Data analytics skills will be in even higher demand in Australia after Telstra and AI-based analytics firm Quantium finalised a partnership that will apply artificial intelligence (AI) techniques across its products, services, and customer interactions.

The new joint venture – which will operate under the name Quantium Telstra and be helmed by former Telstra data and AI product executive Sandy Cameron – will tap Quantium’s data analytics expertise to identify the new opportunities posed by processing data from technologies like 5G-connected IoT sensors.

“In a world of disruption, making sense of complex data sets quickly and securely is a must for businesses,” Telstra group executive for product and technology Kim Krogh Andersen said as the finalised venture was announced.

Applying data driven AI techniques to supply chain operations, for example, can improve demand forecasting, capacity planning and route optimisation.

The joint venture – which will also engage Telstra’s 2,000-strong Telstra Purple consulting services arm – will initially target mining, energy, agriculture, and government sectors with a range of AI services designed to “deliver better business outcomes for our customers,” Krogh Andersen said, calling the delivery of end-to-end data and AI services “a multi-billion-dollar opportunity in Australia”.

Quantium – an Australian firm and global operator that is majority owned by Woolworths Group – already has a roster of Australian clients, in recent years cementing partnerships such as a TV advertising partnership with Fetch TV and Adgile, and an analytics partnership with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia that saw the creation of that firm’s new CommBank iQ division.

Partnering with Australia’s largest telecommunications company offers a “unique ‘whole of tech stack’ proposition”, Quantium CEO Adam Driussi said, lauding the benefits of combining that company’s data science and AI expertise with Telstra’s network, IoT, cloud and edge solutions.

“Quantium is known for offering Australian data science professionals the most diverse and exciting career experiences around,” Driussi said. “This partnership further enhances the opportunities for our people to apply their skills to ground-breaking work across a wide range of industry sectors.”

Finalisation of the joint venture comes a year after the two companies first announced their intention to work together in a partnership that, then CEO Andy Penn said at the time, would “not only provide personalised and data-enabled products and offers for Telstra’s customers, [but] also embed proactive and predictive AI and machine learning across Telstra’s core business” to support tasks such as identification of fraudulent activity or making “enhanced credit decisions”.

It was intended as a key enabler of the company’s T25 growth plan, which was announced at the company’s Investor Day last year and focused the company’s activities around goals such as providing “an exceptional customer experience you can count on”.

Scrabbling for analytics skills

Asia-Pacific companies’ spending on big data and analytics is expected to grow 19 per cent this year and grow by 17 per cent annually through 2025, IDC recently predicted – although other figures suggest Australian companies are falling behind in the global rush to embrace analytics.

Those embracing data-driven customer analytics need to be careful about how much data, and which data, they collect – a point that was driven home as millions of Australians’ personal details were compromised in the recent Medibank and Optus data breaches.

Telstra’s recently announced leak of more than 130,000 customer details won’t improve its reputation for privacy, either – and that’s something companies need to keep in mind when they seek to increase their analytics investments.

“Personalisation and context are important, but there is a limit,” Gartner senior principal, advisory Andrew Schumacher recently warned, noting that 7 in 10 customers are trying to share less data with companies.

“Service and support leaders should be careful as to how much data they use to personalise the customer experience,” he said, warning that each additional data dimension that is collected increases the ‘creepiness index’ that those customers experience.

“Limiting each insight to one or two data dimensions gives the opportunity to improve the service experience,” he advised, “while limiting the negative impact that a heightened concern for privacy can bring.”

Finding the right balance between analytics and privacy is likely to be an ongoing issue for Telstra Quantium, which launches into a market that is screaming out for skilled data analytics professionals.

High demand for one of the hottest jobs of tomorrow has pushed Australian data scientist salaries into the $120,000 to $180,000 range, employment firm Hays recently noted, with the number of jobs in the field expected to grow 11 per cent by 2024.

“With a skills shortage and attractive career prospects, a career in the data science sector is likely to be a profitable one,” Hays IT ANZ managing director Adam Shapley noted. “The impact that rapid digitisation is having on the data science sector is far-reaching and, as a result, these roles and skillsets are in high demand.”