Turning Waste into Wealth: Data and Actionable Insights from a Different Perspective

An eNCA report in South Africa states that the country generates 108 million tonnes of waste each year. And that that waste has a resource value of $189m (ZAR25.2b). That’s a staggering amount of potential economic benefit lying in the things that people and companies discard on a daily basis as rubbish.

Think about the cost of not realising this potential though. How much does it cost in landfill management to keep all this waste? What about the impact on the environment?

But now, globally, there is a fast growing industry (or set of industries) that is turning this waste into wealth. The industry lives by the motto: Reduce, Recycle, Re-Use.

South Africa itself has a very dynamic waste beneficiation industry…led by people who are commonly becoming known as wastepreneurs. People who have figured out a way to tap into the $189m worth of value sitting in the country’s waste. Good for them! They’re creating jobs, uplifting the economy and reducing the amount of waste sitting in landfill sites.


What does this have to do with Data & Actionable Insights?


I recently engaged with 3 separate groups of data & analytics professionals over breakfast and the idea of the “Waste to Wealth” article originated during these discussions.

Before I go into more detail, I need to admit that this concept is not new – turning data into actionable insights. If I had written this article 20 years ago it would’ve been more visionary…and I would have been a pretty forward thinking high schooler.

Globally there is a fast-moving drive by companies to monetise their data by deriving insights from it. Through this they can attract new customers, prevent losing existing ones, drive revenue, save costs etc. All the information needed to be able to develop and execute business strategies to achieve this sits within their data – and their customers’ data.

Imagine then that data is the waste. That the only thing a company is concerned with is storing it in the most cost effective manner possible. It’s a very costly exercise to setup and maintain data centres and even with cloud storage, there is a risk cost.

Now imagine that there are wastepreneurs present in companies – CDOs, CAOs (and associated job roles) that can see the gold sitting in the pile of waste. They’re concerned with turning waste into wealth.


Sort, Clean, Use


Companies are sitting on a huge amount of data. It is generated by the business in vast quantities everyday and stored in data lakes until it’s required. But just like waste entering a dump site, the quality of the data is, often, not in a useable format. The quality is too poor to be used to generate accurate business insights.

So, just like those wastepreneurs who sift, sort, clean and use the rubbish they want, so does the data analytics office need to sift, sort, clean (remediate/beneficiate) and use the company’s data.

Data quality comes up regularly throughout our global research as a one of the biggest focus areas of data analytics professionals. Cleaning up the data is an ongoing process. Someone likened it to painting a bridge – once you’ve finished you go back to the beginning and start again (this is true of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Which, incidentally, is painted in a unique colour called ‘Harbour Bridge Grey.’ True story.)

A key part of the role of the Chief Data Office is to ensure that data users are able to sift through good quality data to use to answer their business questions and develop new products. I guess that begs the question: who are the landfill managers? And who are the wastepreneurs? Both play a vital role in this economy…one couldn’t work effectively without the other just as Heads of Analytics* couldn’t perform to their maximum without the work of the Head of Data*.

*Note: I use catch-all job titles here for brevity. 


Recycling Begins at Home


In South Africa we don’t sort and recycle at home…perhaps we’re meant to and I’m missing something. When I lived in Australia is was a constant task to sort the recycling into separate bins and, more annoyingly, the packaging had to be cleaned before being put into recycling.

What this did, though, was improve the efficiencies down the waste-to-wealth value chain. If the waste was already in good quality (an odd thing to say) then it would be easier for wastepreneurs to turn it into a useable product. It’s akin to getting a high quality raw material and feeding that into a manufacturing process.

The question in the data environment is: how do you incentivise front-line data capturers (call centre agents, sales staff etc.) to collect good quality data?

Is it their responsibility to make sure they have the correct phone number and/or address for someone? Of course it’s out of their hands if the customer is responsible for updating their own data. How do you then incentivise/train/educate the customer to provide details accurately? It’s not hard to mistype a keystroke and add an additional digit to your phone number.


At the End of the Day…


We all know – as citizens and as data analytics professionals – that an enormous amount of wealth lies in waiting in our waste. I should be clear: I don’t think data is waste, I think it’s a raw material.

Just like those companies (big and small) that turn old tires into viable commercial products (www.redisa.org.za) the organisation needs to turn their data into viable commercial products. The bit in between is the onerous part. There are regulations to consider. Internal politics, usage rules and ownership challenges too.

Who gets the credit? The department who sorted, cleaned and provided the waste/raw material/data or the one who turned it into wealth?

I think the important thing and the message behind this article is that it needs to be the responsibility and desire of everyone to turn waste into wealth, turn data into actionable insights.

If you and I don’t recycle, then wastepreneurs don’t exist. If every employee in the organisation doesn’t appreciate the importance of (good quality) data then those actionable insights won’t add any value.

As the promoters of data & analytics in your organisations, you need to be the voice that drives this message across every level of the business. Yes, it does help to have CEO/Board sponsorship but you need to fight the fight without that level of support in your corner.

Go out there and turn your waste into wealth!


Join us at the Chief Data & Analytics Officer Africa happening on July 3-5, 2017 in Johannesburg. For more information, visit www.coriniumintelligence.com/chiefdatanalyticsofficerafrica


By Craig Steward: 

Craig Steward is Corinium’s Managing Director for EMEA responsible for developing Corinium’s C-level forums and roundtables across the region. Contact Craig at [email protected] 







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