Big Data: driving business innovation and opportunities from SKA

Big Data is a fast-growing global industry with growth forecasted at 26.4% CAGR to $41.5 billion by 2018 according to the International Data Corporation (IDC). Big Data is the analysis of high-volume data to uncover valuable insights and create value for business and governments. It is not only pertinent to Smart City initiatives especially due to the Internet of Things, but is also valuable to sectors ranging from agriculture to financial services. By combining and analysing multiple data sets, Big Data can help farmers forecast demand and crop yields, thereby significantly improving productivity. Financial services could also be empowered to detect fraud more effectively, especially with identity theft on the rise in South Africa and vehicle cloning costing R8.5 billion annually.

While analysing data is not a new concept, the term Big Data became a much used phrase when Google and Facebook started analysing large quantities of data to determine trends. The investment of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Southern Africa has provided the ultimate Big Data challenge and is creating opportunities to develop the industry, the high computational and analytical skills required, as well as opportunities to establish substantial data centre infrastructure in Cape Town.

Investments in South Africa

SKA is a collaborative international project to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with vast amounts of data to process far exceeding the current global internet traffic. South Africa already demonstrated our science and engineering skills by designing and building the MeerKAT telescope – as a pathfinder to the SKA, and the SKA telescope will have unprecedented scope in observations, exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope by 50 times.

The SKA project will have phased investments, being considered by SKA International and the Department of Science and Technology, for potential location in Cape Town. These include the establishment of data centres for the cleansing, storage and analysis of data. Currently data from MeerKAT is hosted and analysed by the Centre for High Performance Computing, but for business to harness the value from Big Data analysis, skills need to be developed in South Africa and globally.

Skills Shortage

In their report Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity, McKinsey project that 1.5 million additional managers and analysts are required in the USA by 2018 to question and consume the results of Big Data effectively. Organisations cannot fill the skills gap by simply changing graduate requirements and waiting for people to graduate. Our universities are starting to create courses and the DST launched the Inter-University Centre for Data Intensive Astrophysics in November 2015 at the Universities of Cape Town, the Western Cape, the North West and Pretoria. However, qualifications being introduced, in general, are largely at post graduate level and will only provide graduates in a number of years. Thus organisations need to create ways to tap into existing data analytic skills, much like Kaggle who are creating machine learning challenges for business to connect with data scientists.

As part of Accelerate Cape Town’s Digital Cape Town Programme, we will explore Data Driven Innovation Strategies: opportunities from Big Data & Data Centres and also host a data exchange workshop to unlock the value of data between business and government.


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