Bridging the data-literacy divide


13 minute read

Bartolomeo Badalassi is an alumnus of the ANU College of Business and Economics (CBE) and a Founding Director of BBMT Consulting, a Canberra-based data consultancy specialising in data strategies, advanced analytics, data storytelling and building digital capability. His professional experience has spanned multiple public and private sectors. In this interview, he shares his extensive industry know-how and reflects on how his experience at The Australian National University (ANU) has shaped his career path.

Q. Can you tell us about your career path and what led you to establishing BBMT Consulting?

After completing four years of Actuarial Studies at CBE, I found myself at a crossroad regarding where I should apply for my first professional job. On one hand, I knew I didn’t want to work in an industry which involved talking about mortality and morbidity rates all day. On the other, I didn’t want my study and newly acquired skills to go to waste. I then came across Quantium, a data science firm, who were exclusively hiring actuarial graduates for data analytical roles. At the last round of interviews their work appeared varied, the culture seemed great and considering one of my favourite classes was Graphical Data Analysis, it was the perfect fit. I was fortunate enough to secure my first job in their Sydney head office.

I worked as an analyst at Quantium for just under two and a half years. During that time, I learned my first coding language, applied predictive models to customer data and got my first taste of presenting results to decision makers. As my enthusiasm for data grew, I began to look for overseas opportunities and decided to move to London. Once in the UK, I established my own data consultancy and won contracts with two companies: Argos, a multi-channel retailer, and Farfetch, an online fashion-retail platform. That was where I transitioned from an analyst to a consultant, as I led multiple European teams through various data-driven projects. After two years in the UK, I knew I wanted to return home and use my skills to help Australians, rather than just increase profits for large companies. An opportunity then presented itself to work for a boutique property group in Asia. It was too good to pass by, and, more importantly, on the way home. I returned in 2018 and it was then that BBMT Consulting was born in my hometown of Canberra.

I didn’t view taking a chance on my own brand as a massive risk because I was already doing the work, and I knew the demand for data skills was not slowing down anytime soon. In addition, I didn’t have any substantial financial responsibilities. I rationalised the ‘leap’ of starting BBMT by knowing if it all went sour, I’d simply apply for a data role somewhere and would have forgone a few years in salary. That way, I wouldn’t be left wondering one day “What if…?”

It’s hard to compare Australia's data maturity with other countries in the broad sense as pockets of excellence have existed everywhere.

Q. Compared to Australia, what were some of the differences you noticed when working with data overseas?

My international experience highlighted the vast differences in data maturity between companies. I experienced both ends of the spectrum, from working with data-science teams optimising digital marketing campaigns, to supporting a property group transitioning to online bookings.

The companies who were in the mature stage of their data journey all practiced established and effective data governance. They were focused on connecting rather than collecting data, employed technical personnel from other countries, constantly trialled new technologies and placed a strong emphasis on data storytelling as a skillset. Most people in these organisations appreciated the value of data, understood roles and responsibilities and followed set policies and processes to ensure data quality. Daily calls would involve developers from Portugal or Belarus, who produced amazingly quick and quality work (emphasising the importance of skillsets). These companies were constantly on the lookout for new products – I recall reproducing one dashboard four times in Power BI, Tableau, Qlik and Looker, to compare efficacy and overall aesthetics. Investment in their people and culture was another common trait. Internal training, knowledge-sharing sessions, brainstorming days and lunchtime speakers was the workplace environment norm – cultivating a data-driven culture through various initiatives.

Companies who were in the earlier stages of their data journey seemed to be more focused on collecting data (which was always siloed) and diverted any data work to the IT team. Rarely, if ever, did they seem interested to invest in growing internal capability. While they may have achieved some small, quick wins with pockets of analytics, scaling these were always a struggle. This IT-driven approach to data represented a tangible disconnect between the data and business value it could create. IT employees were constantly bombarded with data extract requests for reporting, which pushed any real, value-driven insight work out of reach. In addition, there was never time to upgrade legacy systems or re-engineer processes (some still running VBA scripts on a machine overnight for ETL processes). To most, the word ‘data’ represented something scary and was automatically put in the ‘too-hard’ basket.

Data maturity is not bound by geographical borders but rather by the efforts and knowledge of individuals within organisations. As a result, it’s hard to compare Australia with other countries in the broad sense as pockets of excellence existed everywhere in my experiences.

There’s a data literacy divide between the scientific community, the media and the public. The concern arises when agencies only communicate headline figures.

Q. The general population has been overwhelmed with the amount of data related to COVID-19. What are your thoughts on this and what can be done to help everyday Australians make sense of it all?

There’s a data literacy divide between the scientific community, the media and the public. The concern arises when agencies only communicate headline figures without properly communicating the uncertainty behind the numbers, or even relay how these statistics were calculated in the first instance. This practice can downplay the severity of the pandemic and cause people to ignore public health advice, potentially negatively affecting the lives of not only themselves but many others.

Awareness of this uncertainty, along with practical tips when reading an article, is basically all the public need to help navigate the flood of COVID-19 data. To assist in communicating this uncertainty, BBMT released 30 days of COVID-19 related Data Literacy Bytes. Each byte is a mini deep-dive into one element of COVID-19 data, providing readers with practical data-literacy tips to use and apply in their own lives. Our goal is to empower Australian citizens to comfortably interpret and assess these statistics in the context of their own decision-making.

My degree provided me with an advantage over other applicants when applying for graduate roles as ANU is a well renowned brand among employers.

Q. How did your degree at ANU prepare you for your career?

Apart from the highly valuable degree I gained at ANU, it’s also about the people you meet and the friendships formed. The networking benefits that followed was another bonus. ANU provided me with the opportunity to meet and work with many like-minded people, many of whom I still call my closest friends today. I met Myles, my Business Partner, on the first day, in the first year of Actuarial Studies and now we run a business together. I also met Roman Kashkarov in my first few days on campus. He passed on my CV when I applied at Quantium. Rifat Mridha is another close friend who I met at ANU. We both ended up working for the same company in London. Abinash Khanal, another fellow Actuarial student, and I have joined forces to win work with the Federal Government here in Canberra. You never know whom you’ll meet throughout your studies, and what impact they may have on your career path in the future. ANU assisted in establishing these connections, which have been beneficial to my career, but, even more importantly, are and will continue to be a very valued part of my personal life. 

ANU also prepared me for my career in various other ways: The competitive atmosphere taught me to always complete my work to the highest degree. ANU also gave me the opportunity to work with people I otherwise wouldn’t have. My degree provided me with an advantage over other applicants when applying for graduate roles as the ANU as a brand is well renowned among employers. ANU also allowed me to study abroad at one of the top universities in California, The University of Southern California, for a fraction of the cost. My four years at ANU also helped me realise I didn’t want to become an Actuary which greatly assisted in shaping my career.


Please click here to watch a COVID-19 Data Literacy video recently released by BBMT Consulting.

The ANU College of Business and Economics offers an extensive range of specialised programs. Click here for more details.