Kizito Okechukwu, the co-chairperson of GEN Africa. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency/ANA
JOHANNESBURG - Data is simply a collection of facts and statistics that can be used as a method of reference or analysis. Long before computers, the internet and the phenomenon of digital storage, the ability to store and analyse information has been a gradual evolution, which began centuries ago.

In an article entitled “A Brief History of Big Data Everyone Should Read”, the earliest example of humans storing and analysing data is the Ishango Bone, which was discovered in 1960 in Uganda. The tribes would mark notches into sticks and stones to represent trading activity and the status of their supplies, enabling them to forecast how long these would last.

Over time, data has been used for many reasons, including to create a consumer-centric business strategy by predicting consumer wants and needs, as well as monitoring product demand.

At the 22 On Sloane Start-up Huddle, former statistician-general and now resident research adviser, Dr Pali Lehohla, and the Director-General of the Department of Small Business Development, Professor Edith Vries, emphasised “the impact of data in our environment, and how we can use data to shape our perspective on life".


“Data also helps us with identifying opportunities and gaps. Through this, we have to understand data in order to come up with solutions.”

A 2017 survey conducted by Tableau Software, in partnership with MyBroadband, revealed that data-driven companies in South Africa did better in terms of financial performance. Main reasons for this included being able to accurately define business strategies (21percent), to better understand customers (18percent) and to predict and anticipate economic and market forces that will impact business performance (16percent).

Today, more and more businesses are fast realising the importance of collecting, analysing and interpreting data. A company that is now perfectly tuned in to data use is Netflix. The online streaming service provider, available in 190 countries, including South Africa, allows customers to watch a wide variety of award-winning TV shows, movies, documentaries and more on thousands of internet-connected devices, anywhere, anytime.

As a data-driven company, Netflix now makes business decisions based on the facts and stats provided by its highly sophisticated data processing platforms, and prides itself on always improving the experience of the user.


Clockwork, co-founded by Jamie Rood, a 22 On Sloane resident, developed a mobile app that connects blue-collar workers to potential markets. Clockwork’s unique algorithm uses a selection of essential on-the-job criteria to provide you with the best applicants for a particular role. This is based on previous job punctuality, performance, ratings and reviews.

During product development, Clockwork used data from both employers and employees to first create a consumer- centric strategy and encourage all entrepreneurs to use platforms such as Google Forms and Zapier to gain more insight on their consumers.

To sum up, we live in a very connected, sharing and interactive world, with many companies sitting on vast amounts of invaluable consumer data.

Whenever you buy something, use social media to rate or berate a service or product, call a car through a rideshare app, or interact with your Google Home, the company on the other end is collecting and analysing your demographic and behavioural information.

At first glance this might sound invasive. But research shows consumers are okay with companies collecting personal data, as long as it leads to products and services that makes their lives easier and more entertaining, educates them and saves them a few bucks.

So these days, any business, be it a start-up, a small business or an established corporate, needs to embrace and use data, as it is a significant helper to drive well­informed, client-centric decision-making to enhance consumer confidence in their brands. For more information on the next 22 On Sloane Start-up Huddle, visit

Kizito Okechukwu is executive director of 22 On Sloane and SEA Africa.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.