In 1988 I founded Data Analysis Australia to provide consulting services in statistics and mathematics. At the start the company was myself, working from home, very thankful for the support from my wife and fellow director Cheryl Praeger, and wishing I had a client! But from the beginning my aim was to establish a company that would be much more than myself and would provide a comprehensive service across Australia. In one sense it was an easy goal to set – it was the goal of Siromath, a company set up by CSIRO in 1981 where I first learnt commercial consulting.
Looking back now over the past 30 years I can see that, through the hard work of many people, that aim has been achieved.
1988 was an exciting time for statistics. The revolution of personal computers, something that today we take for granted, was making a small scale statistical consulting company feasible. Having a 14Mhz PC computer with a then massive 40 MB hard disk meant that we could do reasonable types of analysis that were beyond the resources of many clients. In the early days the company emphasised “Statistics Mathematics Software”, since it was often necessary to program some analyses in Fortran. I even recall for one project writing a Fortran program to directly generate Postscript graphics. I had an advantage of many years developing statistical software.
However the first project did not involve any data – it was a statistical modelling of an early underwater communications system. The client benefited by finding out that the capacity of their system was going to be much less than they expected well before they had developed it to a test stage – an illustration of how theoretical analysis can give major practical benefits.
The first years’ growth was not fast. Our vision was to provide high quality services in a commercially viable manner. Learning to run a company took time and we were breaking new ground in many ways. My training as a statistician did not cover accounting and legal issues of business. My caution was justified – Siromath collapsed financially at the end of 1989, removing a competitor but demonstrating that being good statisticians and mathematicians was not enough.
My first employee was a family friend Pia Fogaty, who provided part-time assistance to run the office during 1989. My first full-time employee was Patsy Malone (now Patsy DiPrinzio), who joined as a Consultant Statistician in 1991 immediately after graduating from the University of Western Australia. That was also the year in which we moved into offices at 154 Hampden Road. That began a period of expansion, winning contracts with large clients such as Crown Law and the State Energy Commission.
From the beginning, Data Analysis Australia often collaborated with other consulting firms. One early large project was the Western Australian Travel Survey where we worked with Insight Research between 1989 and 1992. This project began our work in tourism and various forms of travel survey, areas that we continue to work in today. It was at that time that we established links with Economic Research Associates, a company that we shared offices with, first in Hampden Road and now in Broadway. Later on we also invited Economics Consulting Services to share our space. These links led to many joint projects, with the collaborations continuing to today.
In 1990 we took on our first legal matter, acting as an expert witness in a high profile court action between two large insurers where a major point was the validity of survey evidence. Every day during a six week trial, statistical and survey design points were reported daily in the West Australian, something unusual for that paper then as now! Again, this led to a new area of work and now Data Analysis Australia almost always has several active legal projects.