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Executive interview: Tearing down data silos

Alteryx’s senior vice-president for Asia-Pacific addresses some misconceptions about data analytics and what the company is doing to stake a bigger claim on the market

At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bank Mandiri used its big data platform to determine whether any employee is potentially exposed to the disease, by recording and analysing their work location, the type of transportation they use and their movement patterns.

The Indonesian bank is among a growing number of organisations in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region that have been using data analytics to solve business challenges amid the pandemic.

According to technology research firm IDC, APAC revenues for big data and analytics solutions hit $22.6bn in 2020, with three in four enterprises planning to keep or increase their big data analytics investments this year.

Yet, misconceptions around data analytics still exist across the region, according to Julian Quinn, senior vice-president for Asia-Pacific and Japan at Alteryx.

“There are still misconceptions around the belief that data analytics is data visualisation,” Quinn told Computer Weekly. “Data analytics is much more than the visualisation piece; it’s the analysis of data to turn insights into outcomes and actions.

“And it covers the full continuum of prescriptive analytics, through to descriptive and Diagnostic analytics,” he said.

Citing the example of chronic disease management, Quinn said while data visualisation can inform medical teams and caregivers about a patient’s condition, it is the analytics engine that teases out the appropriate steps to take to prevent and manage the disease.

“Iif you’re a big automotive manufacturer, you want to make sure your brand reputation is strong and that you don’t get factory recalls because they cost time and money,” he added. “Therefore, you want to make sure that you’re maintaining component parts that are predicted to fail, ahead of the curve.”

Despite the buoyant market for big data analytics software, APAC organisations are not on equal footing in the adoption curve. For one thing, some governments still operate with pools of data silos, with very little data being shared between public sector agencies.

This, Quinn said, stood in the way of governments that are trying to deliver municipal services that span the work of multiple agencies. “You want to be accessing all that data and not be limited by what you’re trying to do,” he said.

Besides tearing down data silos and aggregating data of all shapes and forms through data lakes and data warehouses, Quinn said organisations should also inculcate data literacy among their employees.

“That’s the ability for all people, regardless of role and function, to be able to eyeball data, read it, argue with it, communicate with it, and put context around that data,” he said.

To shore up data literacy across the region, Alteryx has started a programme that offers 125 hours of learning resources for people who would like to pick up or hone their data analytics and data science skills. This will make it easier for those who have been laid off amid the pandemic to re-join the workforce, Quinn said.

The efforts by Alteryx are part of the company’s strategy to stake a bigger claim on the region’s data analytics market.

The fast-growing company, which has around 1,500 customers in APAC, offers what it calls an analytic process automation platform that makes it easier to share data, automate tedious and complex processes, and turn data into results.

“It really brings together the data, process, and in turn, people into a human-centric unified platform that combines the concept of data analytics with data science and machine learning,” Quinn said.

“It’s code-free and code-friendly and that means that you can be a business analyst or an information worker – and not necessarily a data scientist – to derive value out of your data,” he added. “It also allows you to have repeatable workflows that can be shared across the organisation, enabling the democratisation of data.”

Asked about Alteryx’s relationship with data warehouse suppliers such as Snowflake, Quinn said Alteryx can ingest data from those platforms, which only enable “some analysis at a very superficial level”.

“The whole gambit around data science and predictive and prescriptive analytics – you can't do that within data warehouses,” he said.

Alteryx currently maintains a direct presence in markets including Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and India, where data analytics has become mainstream. It has 120 partners across the region and counts companies such as Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Singapore Airlines as clients.

It also works with systems integrators including India’s HCL Technologies, as well as global consulting firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has upskilled 50,000 employees on the Alteryx platform.

To ensure data analytics initiatives involving its technology are successful, Alteryx takes customers through a discovery phase, followed by a guided trial through which it demonstrates the value of its technology with a defined return-on-investment.

Quinn said: “It’s a proven model that is very much focused on the heart of the business – it doesn’t matter whether you’re the head of HR doing workforce planning, or you’re the CFO [chief financial officer] concerned about risk management, if you’ve spent a lot of money on a data warehouse, the only way you’re going to derive value is to get an analytics platform.”

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