In recent times, there has been a microfocus on data in the technology industry and the global economy at large. More people are becoming aware of what it is, how it works and why it has become so important in our dealings. It is safe to say the rave is long overdue. Describing data in itself can be multi-faceted. The business dictionary defines data as ‘information in a raw or unorganized form (such as alphabets, numbers or symbols) that refer to or represent, conditions, ideas or objects.’ Wikipedia simply defines data as ‘facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis’. Data is limitless and present everywhere in the universe and as such, it is important we learn how to use and properly manage it.
Data has been an essential part of human evolution for thousands of years. Human beings as a species are pattern solvers by default hence our need for data as a tool. In other words, we gather information about our surroundings to optimize our lives. The earliest humans passed on information only through word of mouth but as our brains developed, we began to see the need to record information. The first examples of this data preservation come from over 35,000 years ago with cave paintings. Most of the activities during this age were centered around hunting and gathering so it makes sense that the paintings were mostly of animals; a way to pass down knowledge of the types of animals to hunt and the weapons used for best results.
Recording information was a much more efficient way to pass down information and afforded us the chance to expand our knowledge-base rapidly, preserve the knowledge gained over generations and more importantly, presented us the opportunity to build on past knowledge to gain deeper insights on recurring issues or events. This accumulation of knowledge continued for thousands of years as our ancestors started to become more advanced developing more powerful tools and survival instincts.
Over time, human data collection moved beyond just information pertaining to survival. All across the world, history and stories began to be recorded more frequently primarily due to the fact that we became better at communicating ideas as spoken and written languages became more sophisticated. All the information since the cave paintings are but a small blip compared to the information currently at our fingertips. The worldwide adoption of mobile phones has sparked an exponential explosion in data creation and has been the catalyst for the field of Big Data to evolve.
What is Big Data?
“It’s not the amount of data that’s important. It’s what organizations do with the data that matters.”
Big data can be analyzed for insights that lead to better decisions and strategic business moves. Nowadays, our issues have shifted from data production to utilizing these vast quantities of data. Big Data can be considered as the microscope used to peer into the world around us. The significance of big data does not, in fact, revolve around how much data an organization has but what they can do with it. You can take data from any source, analyze it and yield answers that solve problems regarding cost optimization, time management, whether or not a new product should be developed and its most effective offerings and most relevant today, smart decision making.
Business-related tasks such as determining the root causes of failures, errors, and defects almost in real time; calculating entire risk portfolios in minutes and detecting fraudulent behavior even before it affects an organization, are all things that an organization can accomplish when big data and high-powered analytics are combined. Big data affects organizations across practically every industry. From banking to education, from the government to healthcare and manufacturing.
African history has always suffered from a limited number of written records. The 1960s, after most African countries had gained independence, served as the turning point for data gathering for African historians in Africa and elsewhere begin to borrow methods from archeology, linguistics, and oral history to investigate the continent’s rich and varied past. Information about Africa’s history (economic and otherwise) at this time was in high demand. Africa’s rapid economic growth rates during the late colonial and early postcolonial periods and the euphoria immediately following the independence raised new questions about the effects of imperialism and colonialism and the possibilities of future prosperity.
Most of the data generated on the continent is still manual. The introduction of IoT tools and mechanism can automate the generation of data, making it available for easy analysis and less prone to mistakes. In Africa, such data is sometimes hard to come by since most companies haven’t fully automated their processes. Even those companies that are producing machine-readable data are not using the data effectively.
However, a couple of organizations in Africa are looking to take advantage of the vacuum in this space to produce applications that could solve problems plaguing the continent. Startups are taking advantage of Big Data and open data available on the continent and are changing lives as a result.
Bad data is costly. With data driving so many decisions in our lives, the cost of bad data truly impacts us all, whether or not we realize it. IBM estimates that bad data costs the U.S. economy around $3.1 trillion dollars each year. The data that most businesses analyze is about their customers and if you’re relying on bad data, there is no way your business can succeed. Many companies have failed to maximize their potentials for lack of knowledge on how to store, enrich, analyze and monetize a huge volume of data they generate from their everyday operations.
It is important to note that with this great access to information comes the equally great responsibility to guard such data. A data breach can occur when private/confidential information is intentionally or unintentionally released into an untrusted environment. Data breaches may involve financial information such as credit card or bank details, Personal Health Information (PHI), Personally Identifiable Information (PII), trade secrets of corporations or intellectual property. Most data breaches involve overexposed and vulnerable unstructured data – files, documents, and sensitive information.
A few days ago, a major data leak that involved personal and payment information relating to Arik Air passengers was exposed. The leak, which contained sensitive customer details such as device fingerprints, names, email addresses, last four digits of credit cards, and IP addresses, was discovered on September 6 by Justin Paine, the head of trust and safety at Cloudflare. Cloudflare is one of the largest internet security and cloud network platforms in the world. It will most probably involve investigation by authorities to get to the root of this as Arik Airline - initially believed to have been the culprit - has denied any wrongdoing in the matter.
The consequences of such actions can be largely devastating to the parties involved. The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica from early this year was a major indicator of this. It was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a company that had worked on Donald Trump’s US presidential election campaign, had harvested the personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political purposes. It was described as a major turning point in the public understanding of personal data.
With this awakening came massive reforms on data laws. Europe is now covered by the world’s strongest data protection rules. The mutually agreed General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force on May 25, 2018, and was designed to modernize laws that protect the personal information of individuals.
In Africa, new analysis from data experts finds that most companies in Africa will still be learning how to utilise big data efficiently over the next few years. Addressing appropriate concerns, particularly the integration of the solution with other aspects of the business, will be critical to facilitating the effective implementation of a big data solution.
Technological advancements at each stage of the big data value chain, notably the proliferation of connected devices such as sensors, will continue to drive the big data trend in Africa. Continued investments in network infrastructure and the ease of adoption of various analytics platforms will also contribute to the emergence of big data solutions.
Since big data is inextricably linked to two other technological trends – mobility and cloud – it is the combination of the three that will have the greatest impact in the market. Hence, telecommunications operators will play an increasingly important role in big data solutions as they look to leverage this tremendous opportunity in the African market.