While already collating and storing core, vital data, South African businesses are not yet fully proficient in extracting actionable insights from this information. Besides the need to get a handle on privacy, security and transparency issues, corporate South Africa is still reluctant to fully exploit the benefits that data analytics can offer.

This is largely driven by poor appreciation for the business case that ethical data exploitation offers, says Suren Govender, MD for Information and Data Strategy at Accenture SA.

In fact, an online survey by Accenture SA revealed that 51% of the respondents are not sure or have no idea what data analytics is. Also, 81% are dissatisfied with their ability to source and action data rapidly to gain insights; and only 26% use data analytics to personalise interaction with customers.

This is a stark contrast to the findings of Accenture global research which revealed that 46% of global high performing organisations embed data analytics capabilities and feed customer insights into their processes to a very large extent.

In arriving at the answers to justify the time and investments in data analytics, a pragmatic approach is to convert data into a story, which allows businesses to describe the data rather than merely presenting it in its raw state. The story provides perspective by allowing a multiple dimensional view of the data. The insights required to drive differentiated decision-making start to emerge far easier in this way.

Obtaining the story requires proficient individuals able to convert data science into data art to uncover insights that may have remained hidden. The utopian professional who is equally proficient in statistics, their particular industry and data modelling, is a rarity. So the competency has to be served as a collective, or via a service. Data visualisation technology can simplify and accelerate this undertaking.

The power of data visualisation – the art and science of representing data visually – lies in its ability to turn raw data into meaning and meaning into understanding. Data visualisation simplifies the work of understanding data by playing to the strength of the human mind, which thrives on pattern recognition. Data visualisations can also consolidate masses of diverse information in one place, allowing people to more easily and fully understand the data.

For many companies, the progression of data visualisation technology followed a familiar path: simple tables and charts made by hand were succeeded by the introduction of Excel, which was in turn superseded by traditional business intelligence (BI) platforms, including databases with data-presentation capabilities. These presentation capabilities began as reports and were soon followed by increasingly interactive dashboards.

BI tools have long been and continue to be quite useful for generating static reports of data at rest. In the age of big data, however, when data discovery, real-time analysis and visualisation capabilities are even more salient, traditional BI tools are falling short.

Now, though, lighter-weight data visualisation tools with user-friendly interfaces and sophisticated presentation capabilities are coming into play. These tools are more interactive, real-time and low-cost. When this new generation of big data-centric analytics tools are embedded into BI it can provide early alerts based on patterns, and turn information into more actionable insights for the user. Accenture describes this as issues-driven business intelligence.

The visualisation market has grown significantly in recent years as a means of providing insights into large and complex datasets. Gartner estimates a 30% compound annual growth rate through to 2015.[1] In order to invest in learning from their data, businesses need to adopt data visualisation as a new common language for data exploration and communication, thereby sharing the benefits of data insights more broadly across the enterprise.

With the digital transformation in full swing, established enterprises have amassed very large volumes of information, and South African businesses should treat this data as a strategic asset. This digital treasure trove, offers a way to help meet the evolving needs of customers and spot trends, can help companies create new products and services, and perhaps even spawn entirely new businesses.