Data for good: building a culture of data analytics

This is a guest blogpost by Dean Stoecker, CEO, Alteryx

Major global events force companies to think differently. The Covid-19 pandemic is no exception. In the first few weeks of the crisis, I noticed that few people were talking about the data. But now, data is very much the focus of the conversation. This is right as the pandemic we are all going through is a data and analytics challenge. We are therefore increasingly seeing people turning to data to figure out what to do next.

Humanity always rises in moments like this. I have seen numerous examples of how people are using data analytics to help, from tracking apps based on GPS data, to using data models to help source urgently needed parts within a supply chain. Analytics firm Vantage has even created a real-time simulation of US hospital and critical care capacity by US County to help healthcare professionals to stay ahead of the game.

Analysing the data around you can help guide you in difficult times, but this still is not happening everywhere yet. When the pandemic first struck, it should have been easy for retailers and food suppliers to quickly optimise supply chains and avoid empty shelves, because all of the necessary data was already there. But having the right technology and data at your fingertips is not the whole story. It is also about transforming to the right culture. Buying technology is the easy part, transforming a company cultures is very, very difficult, and often takes a long period of time to accomplish.

Leaders need to cultivate a culture of data science and analytics from the top down. Data literacy should be viewed as a crucial skill and you need to empower workers at all levels of your organisation to work with data. In order to avoid a digital divide, data must be easily accessible. By democratising data, you enable ordinary people — not just trained statisticians — to solve complex data science challenges. Once you combine democratised data with human creativity, you can solve almost any problem. We managed to get to the moon using a slide rule back in the ’60s. This perfectly illustrates what the power of a little bit compute plus liberated thinking can deliver.

Combining data with human thinking could help us to solve all sort of societal and technological challenges, covering everything from healthcare to climate change and space travel, and the future of autonomous vehicles. We help some of the biggest businesses in the world to revolutionise their business through data science and analytics. But we also recognise how the methods used for boosting business efficiency can be shared to help solve societal problems. That is why we launched the Alteryx for Good (AFG) programme in 2016.

AFG helps academic institutions, students and nonprofit organisations to bridge the data science and analytics talent gap and use data for social good. There are nearly 400 nonprofit organisations across 23 countries generating data insights through the AFG program while more than 22,000 students and educators across 64 countries are incorporating Alteryx into their learning. In 2019, Alteryx associates dedicated 3,423 hours to volunteering through AFG.

Among the organisations already benefitting from the AFG initiative is British blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan, which aims to match patients with stem cell donors. Traditionally, this is an arduous and time-consuming task, but data analytics has taken donor searches down from hours to mere minutes. The charity is now looking to expand its data capabilities with the addition of AI and predictive models.

In another example, Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), which works with isolated communities to create safe access to healthcare, education and economic opportunities, was able to visualise weather forecasts between cities and construction sites along routes in Rwanda. This enabled the nonprofit organisation to be strategic about procurement, material transport and supporting those with rural access challenges.

I am proud to support projects like this which show the value in helping people to leverage data insights to tackle societal issues. In 2020, we will continue to invest in the AFG program, as well as growing our volunteer network and doubling down on disaster relief initiatives.

That’s why we recently announced the launch of a new programme called Advancing Data and Analytics Potential Together (ADAPT). ADAPT is the newest pillar of AFG and will help us prove that everyone can become a data worker by offering free data training to workers globally impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Every graduate will be certified in the fundamentals of data analytics through Alteryx Core Certification and will be given the opportunity to advance to Udacity Nanodegree program in predictive analytics.

No matter what tools they use, people are now seeing data as an asset and understanding that analytics is a valuable skill. As a business, if you do not possess either of those things, you will not be prepared for the next disruptive event. Data combined with the curiosity of the human mind is a powerful combination. But it’s about amplifying human intelligence and building that question everything culture.

To build this culture, we need to democratize data and analytics, automate business processes and upskill of people to accelerate outcomes. We call this approach that unifies data, process and people Analytic Process Automation. It means that users start with the end in mind. They can focus their time and creativity on getting to the end, rather than on the process. Only then will we jointly be able to react quickly next time a world-changing event comes along.

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