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Succeed in harnessing big data and your organisation will have an almost ‘unfair’ advantage over its competitors, posits Jean-Pierre Smith, pre-sales director at Hitachi Data Systems South Africa.

While data is complex and the journey towards digital transformation can be daunting, your company needs to make sure it remains ahead of the game.

If your organisation has begun the journey to digital transformation, it has probably encountered challenges, including the number of skilled people within the company who are able to help it progress. Equally challenging can be getting the organisation to the stage where it is willing to invest in this area of your business.

An easy way to understand how far your organisation has come in terms of digital transformation is to track your progress along the process of first collecting data in your data warehouse, then learning from it (hindsight) so that you can develop knowledge (insight), then create predictions (foresight) and ultimately make decisions (wisdom).

The return on investment, however, is great! The further along the transformation process you get the more business goals you’ll beat.

Start by assessing your progress

First research what is happening in the market place. Assess your organisation to determine how far along the transformation process it is and build a plan forward.

You also need to determine whether the quality of your data is good enough to move through the various stages of transformation. Think of the data refining process in much the same way as you would the oil refining process. The more refined the oil (or data) is, the faster it allows you to move. Data in its most basic form is captured data. As it becomes more refined it changes to enriched data, then to third party data and finally to synthesised data, which will enable you to make hard business decisions for your company.

Fill specific roles

Internal education should be one of your first priorities. Your organisation needs to develop the knowledge of its own people, but also to bring in one or two top experts who can help the company progress.

Roles that you will need to start filling in order to progress include a Chief Data Officer to manage the collection of data in your data warehouse, taking the process further with a Chief Analytics Officer to facilitate the learning phase, onto a Line of Business Manager to take that learning and develop insight. A Chief Financial Officer should take on the role of turning the data into predictions and finally the CEO will make decisions based on the information provided.

Evaluate and update your systems

To ascertain how far along the transformation process you are, assess your systems under the following categories: analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), good bots and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The transformation in analytics begins with descriptive analytics (what happened based on incoming data) transitioning to diagnostic analytics (why it happened), then on to predictive analytics (what will happen) and finally to prescriptive analytics (what action should be taken).

AI systems progress from expert systems, which simulate the judgement and behaviour of a human expert, to neural networks, which mimic the biological model of the human brain. They then advance to become genetic algorithms – search procedures based on the mechanics of natural selection and genetics, and finally to become intelligent agents able to gather information or perform a service without the user’s immediate presence.

Similarly, bots develop from simple stateless bots with no memory to semi-stateful bots with a limited capacity to keep track of a conversation. More advanced stateful bots can retain the entire history of each conversation they have with the user, and finally loyal bots are able to keep reviewing the history of their interaction with the user on a regular basis and according to their own schedule.

The Internet of Things can also produce large volumes of data from the simplest appliances, which produce one-way data, such as home appliances and vending machines to complex systems built with AI that produce two-way data, like drones and smart vehicles.

Return on investment

Once you have ascertained how far along the transformation process your organisation has come, you can start determining which systems to develop to help your company progress and begin seeing a return on the investment.

The result will be invaluable real-time information. Take, for example, a retail business deciding whether to open more of or close some of its stores. Through effective analysis of data, it might find the best course of action is to close some of its stores. However, based on findings, it decides to develop a major web presence instead, which has the potential to provide more profit.

Ultimately, your organisation will be empowered to make difficult business decisions because of the high-value questions and answers you’ll uncover, keeping your company well ahead of the curve.