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Ignore Data Analytics At Your Own Peril

Befriend it and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it

Dewey Houck: "Just a few years ago, Siri didn’t exist. Now, we carry a computer around in our pockets and call it a phone.”

Could dinosaurs and data analytics have anything in common? Dewey Houck certainly thinks so.

“I feel like we are in a metaphoric K-T boundary right now,” he says, referring to the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, a watershed point in Earth’s history that marked the extinction of the dinosaurs.

However, in place of a giant meteor, the cause of change today is information technology. He explains: “It’s an incredibly exciting time to watch its evolution right now. Just a few years ago, Siri didn’t exist. Now, we carry a computer around in our pockets and call it a phone.”

Data analytics — Houck’s area of specialisation — is part of that tsunami of change sweeping the technology world. “Think about hooking devices together in a huge infrastructure that you can do machine learning and analysis on. The technology associated with it is an amazing thing to watch.”

In April this year, the American expert joined the global advisory board of JobTech, a Singapore start-up that uses artificial intelligence and big data to match job seekers with employers — this after retiring as Chief Data Analytics Officer of Boeing Defense, Space & Security.

He strongly advises against fighting the tide that is information technology, especially his area of expertise, for you run the risk of being left behind. Houck says it is more important now than ever to evolve the analytic capacity of an organisation, in order to maximise efficiency and productivity, and generate revenue while minimising cost.

The next question then is how to start doing it. His suggestion is to identify an individual at the C-suite level and give him the responsibility of treating data as an asset – effectively making him/her the chief data officer (CD)).

“Don’t give it to an IT person. Studies have shown that by 2020, three out of 10 chief information officers will be replaced by CDOs. As the IT infrastructure shifts into the cloud, you will no longer need those set of skills, but that responsibility of making sense of data doesn’t go away,” he advises.

Working with the CEO, the CDO needs to understand the business objective the organisation is trying to achieve and from there, he/she can figure out what data to collect, how to do it, analyse it and apply the findings into the operations. Subject matter experts should also be on hand to provide the necessary support.

In the process, be mindful that up to 70 per cent of data stored by organisations these days have no economic value – despite the humongous cost forked out in paying to keep it. Says Houck, “Identify this 70 per cent of what we call data that is ROT (redundant, obsolete or trivial), and focus on the remaining 30 per cent that has true economic value.”

The question of privacy inevitably comes up: how should a business ensure it does not invade the personal space of its stakeholders in the process of data collection? He points out that it is important to be informed of what the laws and regulations are, before writing software that stores the data legitimately.

If harnessed properly, data analytics can be every CEO’s best friend. Houck cites the example of JobTech. The more the number of resumes and job descriptions that get fed into its system, the smarter it gets. “Over time, the system can track the usage pattern of an employer and note a pattern. It can then suggest more relevant resumes,” he says.

Industry-level trends can also be picked up. For instance, if a job is posted many times, it means that position is hard to fill. It will allow the labour market to understand where the shortfall is, and come up with solutions.

Multi-nationals, says Houck, will especially be able to benefit from this technology, “They are hiring from all over the world. It will allow them to realise, for instance, that there might be an abundance of skills in one nationality and consider how to take advantage of it. If the hiring process is optimised, it will have a more trained, informed and skilled workforce.”

In short, ignore data analytics at your own peril. Because if you do, you can be sure your organisation will head in the same direction as the dinosaurs.