(Published - 15 April 2019)
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution will change everything - the way we gather information, the way we understand what people want, the way we organise businesses and deliver services to our customers. If South African corporations want to thrive - or even survive - in this world, they have to keep up. If you fall behind you’ll become extinct.”
To help prevent that corporate extinction, Louise De Koker conducted a study on Fostering collaboration amongst business intelligence, business decision makers and statisticians for the optimal use of big data in marketing strategies - earning her a PhD in Population Studies from the University of the Western Cape’s Department of Statistics and Population Studies.
“Big Data is something new, something challenging, something important,” says Louise, who is currently working as Campaign and Measurements Specialist in Marketing for Woolworths.
“It’s something we need to understand - a tool we need to make use of if we seek insight into the world we live in, and the world that’s coming. If we could understand all the information being generated every day - everyone’s now on their phones and putting themselves out there - the applications of it would be huge.”
Given the emergence of big data, the traditional role of the statistician has been questioned. There is a need to rethink this role in a more collaborative and organisational way than has been done in the past in order for companies to reap the benefits of big data. Uncovering the complexity of the optimal use of Big Data from a marketing strategy perspective, Louise’s study has investigated the issue by bringing together the concepts of collaboration and organisational culture.
Her finding? Big Data requires more collaboration - but it also requires more coordination. Someone needs to be the strong link amongst the various stakeholders. A Chief Data Officer, if you will.
“You need the right person at the right level of the organisation to influence change,” Louise explains. “Such a leader should have strong links to the various stakeholders and understand the financial benefits of analysing data. And that’s especially true in South Africa, where this is a very new concept.”
It will, naturally, require different ways of thinking and looking at things.
“All the data we generate about ourselves, the information trail we leave in our wake as we navigate our way through life on our screens and beyond - they open up some dangers and confusion, but also many more opportunities,” says Louise. “sWe just need to adapt to them - and keep adapting as the world changes.”
LifeLong Learning - The Way of the (Fourth Industrial) Revolution
Louise has a long history with UWC.
Born and schooled in the Eastern Cape, in Uitenhage, she came to Cape Town after matric and initially studied at the University of Cape Town, before coming to work at UWC 25 years ago.
“At school I was good at maths, and I liked to solve problems,” she says. “Mathematical statistics was just a practical way of solving problems, and once I started studying it, I found I love the way it allows us to make use of data, to find patterns, and to understand our world..”
She decided to apply what she’d learned in the private sector, always keen to utilise her knowledge in various situations.
Her late father was the first in the family to do a BSc, and a definite inspiration.
“He’s the one that instilled the importance of education within us as children,” she says. “I remember the first time I graduated, many years ago, he was so proud of me - and I think he would have been even more proud of me now.”
Eventually, De Koker returned to UWC to do her Honours in Statistics, and then her Master’s in Applied Statistics - studying part-time while working full-time in several different technical positions.
“I like to learn new things,” she says. “And a university provides a good platform to further and credibly research things that interest me in a sustainable and succinct way.”
She owes a lot of her success to her supervisor (during her entire academic journey at UWC), Prof Gabriel Tati.
“My supervisor hounded me for twelve years to do my PhD,” she laughs, “and he really helped me through this process, devoting a lot of time and effort into getting things right. That was very important to me.”
So, what’s next?
“I’ve been studying for the last few years, so now that I’m not doing that it’s actually difficult to relax,” she says. “My two kids are either studying or working, so I don’t have to spend too much time looking after them and driving them around now. But we enjoy cooking together and we’re a musical family - we like to sing at church - so we’ll still be spending a lot of time together.”
She also loves to travel and hopes to do more of it.
“Every day brings new opportunities to learn things, and one of the biggest ways I learn is through travel. There are lots of places I’d like to revisit, and lots still to visit. I like to explore new cultures and see how people live. It basically tells me we’re all the same, no matter what our different walks of life.”