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When Data isn’t Data yet

by Andy Bitterer  |  September 18, 2008  |  2 Comments

Sometimes it helps talking to a different set of clients to get a reality check. In my world, where all that’s needed is broadband and an airport (I’m exaggerating a little here) it is really helpful to get a new perspective on how our clients are grappling with day-to-day issues.

I recently met with a representative from the education department of a large African city. They wanted to do BI, getting reports on students, classes, teachers, grades, and so on. Now, I learned to be more careful with my advice in places like Africa, as some parts of the infrastructure aren’t comparable with European standards. So I didn’t recommend putting in a big honking data warehouse and some funky BI platform, as I knew (a) the budgets wouldn’t be there, (b) skills would be an issue, and (c) data volumes wouldn’t warrant such an investment.

So I started slowly and asked what kind of reports they’d be expecting to create, what applications and data sources they’d be tapping, how much data, how many potential users, and that sort of thing.

The lady from the education department said they wanted, for example, to get some “teacher reports” and what teachers were more successful, as indicated by better grades of their students. Easy enough I thought. Boy, was I wrong, as there was one problem: There wasn’t any data.

Apparently, the department wanted to know “which teacher is actually physically in the classroom?” or “what topics are those teachers actually discussing in class?”. Kinda different set of problem, compared to the run-of-the-mill inquiries on BI. So I suggested having some employees do regular rounds in the schools to monitor attendance, and create some data by recording their observations in … uh … Excel, at least for the time being. Never thought I would do such a thing. Good reality check.

Category: business-intelligence  clients  gartner  travel  

Tags: africa  bi  data  excel  

Andreas Bitterer
Research VP
9 years at Gartner
27 years IT industry

Andreas Bitterer is a research vice president in Gartner, where he specializes in business intelligence, data integration and data quality, with expertise in analytical applications, data warehousing and information management.Read Full Bio


Thoughts on When Data isn’t Data yet


  1. Timo Elliott says:

    First step is should be incentives to get others to gather the data — I read somewhere that one area was forcing rural teachers to take photographs of themselves each day with their pupils, and they didn’t get paid without being to produce them (sorry, couldn’t find the link — might have been using the XO computers)

  2. Andy Bitterer says:

    I guess that could work, theoretically. Changing behavior always works when people feel the impact in their wallets.

    Of course, there is the danger that the camera or the PC is worth more when nicked and sold than maybe somebody’s yearly salary.

    The other issue in remote areas is connectivity and bandwidth. Here you can get a 50 Mbit VDSL line into private homes. In large parts of Africa you are lucky if you have a 56k modem line … into a business branch.



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