Data Analytics

Too often, information communications technology (ICT) and business analytics groups focus on business intelligence and analytics architectures and do not explore the organisational behaviours that are required to take full advantage of such solutions. There is a growing recognition that data literacy (a subset of digital workforce maturity) is just as important, if not more important, than the solutions being deployed. This is especially true for organisations embracing self-service analytics.

The trend is to give self-service analytics platforms to management that are making critical business decisions. However, this trend also requires managers to be trained in not just the tools and platforms, but in understanding how to ask meaningful questions, select appropriate data (avoiding bias and cherry-picking), and how to apply the principles of scientific thinking to analysis.

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The Latest: 

26 June 2021: Zoho briefed IBRS on Zoho DataPrep, it’s new business-user focused data preparation which is being included in its existing Zoho Analytics tool, as well as being available separately as a tool to clean, transform and migrate data. DataPrep is in beta, and will be officially launched on 13th July 2021.

Why it’s Important

Traditionally, cleaning and transforming data for use in analytics platforms has involved scripting and complex ETL (extract, transform and load) processes. This was a barrier to allowing business stakeholders to take advantage of analytics. However, several analytics vendors (most notably Microsoft, Tableau, Qlik, Snowflake, Domo, etc.) have pioneered powerful, drag-and-drop low-code ETL into their products.  

Zoho, which is better known for its CRM, has an existing data analytics platform with Cloud storage, visualisation and reports, and dashboards. While the product is not as sophisticated as its top-drawer rivals, it can be considered ‘good enough’ for many business user’s needs. Most significantly, Zoho Analytics benefits from attractive licensing, including the ability to share reports and interactive dashboards both within an organisation and externally. 

However, Zoho Analytics lacked a business-user-friendly, low-code ELT environment, instead relying on SQL scripting. Zoho DataPrep fills this gap by providing a dedicated, AI-enabled platform for extracting data from a variety of sources, allowing data cleaning and transformations to be applied, with results being pushed into another database, data warehouse and Zoho Analytics. 

All existing Zoho Analytics clients will receive Zoho DataPrep with no change to licensing.

However, what is interesting here is Zoho’s decision to offer its DataPrep platform independent of its Analytics platform. This allows business stakeholders to use the platform as a tool to solve migration and data cleaning, not just analytics. 

IBRS’s initial tests of Zoho DataPrep suggest that it has some way to go before it can compete with the ready-made integration capabilities of Tableau, Power BI, Qlik, and others. In addition, it offers less complex ETL than it’s better established rivals. But, that may not be an issue for organisations where staff have limited data literacy maturity, or where analytics requirements are relatively straightforward.

Who’s impacted

  • CIO
  • Development team leads
  • Business analysts

What’s Next?

The bigger take out from Zoho’s announcement is that ETL, along with all other aspects of business intelligence and analytics, will be both low-code, business-user friendly and reside in the Cloud. ICT departments seeking to create ‘best of breed’ business intelligence architectures that demand highly specialised skills will simply be bypassed, due to their lack of agility. While there will be a role for highly skilled statisticians, data scientists, and machine learning professionals, the days of needing ICT staff that specialise in specific reporting and data warehousing products is passing. 

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Snowflake Gets PROTECTED Status Security Tick by Aussie Auditor
  2. IBRSiQ: Power BI vs Tableau
  3. Business-First Data Analytics
  4. AWS Accelerates Cloud Analytics with Custom Hardware
  5. IBRSiQ AIS and Power BI Initiatives
  6. Trends in Data Catalogues
  7. When Does Power BI Deliver Power to the People?
  8. Staff need data literacy – Here’s how to help them get it

The Latest

26 May 2021: Talend, a big data, analytics and integration vendor, has received ISO 27001:2013 and 27701:2019 certifications. According to the Talend, they are the only big data/integration vendor with this level of certification.  

Why it’s Important

IBRS has observed that even the most security focused organisations often overlook their big data integration and ETL (extract, transform, load) when it comes to assessing business risk. For example, when Microsoft launched its protected Azure services in Canberra, many of the Azure analytics capabilities, such as its machine learning services, were excluded from the platform.

The data being ingested into data lakes, be they on-premises or in the Cloud, will include private information on clients, staff or citizens, and possibly sensitive financial data. But more significantly, taken as an aggregate, this information contains patterns and insights that cyber criminals and state actors may leverage for further attacks.  The value of analysing data at scale to an organisation is just as valuable to criminals.

Who’s impacted

  • Business analytics architecture specialists
  • CISO 
  • Security teams

What’s Next?

Start by reviewing the sensitivity of information moving to the data analytics platform. Such information would be reviewed against the organisation's existing data governance and data classification framework.

Next, review the process of how sensitive information is ingested, manipulated, stored and accessed within the organisation’s analytics platform. Be sure to pay attention to ETL processes: both the technologies and processes involved. 

Finally, review the third-party (vendor) supply chain for all platforms and services involved in data analytics.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. How does your organisation manage cyber supply chain risk?
  2. IBRSiQ: Risk assessment services and the dark web
  3. VENDORiQ: SolarWinds Incident

IBRSiQ is a database of Client inquiries and is designed to get you talking to our advisors about these topics in the context of your organisation in order to provide tailored advice for your needs.

The Latest

May 2021: Talend, a vendor of data and analytics tools, released its Data Health Survey Report that claims 36% of executives skip data when making decisions, and instead go “with their gut”. At the same time, the report claims that 64% of executives “work with data everyday”. On the surface, these two figures seem at odds. However, the report goes on to claim 78% of executives “have challenges in making data drive decisions”, and this is largely due to data quality issues. However, the most interesting finding from the report is “those who produce and those who analyse data live in alternative data realities”.

Why it’s Important

At its core, this report highlights the issue of data literacy. The report was compiled from 529 responses from companies with over USD10 million in sales. A quarter of respondents were from the Asia Pacific region. However, IBRS cautions drawing Australia-specific inference, given that different markets have differing levels of data literacy maturity. No details were given for industry, which is also likely to impact data literacy maturity. In fairness, any more detailed analysis of a country or industry would not be feasible, given the sample size. 

The above concerns aside, the report does highlight the importance of data literacy: investments in big data tools are useless unless executives are knowledgeable and well versed in the key concepts of applying analytical thinking to business decisions. IBRS notes that without data literacy, the most common use of new self-service visualisation tools such as Power BI, Looker, Domo, Tableau, Qlik, Zoho and others, is to ‘prove’ executives' gut feelings. In short, too often visualisations tools are used to reinforce the ‘current ways of thinking’ rather than seek areas for improvement.  

The report’s statement that “those who produce and those who analyse data live in alternative data realities”, frequently underpins IBRS inquiries into why business intelligence and analysis programs fail to produce the expected business benefits.

Who’s impacted

  • Business intelligence/analytics teams
  • Senior line-of-business executives
  • Human resources/training teams

What’s Next?

ICT teams responsible for providing business intelligence and analytics services need to cease solely focusing on the tools and technologies and ‘getting data curated’, and spend time exploring which business decisions would most benefit from the application of analytical thinking. However, the ICT teams cannot do this alone. They need to be involved in uplifting data literacy among line-of-business executives and work closely with them to identify the decisions that not only can be addressed with data, but those that would make the biggest difference to organisational outcomes. This does not mean that all aspects of a data scientists role need to be explained to business executives. Rather, training executives in the principles of using data to inquire into issues or disprove current ways of doing things is more important.  

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Staff need data literacy – Here’s how to help them get it
  2. When Does Power BI Deliver Power to the People?
  3. The critical link between data literacy and customer experience

Conclusion

The growing maturity of data handling and analytics is driving interest in data catalogues. Over the past two years, most of the major vendors in the data analytics field have either introduced or are rapidly evolving their products to include data cataloguing.

Data catalogues help data users identify and manage their data for processing and analytics. Leading data cataloguing tools leverage machine learning (ML) and other search techniques to expose and link data sets in a manner that improves access and consumability.

However, a data catalogue is only beneficial when the organisation already has a sufficient level of maturity in how it manages data and analytics. Data literacy (the skills and core concepts that support data analytics) must also be established in the organisation’s user base to leverage full benefits from the proposed data catalogue.

Organisations considering data catalogues must have a clear picture of how to use this new architecture, and be realistic in how ready they are to leverage the technology. Furthermore, different organisations have unique and dynamic data attributes, so there is no one-type-fits-all data catalogue in the marketplace.

The Latest

29 April 2021: Cloud-based analytics platform vendor Snowflake has received ‘PROTECTED’ status under IRAP (Australian Information Security Registered Assessors Program).  

Why it’s Important

As IBRS has previously reported, Cloud-based analytics has reached a point in cost of operation and sophistication that it should be considered the de facto choice for future investments in reporting and analytics. However, IBRS does call out that there are sensitive data sets that need to be governed and secured to a higher standard. Often, such data sets are the reasons why organisations decide to keep their analytics on-premises, even if the cost analysis does not stack up against IaaS or SaaS solutions.

The irony here is that IT professionals now accept that even without PROTECTED status, Cloud infrastructure provides a higher security benchmark than most organisations on-premises environments.

However, security must not be overlooked in the analytics space. Data lakes and data warehouses are incredibly valuable targets, especially as they can hold private information that is then contextualised with other data sets.

By demonstrating IRAP certification, Snowflake effectively opens the door to working with Australian Government agencies. But it also signals that hyper-scale Cloud-based analytics platforms can not only offer a bigger bang for your buck, but greatly improve an organisation's security stance.

Who’s impacted

  • CDO
  • Data architecture teams
  • Business intelligence/analytics teams
  • CISO
  • Public sector tech strategists

What’s Next?

Review the security certifications and stance of any Cloud-based analytics tools in use, including those embedded with core business systems, and those that have crept into the organisations via shadow IT (we are looking at you, Microsoft PowerBI!). Match these against compliance requirements for the datasets being used and determine if remediation is required.

When planning for an upgraded analytics platform, put security certification front and centre, but also recognise that like any Cloud storage, the most likely security breach will occur from poor configuration or excess permissions.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Key lessons from the executive roundtable on data, analytics and business value
  2. VENDORiQ: AWS Accelerates Cloud Analytics with Custom Hardware
  3. IBRSiQ: AIS and Power BI Initiatives
  4. VENDORiQ: Snowflakes New Services Flip The Analytics Model

IBRSiQ is a database of Client inquiries and is designed to get you talking to our advisors about these topics in the context of your organisation in order to provide tailored advice for your needs.

The Latest

09 April 2021: During its advisor business update, Fujitsu discussed its rationale for acquiring Versor, an Australian data and analytics specialist. Versor provides both managed services for data management, reporting and analytics. In addition, it provides consulting services, including data science, to help organisations deploy big data solutions.

Why it’s Important

Versor has 70 data and analytics specialists with strong multi-Cloud knowledge. Fujitsu’s interest in acquiring Versor is primarily tapping Versor’s consulting expertise in Edge Computing, Azure, AWS and Databricks. In addition, Versor’s staff have direct industry experience with some key Australian accounts, including public sector, utilities and retail, which are all target sectors for Fujitsu. Finally, Versor has expanded into Asia and is seeing strong growth. 

So from a Fujitsu perspective, the acquisition is a quick way to bolster its credentials in digital transformation and to open doors to new clients. 

This acquisition clearly demonstrates Fujitsu’s strategy to grow in the ANZ market by increasing investment in consulting and special industry verticals.  

Who’s impacted

  • CIO
  • Development team leads
  • Business analysts

What’s Next?

Given its experienced staff, Versor is expected to lead many of Fujitsu’s digital transformation engagements with prospects and clients. Fujitsu’s well-established ‘innovation design engagements’, are used to explore opportunities with clients and leverage concepts of user-centred design. Adding specialist big data skills to this mix makes for an attractive combination of pre-sales consulting.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. The new CDO agenda
  2. Workforce transformation: The four operating models of business intelligence
  3. VENDORiQ: Defence Department Targets Fujitsu for Overhaul

Conclusion:

Too often, information communications technology (ICT) and business analytics groups focus on business intelligence and analytics architectures and do not explore the organisational behaviours that are required to take full advantage of such solutions. There is a growing recognition that data literacy (a subset of digital workforce maturity1) is just as important, if not more important, than the solutions being deployed. This is especially true for organisations embracing self-service analytics2.

The trend is to give self-service analytics platforms to management that are making critical business decisions. However, this trend also requires managers to be trained in not just the tools and platforms, but in understanding how to ask meaningful questions, select appropriate data (avoiding bias and cherry-picking), and how to apply the principles of scientific thinking to analysis.

Conclusion: Regardless of its digital strategy, many organisations have not been positioned to properly leverage the digital and data assets that are available to them. A Chief Data Officer (CDO) role can improve this situation by advancing an organisation’s data portfolio, curating and making appropriate data visible and actionable.

The CDO position is appropriate for all larger organisations, and small-to-large organisations focused on data-driven decision-making and innovation. These organisations benefit from a point person overseeing data management, data quality, and data strategy. CDOs are also responsible for developing a culture that supports data analytics and business intelligence, and the process of drawing valuable insights from data. In summary, they are responsible for improving data literacy within the organisation.