Africa must leverage big data to accelerate growth


With humans, businesses and machines generating billions of data points every day, ‘big data’ is not a buzzword anymore but an immense opportunity for the continent. Premlin Pillay, Group Executive of Strategy and Analytics at Mettus, a technology and data company, says with data sitting at the centre of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), Africa has a major opportunity to implement solutions that benefit businesses and societies.

“If Africa gets it right and accelerates the moves to adopt these new technologies, the benefits are immense. Skills and job acceleration, business growth, trade and innovation all lie in wait,” he says.

“Kickstarting 4IR in Africa cannot and should not be implemented by a company sitting in Silicon Valley. We need African solutions and in-country expertise for African problems,” says Pillay.

“Having automated machine learning (AutoML) applications built in tech hubs outside of the continent leaves little understanding of the realities and complexities of the contexts they will be applied in.”

The key is for Africa to ensure it is not left behind. The World Economic Forum (WEF) says 4IR has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. This comes as the inexorable shift from simple digitization to innovation based on combinations of technologies and this is forcing companies to re-examine the way they do business.

Pillay says Africa cannot be a passenger as these important global trends take shape, as African states are already integrated into the global economy. It is therefore critical that policy and data solutions align so that practical answers to African problems can be found and the move to 4IR accelerated.

However, there are challenges that stand in the way of Africa taking advantage of this immense opportunity. Key amongst these include infrastructure and skills.  For instance, a recent research report has indicated that less than half of people in developing countries have internet access.  Further the digital divide, indicating the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology (ICT), and those that don’t or have restricted access, continues to increase. If we don’t address these digital skills and knowledge of advanced technologies, we will miss out on the opportunities brought about by 4IR.

Pillay says that when Africa gets it right, the results can be profound. “We need to participate in initiatives to resolve the challenges that we face on the continent so that we can realise the benefits in this new digital economy,” he emphasises.

To help bridge the digital divide and solve the scarcity of skills, Mettus has embarked on a large-scale programme to hire and train interns in the technology, data and analytics fields.  Mettus has also invested heavily in cloud technologies, data infrastructure and advanced analytical tools ensuring that these interns are working on the cutting edge of technology and analytics in finding solutions to problems.

Mettus, the holding entity for four established independent brands across the fast-growing and in-demand credit check, background screening and big data, analytics and technology markets, is already seeing the impact on the ground, in projects for Africa that make a real, tangible difference.  For instance, Mettus is involved in a project across Southern Africa that is helping identify and trace mineworkers who had silicosis poisoning in the 80s and 90s to help compensate them and their families financially. This is proof of what can be done when data is harnessed for the greater good.

“Our goal at Mettus is to use technology, data and analytics to deliver creative solutions to solve both business and societal problems,” concludes Pillay.


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