Organisations in the Middle East are keen to leverage their data, but are often lacking in talent, skills, suitable data sets, and awareness, and may even be facing a data ‘dark age' due to privacy legislation, according to experts speaking at the Digitalks event in Dubai yesterday.
A panel discussion at DigiTalks, a MENA region event for digital marketers and other digital professionals, warned of some of the pitfalls that are facing organisations embarking on data analytics projects.
The panel speakers - Laura Chaibi, Head of Marketing Intelligence and Syndicate Digital at MBC, Louise Blake, Head of Data at Tajawal, Daniel Mendonça, Head of Data Intelligence at EY and Irfan Verjee VP of Strategy and Digital Transformation at Sprinklr - addressed how to leverage human insights from data, market intelligence, social media and more.
A common error for organisations is focusing on IT tools and platforms, rather than business goals, and also the rush to recruit staff without understanding the requirements, aims and readiness of an organisation to leverage the data.
Louise Blake said that many organisations are keen to recruit ‘data scientists' but that they often do not really need a fully-fledged data scientist.
"You need to really understand your data structure and also your data requirements, before you hire people," she said. "It is understanding the skill set and also the expectations for what you want that person to do. In many of the organisations that I work with, the majority of the business problems that they have, can be dealt with by a data analyst, a BI analyst - the majority of business needs can be dealt with without a data scientist."
Instead of trying to hire data scientists, who may actually have skillsets more in line with business analysts rather than true data scientists, companies should focus on the business requirements, and on ensuring their data stack is ready, Blake said.
Daniel Mendonça added that organisations need executive-level awareness of data issues and capabilities in order to be able to set the aims and expectations of a data project properly. Organisations should start with the strategy, rather than focus on platforms or tools, and should look at examples in other sectors or territories for use cases to help understand what can be achieved.
Irfan Verjee of Sprinklr agreed that there is need for executive education around data, and added that organisations should consider outside consultants if they lack such knowledge internally.
Mendonça also said that while many organisations in the region are keen on extracting the value from their data, they need to be aware that they cannot simply ‘leapfrog' established steps in technology or data practice, and start using the latest generation of data solutions without issue.
"Here in the region we are starting the journey, I see that most government entities and companies are talking a lot in terms of applying different methodologies and technologies to bring more insights, or to generate value, but it you go to Asia-Pacific, LATAM, Europe or the US, they have been talking about big data for the last 12 years,
"Now new technologies like machine learning and AI are coming on the scene, they [other regions] already have the basics in place - the platforms, data sources and discipline - they have something to start from. When I talk to the clients here, they want to apply ML or AI, but don't have the ecosystem in place. They are a bit late. You cannot jump to ML if you don't have a data ecosystem, and it will impact the value that we are generating here."
Laura Chaibi of MBC pointed out that as well as the data ecosystem, companies need awareness of many different factors that can distort data, which need to be accounted for before companies can start to extract value from their data. They also need to understand that these factors can shift and change, and that ‘digital' sources of data are not like the static data used in statistical analysis, creating a greater challenge to profitable analysis.
She also noted that in more mature markets like Europe, where data science for marketing has given marketeers a huge resource of information on their customers, the tide is shifting to data privacy and protection. Data companies in the UK were able to provide up to 4,000 data points on every adult in the country, through combinations of various publically available registers and data sources, but now legislation including GDPR, and the upcoming EU ePrivacy Regulation (ePR) may seriously restrict the ability of companies to access user data for marketing.
"The problem is, we peaked - now GDPR is coming in, as a European citizen, you have the right to be forgotten, you have to right to not be tracked. We have all of this [data], but we are about to go dark again, we will probably have to go back to market research."
Irfan Verjee said that GDPR will probably spell the end of email mass marketing, but that overall it will be a positive. He gave the example of Nike, which is is focusing on providing compelling content to consumers, rather than just promoting its shoes, to ‘earn' the right to engage customers with marketing messaging.
"GDPR is a great benefit, that is going to save our privacy, and cause brands to do the right thing for our consumers," Verjee said. "GDPR is going to drive organisations to serve you better with the right content - as brands we are going to have to create content that people actually want to see. Adblockers are growing 300%, because the content brands are making, [consumers] don't want to see."
The second edition of Digitalks, which was held under the theme of ‘Unlocking Human Insights in a Data-Driven World', aimed at bringing together a wide variety of industry experts from innovators, business leaders, and digital experts to address the next wave of the digital revolution.
Arash Nourkeyhani, Head of UX at RBBi commented: "We should drive towards creating smart and impactful ecosystems through transformation of data, as opposed to addressing single products and services. Empowering these ecosystems to incrementally and perpetually learn, adapt and respond to human condition, will result in systems that can impact our day to day life in a positive way, and free us from being bound to and conditioned by our products and service and begin to influence them. Becoming Human should be the goal of our data transformation and experience design."