SA’s finance sector banking more on big data

The Head of Analytics at FNB Business Yudhvir Seetharam. (FNB)
The Head of Analytics at FNB Business Yudhvir Seetharam. (FNB)

Johannesburg - A lack of skills is a key factor holding back the widespread adoption of ‘big data’ among South Africa’s top banks.

This is according to Yudhvir Seetharam, who is the Head of Analytics at FNB Business.

Big Data is a technology buzzword that refers to analysing large amounts of information and turning it into actionable insight.

Analysing information such as bank account transaction histories and using that data to tailor better products for a customer can be regarded as one application of big data.

The need to implement big data is key as the International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasts that the global volume of data will increase from 130 to 40 000 exabytes (40 billion terabytes) by 2020.

Yet adoption rates of big data among South African corporates are low.

Cloud specialists Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) this year conducted a survey with 50 South African IT decision makers that revealed that 54% of SA businesses are “not actively mining untapped intelligence, and of those not doing so, 44% have no intention to start”.

"The trend that we're seeing over the last few years is that it (big data) is not being used very effectively,” Seetharam told Fin24.

Lack of IT infrastructure and skills

Despite South Africa having an advanced banking sector, two key factors are holding back the country’s financial institutions from adopting big data, according to Seetharam.

The first challenge includes getting companies’ IT departments to support this initiative from an infrastructure and hardware perspective.

This has been echoed by the HDS survey: the results of which pointed to 48% of South African chief information officers (CIOs) agreeing that current IT processes are restricting their organisations’ ability to leverage data to drive growth.

Meanwhile, the second challenge is a lack of data scientists in the country.

"You don't have a lot of people with the correct mathematical and statistical skills to sit down and look at data to run particular statistical models on in order to turn that into actions and insights,” Seetharam told Fin24.

"And as this big data topic starts to continue trending and banks become more aware of it, we do realise that as much as we have a solid banking environment in this country, we still lack the advances to make the customer experience that much better.

"So, at the very basics we're getting all the stuff right, but can we actually turn that into something more than just a sales conversation with just a random customer?"

Warning bells regarding South Africa’s lack of technology skills were sounded by a Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) ICT skills survey released last month.

The survey - which gathered data from an online questionnaire given to managers responsible for ICT functions and practitioners in the sector - found that 45% of corporate respondents said South Africa’s skill shortage is having a major effect on their business.

Meanwhile, 14% of corporate respondents said the skills crisis is threatening their organisations' viability.

Data from the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) placed South Africa’s average student mathematics score at position eight out of fifteen African countries.

“We continue to express our concern at the lack of improvement in South Africa’s basic education for the majority of pupils,” said the JSCE survey.

“Exposure to and familiarity with ICTs for all learners is essential in order to equip them to adapt the modern tools to their daily lives,” added the JSCE researchers.

Listen to technology editor Gareth van Zyl interviewing FNB's Yudhvir Seetharam on the topic of big data:

* Follow @GarethvanZyl on Twitter. For more tech news, follow Fin24tech @Fin24_Tech.
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