The place of data in any business venture is a critical one. It helps with planning and forecasting which guarantees the survival of the business. Unfortunately, most SMEs in Kenya lack data systems, and as a result, growth is slow.
It is this gap that Silas Omenda sought to fill when he decided to start a company that would equip business owners with data training, to build decision-making frameworks.
The company, Emerge, Africa, which recently rebranded to Divergent Company, has so far worked with more than 20 different businesses ranging from big corporations to small and medium ventures since its inception.
Omenda launched the company in 2018 after identifying the need for data and market research insights that help small businesses make critical decisions.
“By providing data training for decision making, we envision developing or enhancing businesses to adopt basic data skills that will enable them to prescribe, predict and build decision-making frameworks that are tailored to their businesses,” explains Omenda.
Coming from a background of research, he had worked as a Senior Research Executive at Ipsos Kenya for four years and Head of Qualitative Research at Consumer Options for a year. Additionally, he also served as Head of Research and Innovation at Metropol Corporation (MCRB) for five years and Senior Researcher Africa Region at BECHTEL Infrastructure for two years.
Omenda is a graduate with Bachelors of Arts in Sociology from Kenyatta University, Masters Project Planning Management from the University of Nairobi and a certificate in Predictive Analytics Labs.
He notes that data is at the centre of the fourth industrial revolution and SMEs can no longer ignore these facts.
“As business people, data should be the catalyst for all decisions made from sales, human resource, purchases and trade,” he says, and adds.
“SMEs find themselves making these decisions daily, either unconsciously or through gut feel, and that’s why we believe a huge opportunity is being missed to capacity build small businesses understand the importance of data and how it affects their bottom line,” he adds.
Divergent has a significant client base. This has grown through referrals and through social networks.
“Annually, on average, we add on four new clients to our portfolio, charges for any research and data insights generation are varied due to the scope of work and the needs a client has,” he explains, adding that from the numerous engagements he has had with most SMEs, they established that one in every five SMEs in Kenya use data to make decisions, and this has helped them grow three times faster than those that do not use data.
“We also found out that four out of every five are clueless about what to do with the data they collect daily. Worse still, the majority don't understand the importance of data they collect.”
Omenda has partnered with other research experts to offer a month-long course for business owners covering six modules at a cost of Sh2, 500 each. The course helps small businesses provide the right products at the right time to the right customer.
The training is done in various steps: Business owners and managers first get introduced to Data Science, where one gets to learn how to think about analytical problems and examine the process by which data enables analysis and decision making.
“We introduce a framework called the Information-Action Value chain which describes the path from events in the real world, and the information gathered is used to inform decision making in business,” he explains.
One also gets to learn about data collection and storage, which is useful for a business. Having understood the data science workflow, the trainees dive deeper into the first step: data collection. One learns about the different source systems that their company uses to capture data, and how to store that info once it is collected. At this stage, the entrepreneurs are taught ways to explore and visualise data by using spreadsheets such as Excel.
The trainers use systematic methods to look for trends, groupings, or other relationships, besides looking at the process of putting data into a chart, graph, or other visual formats that help inform analysis and interpretation.
The final stage involves learning about forecasting. This involves machine learning.
“We cover supervised and unsupervised machine learning and clustering. We then move on to special topics in machine learning, including time series, sales prediction and sentiment analysis,” adds Omenda.
Due to offering the training to their clients over time, the company has gained confidence in their services.
“The value proposition is predictable outcomes, and this is a promise we have traditionally ridden on to deliver quality work and insights to our clients,” says Omenda, explaining that the company aims to be at the centre of shaping SMEs through the use of data to make business decision policies.