Digital transformation is an imperative for all organisations if they want to remain competitive in the future.
But central to creating a smart enterprise is access to data, and the ability to analyse that data.
Chris O’Connell, MD of BITanium, explains that companies have to move to where workers have information at their fingertips. “They need access to well-curated data where they can ask their own questions and get answers that help them to be more effective.”
This is the key challenge that companies need to overcome for digital transformation to become a reality, he believes. “Ultimately, you have to put the power of data into the hands of individual users.”
This is where BITanium comes in. O’Connell explains that the company has a long history of working with data, and has realised that it needs to get that data – and the insights available from analytics – into the hands of all the users.
“This is where we got our tagline ‘exposing the power of the data’ from,” O’Connell says. “Having data is all very well, but unless you are consuming it, it’s no good.”
Organisations have spent years collecting data about their operations, supply chains, customers and employees. Most executives recognise that they are have a potential gold mine of data in their systems. But being able to curate and analyse that data to come up with genuine business insights is not an easy ask.
“That is what we are trying to do,” O’Connell says.
Most computer users have daily interactions with smart search engines on their personal devices, yet in dealing with data we expect them to be technical. It should be possible to give business users the same access to data through search.
“The business intelligence world is slightly different in that the user needs a precise answer. We need to put that ability into users’ hands without knowing upfront what the question is going to be.”
Traditional business intelligence and decision support tools still have an important place, O’Connell points out. “Dashboards and reports are the traditional way of exposing data and they still have a role to play.
“But if I don’t know you want to ask, I can’t expose it on the dashboard, and the report-writer can’t anticipate it.”
What users need is access to all the data. “You need tools that can expose the granular data, to answer whatever question the user has.”
Of course, business insights have to be premised on accurate data.
“A lot depends on the data,” O’Connell says. “A big portion of our work is ensuring that data is available, correct and curated so users can trust the data.”
The level of trust depends on what the data is being used for. O’Connell explains that transactional data – like a bank account – needs to be 100% accurate and up to date, while data for something like a credit score or customer classification could be less than 100% correct, or a couple of days old.
“But I need to understand up front whether data must be 100% or if mostly correct is good enough.”
Having data available is the first leg of the journey: getting workers to use it effectively is the second.
“Possibly the biggest challenge is getting people to ask the questions in the first place,” O’Connell says. “We live in a world of data usage – but so many managers still make their decisions on gut feel instead of hard core facts. And there are many people out there who do not yet use the data sufficiently.”
This is partly because there is a still a lack of trust in the data, but it’s mainly because we’re not instilling a culture of data analytics into companies, he adds.
“Also, many companies still don’t make the data available to users. Making a business intelligence report available to a user involves a significant cost. So companies only let management get access to these reports.
“The problem is that the person making the decision often isn’t the manager. What are we giving them? How do we enable them to make decisions? How do I integrate the output form my BI into the business process?”
Ideally, intelligence will be available not only to more users, but will be embedded into processes and happen automatically.
“I’m not sure businesses are that mature in putting these things into processes,” O’Connell points out. “We are seeing it in certain areas, and the maturity is growing, but it is slow.”
The challenges for effective data analytics are taking the data – which is available now; curating it; and either teaching people to use it or embedding it into processes. “So you need to have the information and ask the right questions,” O’Connell says.
“If you don’t do that, you are not yet using the power of data.”
Data analytics solutions in the real world
BITanium is an expert in data analytics, and has been helping organisations leverage the power of their data since 2009.
Its solution offering is based on the IBM data stack, including the Db2 Warehouse, IBM’s data science products and predictive/advanced analytics.
IBM Db2 Warehouse is a client-managed, private cloud data warehouse for Docker container-supported infrastructure.
“For us, this is the go-to data management environment,” O’Connell says. “We use the IBM data infrastructure to make the data management easier and to simplify the access to data.
“It’s all about speed and simplicity. Some of the customers we work with have terabytes, even petabytes, of data – for one customer we process 7Tb a day. Traditional technologies would struggle with such significant volumes of data.”
IBM Db2 Warehouse is client managed and optimized for fast and flexible deployment with automated scaling to meet agile analytic workloads.
Fusing IBM Db2 BLU and Netezza technologies, Db2 Warehouse offers cloud elasticity combined with the simplicity of a software appliance.
It is supported on variety of platforms such as Intel x86, Power and Linux on z. Db2 Warehouse can also be deployed on IBM Cloud Private platform, IBM Bluemix, or any virtual private cloud such as AWS, Microsoft Azure and more.
Db2 Warehouse customers can save time and resources in meeting SLAs, gain insight with in-database analytics and easily move workloads to meet SLAs. The solution offers lightning-fast query processing along with auto schema generation and data loading.
Data science products and analytics toolsets
IBM Data Science products combine proven data, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) technology They are available in the cloud, on-premise and in hybrid deployments.
BITanium uses IBM’s data science products to uncover insights that users might not otherwise see. “We use these tools to look for patterns or clusters and expose those to the business,” O’Connell explains.
“The IBM toolsets are very effective. They are enterprise scale and enterprise capable, which means that production solutions are enterprise ready.
“A enterprise cannot afford for its systems to fall apart, which is why IBM offers solutions that are enterprise-scale.”
The Data Science line-up includes the predictive analytics tools SPSS Modeller, SPSS Statistics, SPSS Analytic Server; SPSS Collaboration and Deployment Services; SPSS Predictive Analytics Enterprise and SPSS Amos.
It also offers prescriptive analytics with ILOG CPLEX Optimisation Studio, Watson Explorer, Decision Optimisation on Cloud and Decision Optimisation Centre as well as machine learning with Data Science Experience.
Why partner with BITanium?
Talking about data analytics solutions is easy: getting valuable insights in a real-world working environment is a lot more complex.
BITanium works with Axiz and IBM to craft solutions that meet customers’ business challenges and help to make them more competitive and effective.
“We are working on getting as much data to as many people as possible,” O’Connell explains.
The company works mainly with customers in the financial sector, healthcare, manufacturing and FMCG sectors.
“Our focus is the data,” O’Connell says. “The value we bring is that we know how to work with and manage data. The customer has the business insight so we partner to create solutions,
“So we provide the skills we have, the customer brings the knowledge that they have – and together we achieve success.”
Solutions are crafted to fit specific customer requirements, he adds. The could be in the cloud or on-premise; in-house or outsourced. “We always team with the customer and find the right approach,” O’Connell says.
The bulk of the business is still on-premise, he adds, although some workloads are starting to move to the cloud. In the end, O’Connell believes the IT world will consist of both on-premise and multi-cloud environments.
“This is why we have such a strong alliance with Axiz and IBM,” he says. “I think IBM is one of a few vendors that has a really well-thought-through cloud strategy. The solutions can run on a variety of clouds, on-premise or on an appliance.
“In the multi-cloud world, with a mix of cloud and on-premise workloads, you cannot have an all-or-nothing approach. With IBM, it is the same code, the same product, working the same way, regardless of where it is being run.
“They facilitate all of the integration issues, so that the customer has a completely painless experience.”
Key to all implementations, O’Connell adds, is to always work with the customer to ensure the solution offers the best possible value.
The partnering approach is vital, he says. “No-one knows your business as well as you do. So we help with the technology and the processes, while the organisation focuses on the business outcomes.”
One customer is a major bank. “We handle massive volumes of data and make it available in much shorter timeframes than traditionally,” O’Connell points out.
“We also have a healthcare customer which uses the power of the data platform to process the bulk of South Africa’s pathology data in timeframes that were previously just not doable.”
This customer uses the IBM Integrated Analytics System as its data repository for all pathology test data.
“Any blood test in any laboratory goes from the laboratory into the data warehousing environment. From there we are able to create various analytics or report.
The sky is the limit when it comes to using data to create insights and value, O’Connell adds. “I can develop insights that make any process data-driven.”
Why partner with Axiz?
Axiz is a leading value-added distributor based in South Africa, with operations throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
Together with IBM, Axiz has geared up its operations to help partners and customers to understand the world of cognitive computing, and to build systems that meet real-world business needs.
The 18-strong IBM team at Axiz is geared up to work with business partners, collaborating on the creation of new and innovative AI solutions.
The fully-equipped Axiz demo centre is able to run proof-of-concept projects, while pre- and post-sales experts are on hand to assist customers with planning or deployment issues.
“IBM talks about smarter initiatives, which is something no single partner can deploy,” says IBM business unit manager Bradley McCulloch. “So we are working with business partners to collaborate and create new solutions, and help partners to work with one another.
“This is one of our greatest strengths,” he adds.