Big Data in Africa – A Brighter Future for the Continent

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Big Data: One of those cool phrases to spew when doing your presentation. But what is it, exactly?

Generally speaking, it refers to huge amounts of unstructured data generated through various processes. This data might not make sense to potential users. At least not until they are well structured by data miners. But, nonetheless, they are heaven-sent information that can help how humanity operates.

This is especially true in Africa, where adoption of new technology is happening quite fast.

Every day, businesses rely on data: where their clients are, what their needs are, and how they can meet those needs. Previously, businesses in Africa would solely rely on research and surveys to gather data. The information would not be as accurate.

Picture this.

You do your shopping in any supermarket, and when paying, the teller asks you if you have a loyalty card. That card holds your basic information. It also holds what you have shopped for and spent in the past. Such data is crucial to supermarkets and producers of commodities in the supermarkets.


Finding the Pinch

There are so many operational inefficiencies in Africa. Especially in service delivery in governments. Businesses need to have a system where they get feedback on how their product connects with the market. This is where big data in Africa will play a key role.

In Kenya, the ICT Authority sets up the ‘Kenya Open Data Initiative’. It aims to make public some of the government data that was locked away in dingy offices. The thinking is that big data in Africa could inspire innovation in the way the government operates. It should tell us where to invest and what to avoid.

The initiative has asked local developers to partner and create applications that would interpret the datasets. This could help other sectors to plan their investments surrounding big data in Africa.

Data-led decisions can nip problems right in the bud without much use for ground surveys. Whether it is for the health sector, development programs, or population analysis, big data can shape decisions and solve problems.


The potential of big data in Africa

The potential of big data in Africa


Gaining Great Insights

Surveys and traditional research are still tools used in gaining business insights. However, the problem with face-to-face surveys is that someone might be too polite to tell you the truth. The data produced might be misleading.

Big data in Africa, on the other hand, will present deeper insights on customer behaviour in Africa. Often, even the customers themselves might not know these data. It is almost like psychology without going face to face.

We are creatures of habit. We might not notice, but we do certain things because of factors unknown to us. Mining big data in Africa can answer some of those questions. It can predict the behaviours of the continent in the business world.

Useful, accurate data is valuable to a business’s capital. It also works well with other aspects of businesses, like advertising and marketing.


Looking to the Future

We can often predict the future from current events. An online service will know there is a problem if new users always quit its services after a certain amount of time. If the business does not change its course of action, it’s quite reasonable to predict that it will be dead soon after.

Data has also been known to help organization know the upcoming trend. Google searches, for example, can tell what people are interested in certain geographical locations. This is another way of making future predictions.

With all these benefits, big data in Africa will certainly allow policy-makers to see growth areas where they need to invest in. Data from the stock exchange can provide a general view on which economic sectors investors should bet on. All this can be done even from a simple dashboard.


Taking Advantage of Big Data in Africa

Almost all types of business organization generate data. These come as application forms, invoices, receipts, orders, etc. It can be studied in its hard copy state, but it will be a tedious job. That is why it should be digitalised.

Digitizations of processes, on the other hand, can generate useable and actionable data. That will improve the way companies operate. This is another reason why big data in Africa will make systems much more efficient.

Let’s take car parking payments through mobile phones. This system can give the county government a quick look on how many cars are packed at different periods of time. It can also give them signals on the increase or decrease of cars in the central business district.

It is great to have such data. But it is only as useful as it is acted upon. Big data in Africa cannot change businesses or organization directly. It might work when one implements and takes action of the data like policy making.