Enterprise Data Analytics Observations and Reflections (part 1)

Enterprise Data Analytics Observations and Reflections (part 1)
Photo by NEOM / Unsplash

Over the past five years, my career has been anchored in the sphere of data analytics within Saudi Arabia, with a particular emphasis on government-related projects. My initial role as a consultant allowed me to forge data-centric solutions, encompassing analytics, visualizations, and dashboards. As my professional journey evolved, I ventured into providing data infrastructure services. This broad spectrum of experiences has illuminated a range of challenges that, while distinct to my work environment, resonate across a broader spectrum of countries characterized by their developmental status and financial capabilities. A Category of “developing countries + have money”. There are both systematic issues and technical issues. I will start here with some of the systematic issues and then write about technical issues in a later part.

Certification and Vendor Lock-in: A Double-Edged Sword

The reliance on certifications from leading tech corporations such as Oracle, Microsoft, and SAP is noteworthy. These certifications serve a dual purpose: they validate technical proficiency within specific systems and inadvertently become symbols of technical prowess. This perception fosters a reluctance among IT professionals to explore new platforms, for fear of diminishing their accrued expertise. A deeper issue at play is the design philosophy of these products, which cater to the structured environments of Fortune 500 companies, neglecting the unique needs of departments in developing nations. These needs include, but are not limited to, language recognition and adapting to local calendar systems (e.g., Gregorian vs. Hijri), highlighting a significant disconnect.

The IT Expectation-Reality Gap: Bridging the Divide

Local IT departments face the Herculean task of meeting unrealistic expectations with limited resources. IT departments staff generally assume other roles, for example, IT staff could be dedicating much of their time to the marketing team, because the marketing team believes that running a simple SQL query on customers is within the IT realm. In addition to staffing issues, the assumption that off-the-shelf software solutions can fully address the organization’s needs fails to acknowledge the necessity for tailored solutions crafted by skilled software engineers within their departments. This leads to a dependency on external consultants, a stopgap solution that incurs high costs and fosters a cycle of dependency without truly resolving core issues.

Misconceptions About Software Capabilities: Beyond the Surface

A pervasive overvaluation of software capabilities exists within the region, stemming from the belief that software solutions alone can address all operational challenges. This overlooks the critical role of user competency. The notion that a single software solution can meet all enterprise-level needs is a myth; if the organization's rules are chaotic the software will be chaotic. Even then, additional tools are necessary to bridge functionality gaps. However, the development of these auxiliary tools is hindered by a prevalent lack of programming expertise, with basic SQL knowledge being the exception rather than the rule.

Piping for Enterprise Software: The Hidden Costs

In the realm of enterprise software, a significant yet often overlooked aspect is the extensive "piping" required to integrate and operationalize these systems. This integration work, typically undertaken by the enterprise's software/IT staff, represents a substantial cost and logistical headache, even for Fortune 500 companies. The expectation that a mere software upgrade from the original vendor, who may have contributed to the complexities in the first place, will resolve underlying issues is surprisingly naive and unfounded. The enterprise doesn’t have the will or the expertise to create its piping tools. Software development as a skill seems to be non-existent. This challenge is exacerbated by the vendors' detachment from the end-users' context, often operating through partners and showing limited interest in addressing specific localization needs due to the perceived small market size.

Leadership and Strategic Direction: Navigating Progress

The introduction of a new director aiming to spearhead change introduces another layer of complexity. The expectation of achieving substantial progress within a brief period is at odds with the reality that true transformation requires years, not months. Attempts to secure quick wins may yield short-term successes but contribute to long-term sustainability challenges, and increased technical debt. In addition, it causes a significant loss of potential institutional knowledge due to outsourcing, both in the organization and the country. Such strategic thinking would benefit from having technical expertise at the board level first rather than at the director level.

Cultural and Psychological Biases: Overcoming Internal Barriers

The challenges faced are further compounded by cultural and psychological biases. An "invented-here" bias diminishes the value of local efforts, while outgroup favoritism towards multinational vendors neglects the alignment of solutions with the organization's actual needs and capabilities. This is exacerbated by a perceived inferiority of local solutions compared to those offered by multinational vendors, a sentiment that undermines homegrown innovation.

Agile Methodologies Misapplied: The Quest for Flexibility with Rigid Deliverables

The misapplication of agile methodologies in environments where they are ill-suited underscores a misalignment between project management ideals and practical realities. The incorporation of agile methodologies into projects with rigid requirements and extensive deliverables reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the agile philosophy or a sort of wishful thinking. It's a clear oxymoron.

Who Will Win Big: The Rise of LLMs and Localization

The future landscape of enterprise software in the region is likely to be dominated by multinational companies equipped with advanced AI capabilities, particularly those that can effectively address localization issues. With a modest investment in localization efforts, these vendors stand to reap significant rewards. 

Conclusion

Addressing the systemic challenges encountered in data analytics projects within developing, financially endowed countries demands a comprehensive approach. This includes a deep understanding of the local context, a commitment to investing in internal capabilities, and a strategic approach to technology adoption that emphasizes long-term sustainability over ephemeral achievements. In the next article(s), I will dive deeper into the technical challenges and offer my suggestions on how they should be solved.

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