Advanced Analytics: Earning the right to go wide

ruckThe inaugural Chief Data Officer Africa forum in Johannesburg created an opportunity for senior data executives to network and share their experiences and their challenges.

For many companies, the strategic goal of data management is to enable advanced analytics. Unsurprisingly, then, many of the early discussions at the CDO Forum focused on how this goal is being achieved.

A number of the Executives on the early panels have a strong statistical or data science background – leading one less technical EIM Manager to wonder if she is qualified for the role.

Over the course of the two days, however, the importance of more mundane subjects, such as Data Governance, Data Quality and Data Architecture were repeatedly stressed.


These disciplines are the foundation of sound data management.

Without them, sexy initiatives such as advanced analytics are highly likely to fail

To use a sporting analogy – advanced analytics can be seen as the swan dive as the rugby winger dives over the line to finish off a flashy back line move.

Earning the right to go wide” is a rugby cliche spouted by countless coaches and critics.

It refers to the reality that, before the winger can score a try, the forwards need to create space by engaging the opposition in a series of rucks and mauls. Modern defensive patterns are so strong that it is almost impossible for any team to score simply by passing the ball from hand to hand. This was, unfortunately, well demonstrated in the first test between South Africa and Ireland where the Springboks could not penetrate a 14 man Irish defensive pattern

Why not?

Arguably poor decision making (inked to a lack of game time together and a large number of inexperienced players) , unforced errors (we lost the ball at crucial times) and the apparent belief that just throwing the ball around was enough (not earning the right to go wide)

At no time did we control the game and create space.

In data management terms – we were trying to deliver advanced analytics without proper governance and without quality data.

Information governance creates structure for flashier EIM capabilities – such as advanced analytics or master data management. Governance links data management initiatives to bushiness outcomes, establishes priorities and ensures accountability. Governance can be regarded as defining the leadership, the game plan (strategy) and the structures (or policies) within which the broader data management capabilities will unfold.

The quality of the Springbok’s play was also way off. Unforced turnovers, stupid penalties and a general apathy were apparent and ensured that we were not able to make progress In the same way, if poor quality data is used to support operations or analytics the business will not achieve the desired outcomes – whether to reduce risk, cut costs or enhance revenue.

The foundations of data management must be in place for advanced analytics to deliver value.

The Chief Data Officer must be more than a data scientist.

Like the professional rugby coach, he must take ultimate responsibility for a broad range of capabilities – data governance, data quality, big data / advanced analytics and more.

He must appoint specialists – he may have data scientists, data stewards, data architects and data quality analysts reporting into him and ensuring the technical deliverables.

The CDO must define the data strategy for the organisation and negotiate priorities and budget to support the business priorities.

Like the rugby coach, he is dependent on his team for delivery. In business many of these team  members may not report to him directly – they may sit in IT, in risk, in marketing, or in operations. He needs the support of the executive and the recognition that responsibility fro data is shared.

This is not a technical role.


The Springbok’s have just won the second test against Ireland – in spite of numerous unforced errors and poor play from a number of players. The impact of altitude on the Irish, and the impact of the in form substitutes were obvious.

However, in contrast to last week this time the ‘Boks did more to create space  – for example by running straight rather than laterally, and by using tactical kicks to vary their approach. Ultimately, we created a number of tries this week which we simply could not do last week.

50/50 for Port Elizabeth but if the ‘Boks don;t improve then my money would be on the Irish at sea level. Strong case for the in form Lion’s players to be starting. Some of the stalwarts will be lucky to retain their place.

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