Today, data analytics – not limited to data collection, dissemination, analysis and communication – is a crucial stimulus for productivity growth. From algorithmic high frequency trading to disaster mitigation using satellite imagery and remote sensing, data science has proven to be a valuable tool in every aspect of life in advanced and emerging economies, and will become indispensable in the coming years. Although data technology has gradually trickled down to the developing world, there is limited ability to coordinate and make the best use of it. At Anvaya, we believe that now is the time to change this.
Data informs decision-making and thus has the tremendous ability to positively influence outcomes in public policy, non-profit and social entrepreneurship, etc. Innovation in collection methods and analysis of data from the field can provide local and international organizations a clearer picture of the effectiveness of their development and relief efforts without having to wait for subjective, circumstantial field evidence. Crowd-sourced geospatial data was vital to getting assistance to where it was needed most during the post-earthquake crisis in Nepal. The massive amounts of data collected from satellites, mobile phones as well as social media all guided the emergency responses. Analysis of data assessing initial conditions and subsequent changes from interventions can radically change the way meaningful impact is measured.
Data analytics allows for more transparency and accountability and can facilitate open dissemination of official statistics – a movement already gaining momentum – to reform the convention of information hoarding embedded in Nepalese institutions. Proper communication can encourage the rather frustrated external users, analysts and commentators to form their independent opinions and fully participate in the policymaking process in a variety of areas. Leveraging data technology to engage community members in collaborative projects with local government and NGOs and INGOs can provide a solid foundation for participatory democracy.
Analytics can generate gains from synergy by expediting inter-organizational coordination by transforming the asymmetric, disorganized and outdated means of communication within and between private sector, academia, government departments, non-government agencies and their end-beneficiaries. Research activities and plans can be better synchronized and resources can be focused on shared problems with the common objective of developing effective technological solutions. Well-connected scientific and intellectual enterprise across disciplines, organizations and sectors can boost innovation.
Extracting insights from data is an important tool to promptly and accurately measure firm performance, and monitor and influence business outcomes in every industry including manufacturing, financial services, communication, pharmaceutical, health care and more. Active and systematic use of data sharpens strategies and increases efficiency, as it enables companies to integrate information across supply chain, understand consumer behavior, recognize trends, make real-time decisions and customize solutions to particular issues that arise due to rapid change of pace in customer demands as well as in the macro-economic environment. Predictive analysis makes businesses agile and proactive whether the goal is to drive revenue, speed market delivery, increase market share, optimize workforce, or realize other operational improvements. Data-intensive companies are in an unparalleled position to figure out what works, what does not, and why.
Data science has larger implications than improving organizational functioning. Lagging behind in this realm may seem affordable compared to myriad of other political and socioeconomic challenges Nepal faces. Paradoxically, it is countries like ours that are eluded by technological progress where the potential of data is endless in addressing the fundamental obstacles that inhibit growth and integration with the modern world. Technology and data literacy are much more immediate necessities than we realize to mitigate the effects of an exacerbating digital and economic divide within the country, especially considering the fact that only 10% of Nepalese school children have access to computers.
Data analytics could be a game changer but the infrastructure and capability to operationalize it is insufficient to unlock its true value for Nepal’s development. Long-term targeted investment for building statistical capacity – both human and technical – is needed to build a strong foundation for a data-driven culture. Well-equipped staff with analytical skills, availability of reliable data and state-of-the-art data management and analytical systems could encourage evidence-based planning and implementation.
But the biggest challenge of evolving from a knowing culture that largely relies on heuristics to a learning culture driven by data is not the cost. In the beginning, it is inertia and the lack of imagination. What is needed is a steady progression towards a much more learning-oriented, dynamic mindset that is necessary for the sustainable wellbeing of any institution and the broader economy of which it is an integral part.
In short, businesses, social/non-profit organizations and governments should move fast to make the most of what data science has to offer. It is essential to understand that data science is not a modern panacea for Nepal’s problems. Having said that, its diffusion nevertheless offers countless opportunities to utilize powerful tools to overcome longstanding development barriers.
Tejesh Pradhan, founder, Anvaya Consultants