Home' Forge : Vol 2 No 2 Contents What's happening in Australia:
Big data from the perspective of four Australian data businesses
Data Analysis Australia
According to John Henstridge,
managing director and founder
of Data Analysis Australia, his
company has the biggest group
of commercial statisticians in
Australia. The company, which
he founded in 1988, employs 14
statisticians and mathematicians.
Henstridge says that although the
amount of data that exists in the
world has increased enormously,
the job of making sense of it has
always been challenging.
'What we called big data over
40 years ago was tiny by today's
standards,' Henstridge says.
'But you had to think hard about
how you were going to manage
it, because it was big in terms of
the computers you had, and the
computations you might want to
do would be signifcant in terms of
the computational power you had.
I would say that statisticians have
been working continually at the
edge of what is feasible for at least
the last 40 years.'
One of the reasons for the
company's success, claims
Henstridge, is that he started out
pursuing an understanding of
both statistics and information
technology. This has carried over
into the company's operations.
'I have worked in this space
between statistics and computer
science for a very long time.
But I am in a minority among
statisticians. Charles Babbage, who
developed the frst computer, was
also a fellow of the Royal Statistical
Society. In the last 30 or 40 years,
there has been quite a separation of
the two groups. I would hope that
in 10 years' time the analytics are a
bit more coherent.'
Henstridge says there is a shortage
in Australia of well-trained
statisticians. He believes that local
universities are producing only
about one-third of the number of
graduates needed. 'My perception
is that management in Australian
business is probably, on average,
less sophisticated than it is in
many other countries.
'It is not unusual for a large German
company to have a CEO who has a
PhD. That is very rare in Australia.
There is a different respect given to
technical ability and knowledge. In
Australian culture, people are called
techos, as if that is a derogatory
term. The biggest diffculty is
that people just aren't used to
using these more quantitative and
Mark Cameron, chief executive of data
consultancy Working Three, believes that
Australian businesses are only now trying to
catch up in the big data race. The company
was founded in 2003 as a 'traditional
marketing company', and Cameron took hold
of the reins in 2007.
Cameron says companies should attempt to
do something unique with their approach to
data; it should be part of their competitive
differentiation. He notes that companies in the
fnancial sector are advanced in their use of data,
as are some of the larger companies, such as
Qantas, Coles and Woolworths. But many other
Australian businesses have a long way to go.
‘When the global fnancial crisis happened
around the world [in 2008], a lot of businesses
struggled really badly,' he says. 'In the United
States, they were saying: "Our share price is
tanking; we have to innovate to survive". So they
turned to big data.'
As a consequence, says Cameron, American and
European businesses have been trying to innovate
with their data use for seven to eight years. In
Australia, where the global fnancial crisis did not
have as big of an impact, efforts have only started
'It takes a long time to actually take the data,
understand where it comes from, and do
something new in the market. In Australia, that is
only happening now.'
Cameron says he was 'born out of a marketing
background and a digital background'. Working
Three has four service lines: insights, strategy,
design and technology, which Cameron says
refects the fact that clients are taken through
The frst step – insights – involves conducting
research and collecting the data. The second
step involves working out the strategy, and
identifying what decisions need to be made.
'Then you have to look at opportunities in the
market -- that is design,' he says. 'Finally, you
have to implement it in the organisation.'
24 // cover story
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