Big Data: Not just another buzzword

Thursday, June 11, 2020

We fear that which we don't understand. It is a quote often used in varying forms and attributed to many people. For Alex Dowdalls, it ties in with his pursuit to educate people on Big Data, AI and data analytics, and the value of it in your business.

Dowdalls has over 25 years' experience in helping organisations understand digital technology, such as blockchain and AI, and preparing them to be "fit for the future". As founder and partner at Axveco, he focusses on helping organisations to innovate sustainably.

"The ongoing trend is doing business digitally. In the last five years, companies who have embraced this trend have become world leaders like Tesla and Google. While others who did not adapt were left behind."

Axveco and RightBrains recently teamed up to offer various e-learning journeys on Big Data and AI.

"We are no longer restricted to traditional classroom sessions only; we should use modern technology to teach technology. My vision is this: how you present learning information should be an embodiment of what you are trying to teach. Blended learning has been with us for over a decade, but with the modern toolset, we can make it a very, very exciting experience."

Dowdalls says with interactive webinars, videos and online content, one should not forget about the importance of human touch.

"People want to ask the expert questions, that is how they learn. And part of the value of any course is the networking you get to do with others. And some people feel that networking is of equal value to the learning you receive."

And then COVID-19 threw a spanner in the works.

"All physical classroom sessions were cancelled. And I noticed a lot of the traditional education institutions were not set up to provide the learning in any other format than in a classroom. They scrambled to set up online teaching. And with COVID-19 you have no alternative, you have to be able to work digitally or not at all. The same goes for any business. We will let go of the notion of going to the office from 9 to 5. The adoption of virtual working technologies has been forced upon us by COVID-19."

And with this new normal there are various challenges.

"Just logistically, most people don't have a designated office space at home or even high-speed internet. How do you keep your team motivated? You also have to change your management style to be more holacratic; self-directing teams, supporting, enabling and empowering people. The world is different, and the rules of doing business are different now. We have only just started on this journey and are discovering how organisations will adapt to these circumstances, and how we as people will adapt to this. Whatever strategy you or your company developed; change it."

Dowdalls says the crisis gave everybody the chance to reassess the way of working and truly embrace digital technology.

"I don't think we will go back to five-day work weeks with a commute to an office. There is now such a bigger benefit of working online saving travel time. The biggest benefit being that you will have access whenever and wherever you want, you're not confined to a physical location. We also need to allow serendipitous, informal interactions – these maintain the fabric of an organisation – the chat at the coffee machine or coincidental meeting in the canteen."

And now is the ideal time to build even further upon your digital skills and future-proof yourself as a professional.

"Don't feel intimidated by Big Data or AI; it is changing the world, and you are a part of it. It won't make you redundant, yes it is fantastic technology, but compared to a human being, it is nothing. It is just a tool like any other to be more effective, and you have to use it to your advantage."

"And the first step is learning; you have to become aware of what is possible in your field. And you have to be open to investigate it. You don't have to have a technical background to understand or implement machine learning or AI models. Become digital and data literate."

As the latest expert addition to RightBrains' Digital Leadership programme, he hopes to introduce and familiarise participants to new technologies and help them build their first AI model.

"The value per person is ten to twenty times more in a platform and data-driven business, than those in a traditional model. This is not a small difference, but a massive leverage of the human asset. I want participants to understand concepts and models like Big Data, blockchain, and the internet of things. The people who can apply these new technologies will beat those who can't. AI won't replace you, but people who use AI will replace you."