Data Mining

Data in Africa must be tapped to enhance entrepreneurship

Data analysis in developed countries is a step ahead of Africa’s – at least for now. Experts in the technology community in Africa, say that data (the new black gold) is waiting to be tapped to open new avenues for enterprise in Africa.

Many public and private companies including telecommunication companies, have vast amounts of user data that is unstructured and hardly mined. While the nearly one billion mobile phone users on the continent could provide crucial data that would inform the next innovation phase. This all emerged during the Transform Africa 2015 conference held in Kigali, Rwanda.

“The data that the enterprise is going to be using has to be digital so that you can leverage the power of the computers to manage, and most importantly, analyse that data. At the end of the day what enterprises are using is the data to make decisions,” Michel Bezy, Associate Director at Carnegie Mellon University, Rwanda said.

“From data they move to information, from information they move to knowledge and then to insight that they can use to make decisions,” Bezy added.

“Structured data only represents 20% of the information that lies in enterprises in the world, 80% is unstructured,” Bezi reported. This includes text messages, voice calls, medical images, satellite images.

Yet the wheels are slowly moving in parts of the continent:

The Kenya government has opened its data through the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) and this has seen some innovations come from it. This open data provides information on the national budget, agriculture, health sectors and energy.

Code For Africa is an organisation that looks to take advantage of public data to create applications that citizens can easily use across Africa. The organisation encourages developers to come up with innovative apps that can help interpret data.

The digitisation of thousands documents and artefacts held at the Kenya National Archives by Google and the Kenyan government has given the population a new way to study their heritage – on their mobile phones.

Such digitised data can now be easily searched and studied. But the continent’s growing mobile subscription might also open a huge opportunity. Peter Heuman, Deputy Head of the Support Solutions Business Unit at Ericsson pointed out that Africa should now turn its attention to this kind of data.

“We have over 600 million people in Africa today who have mobile phones, most of them being feature phones which do not hold much data. But projections show we have currently 70 million smartphones. We see great increase in the next four five years and will be ending up at 700 million smartphones,” Heuman predicted.

“If we look at that number of the hundreds and millions who are going to have smartphones, there needs to be network extracts because much of that data will run through networks for both business and consumers. This is the greatest potential for Africa,” he added.

He said that such data can help businesses set up and know what services the customers would need in different sectors.

Jeff Gasana, CEO SMS Media, gave an example of his product “Airtime of Credit service” deployed through ComzAfrica.

“It is a service which we use a lot of data and provide airtime on credit for people who do not have enough airtime to call. The service has been deployed now in 24 African countries. We have deployed in India, Qatar,” Gasana said.

“What we do exactly is that we collect data from telcos, we analyse it and we profile subscribers. From there we can see which subscribers are eligible to get a credit loan in terms of airtime,” he said.

The company oversees 127 million subscribers who use the service through their various network providers.

“The great hope for Africa is that 60% of the population is less than 25 years old. They understand the technology and the problems of their region. I teach in America and in Africa and I see much more creativity in Africans because every day here we have to solve life problems,” Bezy said.

However, the professor warned that data mining is a complex career that needed the right data science skills.

“Telecom companies are sitting on a treasure. The treasure is all the data they collect,” Bezy added. He gave an example of a PhD student who used telco data in Kenya to show how malaria migrates with people from one area to the next.

Such data can be crucial in the fight against diseases and other challenges that are facing the continent.

“I encourage these telco companies to open their treasure of data to young innovators to use it so that they can leverage and create wealth from it,” he said.

There are numerous opportunities in Africa since not many bodies have fully digitised their operations. This can encourage innovators to find new ways to encourage small businesses and companies to embrace digitisation, generate and analyse their own data to improve their businesses.

In a recent article in Bizcommunity, Andre Van Der Poll, a professor in ICT Management at Unisa (University of South Africa) also placed his bet on the increasing connectivity in the continent.

“It is important to note that Africa has one of the highest internet growth rates globally. With this goes boundless untapped and unexploited opportunities. Local stakeholders who have a keen knowledge and understanding of the local and African contexts are well-positioned to harness big data as a tool to innovate,” he said.


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Vincent Matinde

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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