From the magazine: Numbers don't lie

Organisations - big and small alike are turning to big data and analytics to navigate the change to a digital world. With investments picking up, is the channel prepared to leverage the opportunities this market has opened up?

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As digital transformation becomes an increasingly familiar word, organisations – big and small alike are turning to big data and analytics (BDA) to navigate the change to a digital world. Analyst firm IDC forecasts global revenues for big data and business analytics solutions to reach US $189.1 billion this year, an increase of 12.0% over 2018. While this can be attributed to digital transformation initiatives that are being widely undertaken by businesses across the region, it is clear that investments are certainly picking up.

Forecasts from Forrester say that 70 per cent of large enterprises in the UAE are set to implement AI over the next couple of years in order to develop actionable insights from it. The UAE government is extremely keen on harnessing the potential of emerging technologies to improve its public services. Spurred by Middle East’s investment in smart cities to improve government efficiency and citizen services, the region is set to contribute significantly to the growth of the global big data market that will touch a record high of USD 7 trillion by 2021.

As reflected by digital transformation initiatives such as Dubai Smart City and UAE Vision 2021, Saudi Vision 2030, and New Kuwait Vision 2035 or leading players in the telecom and banking sector announcing big data projects, there are certain advantages that are fuelling big data adoption. All these efforts point to one thing - the UAE will soon become one of the global big data hubs. With companies now tapping into the possibilities of big data, massive opportunities await solution providers in the region.

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Wherever the push may come from, the reliance on BDA by both public and private sector companies is constantly rising. In addition to this, increased application centricity within business processes, growing reliance of IoT solutions on data communication and processing abilities, and increase in the number of network-connected devices will also account for the majority of market growth. Drop in implementation costs owing to incessant technological advancements in the field of big data and business analytics is now encouraging even SMEs to leverage data analytics tools.

Both numbers and ongoing initiatives point at an expanding big data analytics market. Dolly Lakhani, senior marketing specialist (MEA, networking) at TP-Link MEA explains that there are certain determinants that are driving this growth. “These factors include change in the deployment mode to cloud and IoT, evolution of domain-specific solutions and mobile business intelligence, and increase in the competition that calls for better tools for data visualisation. The interpretation of these sets of essential data has turned out to be necessary for enterprises to stay ambitious, achieve growth, invest in innovation, and obtain user insights.”


Dolly Lakhani, senior marketing specialist (MEA, networking) at TP-Link MEA

Fadi Kanafani, senior director – MEA, NetApp adds that certain sectors are leading big data and analytics adoption in the region, namely, healthcare, oil and gas, and finance. “Going beyond basic wearables, new medical innovations such as blood pressure, pulse, and glucose level monitors highlight the potential of big data in the healthcare field. Meanwhile, oil and gas producers are collecting more detailed data in real time at reduced costs with seismic software, data visualisation and a new batch of pervasive computing devices. By facilitating delivery of better services to customers and ensuring secure transactions, BDA has significantly improved performances of businesses in the finance sector,” explains Kanafani.

Needless to say that solution providers and vendors continually invest significant efforts to tap into the preferences of their customers, and understand their expectations and choices. With the changing and increasing requirements of big data consulting solutions, providers need to be prepared for a number of challenges while creating a perfectly fitted big data consulting service. For creating a highly stable and future-ready solution, service providers need to understand and cater to business specific needs by designing solutions that overcome these challenges.

The world of modelling and data has altered tremendously in the last few years, and data accuracy is of absolute importance. The amount of data is overgrowing, and so are the possibilities to extend insights by blending information. Better data presents companies with a better look at the more granular aspects concerning the business environment of their enterprise. Among challenges faced by these businesses are data backup and security concerns, as the unstructured nature of big data makes it more susceptible to security breaches.

Lakhani adds that some of the other issues that service providers face include dealing with data growth, recruiting and retaining skilledtalent, generating insights on time, integrating disparate data sources, validating data, and securing big data.

Then how can solution providers stand out in the big data crowd? 

According to Subrat Panada, head - AI technologies, Capillary Technologies, the most important thing to consider is the presence and constant flow of data. “If the data is not huge enough to be used by big data platforms then one should not invest in it. This includes investment in terms of hardware and software resources. Depending on the use versus cost, the solution provider should leverage technology if it fits the bill, and gradually build their capability around it.” To stand out in the big data crowd, solution providers must ensure integration with legacy technology capabilities, high speed and performance, scalability and tools with easy deployment, configuration and intuitive interfaces.

They must invest in tools that can serve a variety of goals rather than focusing on those performing a single function, as flexibility is another important requirement. Tools that have security features such as built in encryption and strong authentication are also a necessity. It goes without saying that a big data platform that integrates with a lot of other popular tools and a vendor with strong tie ups with other providers are integral to boosting market position. Since artificial intelligence and machine learning have now become mainstream, solution providers must ensure their offerings’ compatibility with these technologies to stay ahead of the competition.

Fadi Kanafani, senior director – MEA, NetApp

Various other business benefits to consider are new revenue opportunities, more effective marketing, improved customer service and operational efficiency. After discovering the advantages that analytics can offer, service providers are continually looking out for growing market forces and the latest market trends that can offer them unprecedented opportunities. The answer for solution providers is to stay up-to-date with predictive forecasting to reamain ahead in the game. However, solution providers would not have the potential to accomplish this unless they possess a strong team of data scientists and forecasters. Predictive forecasting can provide them with the intelligence to observe variations in advance, offering them more time to take suitable actions to steer clear of or prepare for the upcoming situation.

This will enable them to unlock bigger opportunities in the Middle East market. This is the era of big data where various solutions assemble external macrofinancial data and make it available to organisations to introduce into their data warehousing planning. This empowers them to draw into that external data to extract insightful macrofinancial pointers to help identify and fill up the breaches in their business.

“I would say, you should start by gaining a good understanding of market requirements. This can be achieved through communicating with customers and by observing the challenges and opportunities they have in terms of data growth, AI/ML and data security. Now that both public and private sectors have realised the importance of data analytics and have started investing in them, the opportunities are endless,” says Kanafani.

While big data offers numerous benefits, it is not without its own set of issues. Some of the commonly faced issues include inadequate knowledge about the technologies involved, data privacy, and inadequate analytical capabilities of organisations. A lot of enterprises also face the issue of a lack of skills for dealing with big data technologies with limited number of people actually trained to work with big data. Many businesses are relying on new technologies and tools that need niche professionalism.

Subrat Panada, head - AI technologies, Capillary Technologies

In order to favourably process and manipulate big data, one can’t possibly deny the importance of properly trained professionals and appropriate certifications. The world and scope of big data is growing exponentially, and a rapidly growing number of companies are investing considerable resources in search of the appropriate talent to interpret massive volumes of data for them. This is purely derived from the fact that big data, if properly analysed, has the potential to transform business for organisations.

Regular training programs that equip resellers with a range of sales, marketing, enablement, and training tools bolster their solutions offerings. This makes it imperative for resellers to be adequately trained and certified in areas of big data and analytics relevant to their profession otherwise they will not be able to make any significant advances in the big data space in the long run.

Kanafani reiterates the role of training programs in enhancing knowledge and skills and adds, “Our training programs are tailor-made to address market requirements and customer demands. Training programs offer partners access to new products, product updates, latest technologies and various use cases where these technologies and solutions can be implemented.”

IT distributors can also assist solution providers in getting accurate, relevant, and up-to-date data insights; thus playing a fundamental role in the productive decision making process. Sustainable data is usually collected for high-level external reporting, separated from business accomplishment, and is not very actionable. So, the business critical data ultimately used to interpret and enhance organisational performance ends up limiting the abilities of the operator to recognise the business case for sustainability.

“However, IT distributors can help solution providers realise that the growth of the entire big data ecosystem is directly associated with variations in the manner that they share data. IT distributors can help transform how enterprises utilise data, no matter how advanced or quick they are. The can also provide solution providers with the support to help them understand and measure social impact, set technology
based objectives, and execute administration systems for non-sustainable data,” states Lakhani.

The future of big data looks enterprising and geared up to grow.  With the Middle East region gaining popularity among people and businesses alike, the potential for big data and analytics to grow here is unlimited. As this market expands, advancements in machine learning, artificial intelligence and natural language processing will drive its growth. With technological advancements and higher reliability on cloud, data privacy is a challenge that can be seen looming over this space in the foreseeable future.

The demand for data scientists is already on the rise and will grow manifold as technology giants innovate to integrate big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Channel partners need to work with organisations in integrating big data into digital transformation agendas, identify the solutions that meet business needs, and train staff on data science. Middle East channel partners that take the time, investment, and alignment with big data vendors will become specialised and see the strongest return on investments.

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