The Big Data Obstacles Faced by Developing Nations

Fully utilizing big data and making the most of its potential is no easy task.

Even among the most technologically advanced organizations, proper use of big data analytics can be a challenge, so it’s easy to see how the enormous difficulties faced by developing nations around the world can derail their efforts to use it. The prospect of using big data in developing countries goes beyond simply helping businesses find more success; big data can also be used to help struggling populations improve their quality of life. That’s why so many people are leading the effort in helping these countries adopt big data in various ways. To truly accomplish this, organizations, philanthropists, and governments will have a number of formidable obstacles to contend with.

Finding the right people for the job of handling big data is currently a challenge faced by many companies, as can be seen in the big data skills gap. As large as that gap is in countries like the U.S., U.K., and Canada, it is a virtual chasm in the developing nations of the world.

Even for those countries able to collect large volumes of data on people, if there is no one there that can properly make sense of it all, the data will go to waste. Easy-to-use big data platforms can only go so far. This general lack of technical expertise is afflicting many countries, where few people are available to train and lead a new generation of eager learners in the field of big data science. Many nations have resorted to importing experts from foreign countries to fill the need, but until homegrown talent is able to interpret big data correctly, this will continue to be a major obstacle.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is the general lack of technical infrastructure found within developing countries. In many regions of the world, electricity itself is hard to come by, and even when it can be provided, people have to suffer through regular power outages.

In cases where electricity is available, there still remains the issue of internet availability. For example, less than 16 percent of Africans actually have access to the web. Coupled with that problem is the infrastructure needed for high capacity cables that are essential for the collection of big data. Going beyond cables and internet, developing countries need new data centers and software, and none of it comes cheap. If the developing world seeks to fulfill the potential of big data, they’ll need to become more computerized.

All of this could be achieved through more spending, but that’s another challenge many developing nations face. International organizations has long tried to help out in this regard, but the recent economic problems faced globally have lead to cuts in funding to statistical programs intended to help other countries embrace big data. The idea behind big data and ad hoc data analysis is generally seen by many nations as a luxury item, meaning priority spending is dedicated toward items that are viewed as more pressing needs (food, medicine, etc.).

In situations where infrastructure is developed enough to handle big data and governments are willing, another obstacle often encountered is the lack of good quality data being collected. In many cases, while developing countries can gather data on the population, that data is unrepresentative of the people as a whole due, once again, to low internet availability. So acting on that data would be acting on inaccurate information.

To use big data to its full potential, one would need past data as well, which is certainly hard to come by in the developing world. One possible workaround for this is the use of call data records due to the high proliferation of cell phones in many developing countries, but unfortunately, telecommunications companies are very protective of that data and don’t hand it over easily.

While all of these obstacles are certainly daunting, progress is being made among developing nations. More progress is needed, however, and experts believe it will mostly come through partnerships with businesses in the private sector. The effort is also underway to modernize countries’ National Statistics Offices as a means of better utilizing big data. The desire and potential is there, and eventually developing countries will come to use big data just like the rest of the world. The only real question is how long it will take to reach that destination