aggregation of each one of the elements required for one property and one quote requires this to be done quickly and consistently,” he says.

Volans says the same theory can be applied to cars on South African roads. He says there are currently 2.8 billion data elements to describe specifics about cars on SA roads. “The total number grows to 153 billion data elements alone if you want to stay up to date on pricing parts on a car.”

According to Volans, the major challenges to effective use of big data boil down to finding the right resources to work with the data, data quality, storage problems and the modernisation or real-time ability of information generation.

In order to address these issues, Volans says organisations need to make use of innovations available and already aggregating the vast volumes of data in order to relieve the pressure on their internal data resources. He points to applications such as the VVi app, developed by Lightstone that can generate instant vehicle validation reports by scanning the VIN number on the vehicle’s licence disc with a smartphone – thereby providing both car dealers and insurers with valuable time saving in confirming the details of a vehicle.

“The time has come for companies to pay serious attention to how they are structuring and utilising their data. Organisations need to prioritise according to the data they are capturing and put a process in place to get executive commitment to drive these activities,” he urges.

Staff writer