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SAS, academics unite to tackle Africa's data science skills shortage

SAS, academics unite to tackle Africa's data science skills shortage

International provider of business analytics software and services, SAS, together with South Africa's North West University (NWU), plan to double up on efforts to tackle the shortage of data science skills in Africa.

This was announced during a graduation ceremony for over 400 beneficiaries of scholarships from the Centre for Business Mathematics and Informatics (BMI), established in 1998 by NWU in partnership with Absa Bank.

BMI was established to develop and produce skills needed by the country's major banks, initially focusing on risk management, now focussing on big data and data analytics.

Senior Manager, Global Academic Programs at SAS, Murray De Villiers said the company has established very strong engagements in countries and university in the continent, including Strathmore University in Nairobi and the University of Namibia in Windhoek.

"We are also engaging in Morocco, we've just started initiating a project in Egypt, Cameroon, Senegal and we had our first engagements in Ghana, and of course Zimbabwe. In SA, Northwest University has been instrumental in the data science program that has kicked off, and is launching next week at the University of the Western Cape."

He said the commercial value of the software and programs SAS currently invests in NWU is over R30 million per year.

The commercial value of the overall investment with universities is over R100 million.

Professor Riaan de Jongh, Director of BMI at NWU said data is critical as the world is currently witnessing the fourth industrial revolution. "What we see around us is exponential changes, technology is changing at a rate that we have never seen before, so we have artificial intelligence, we have machine learning, we have all these new things coming. It's good that SAS is a partner of ours because SAS globally looks at machine learning, they look at artificial intelligence, and they build it into their systems."

According to the partners real-time analysis of constant streams of information allows businesses to make strategic decisions that reduce risk, increase revenue and enhance competitiveness.

"In South Africa, businesses understand the value of data analysis but are not yet mature enough to capitalise on the opportunities in big data and data analytics."

"Typically, businesses spend a lot of money implementing systems to leverage data analytics but, until now, have only had the skills and knowledge to do reporting. They now want a return on their investment to derive insight from their data. But there is a massive shortage of analytics talent in the market."

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