Big data is a massive volume of structured and unstructured data. Businesses and brands generate this by the second. The trick is to unlock its value. By harnessing smart analytics, data from disparate sources can be integrated, analysed and translated into insights such as consumer behaviour and buying patterns which can be mapped to actionable business strategies.
The Infocomm Media 2025 masterplan, Singapore’s road map for the ICT sector over the next 10 years, ranks big data as a key strategic thrust for the nation. Indeed, it is reshaping the way governments and businesses operate and helping to uncover insights that could drive engagement with citizens and customers, and ultimately help Singapore businesses stay ahead of the competition.
Some trends have emerged that will drive big data even bigger, making for huge impact on the way we live, work and play.
First, sensors are increasingly being installed in smart homes, connected cars, intelligent buildings and transport systems. These systems link up to form part of the Internet of Things (IoT) and generate an unparalleled amount of data which, on its own, is almost random, but with the help of data analytics, can be translated into meaningful insights for predictive maintenance, product optimisation and remote monitoring.
Second, enterprises are increasing adopting robotics and automated systems to improve productivity, and big data analytics have the potential to allow robots to understand and operate in significantly more complex environments.
A third trend is consumers turning to digital assistant technologies such as Cortana, Google Now, Siri, and Amazon, event crowd-sourced data such as online reviews, and wearables such as smart watches and fitness bands, to help them make informed choices. In the same way, corporations can use these metrics to understand what consumers want and customise information that is most relevant to each individual.
Data provides endless potential for all industries
According to the International Institute for Analytics, by 2020, companies making meaningful use of data can expect to see US$430 billion in productivity benefits compared to their competitors who don’t. It is thus not surprising that big data and analytics are pervading just about any industry from manufacturing and transportation to retail and healthcare.
Take the retail industry. Online shopping, social media and mobile applications are bringing about rapid transformation. Massive transaction volumes, online conversations and consumer behaviour generate data sets which can be captured and analysed to provide valuable insights into consumer preferences and shape business strategies.
Manufacturing is another industry which has benefitted from data analytics. Data-centred product design can potentially cut costs and ensure alignment to customer needs. Data analytics also brings greater efficiency to shop floor operations. Insights on the physical fabrication process can help reduce product defects. For example, Harley Davidson tracks fan speed in its motorcycle painting areas and algorithmically adjusts the fans based on environmental fluctuations.
Businesses can also use big data analytics to enable better decision-making in the supply chain. A Supply Chain Analytics Lab set up by A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) and Antuit Pte Ltd looks into areas such as demand
disruption prediction, risk analysis, mitigation and monitoring to address problems associated with complex supply chains.
In banking, large amounts of structured data are captured and challenges lie in integrating this with unstructured data, such as customers’ interactions with the bank on social channels, and then translating this into a tailored one-to-one engagement that provides a better customer experience. Banks are jumping onto the fintech bandwagon globally and in Singapore. DBS, UOB, Standard Chartered, are all investing in fintech labs to innovate and create differentiated products and services. DBS’ joint lab with A*STAR’s Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R) aims to leverage data analytics and co-develop commercial and executable solutions and products in mobile technology, social platforms and other leading-edge technologies which are designed around the customer.
Taking Small Steps To Big Data
Smaller local enterprises may feel ill-equipped to adopt big data technologies or deterred by the perceived high investments involved. They may also not know where or how to begin. But harnessing the true value of big data need not be a daunting affair.
Companies can start off by taking an internal pulse check to identify their topmost business needs. For example, productivity may be an area of concern and specific sets of data, such as the time taken at each stage of production could be analysed to provide insights to alleviate this. To boost sales, the relationship between sets of data such as customer demographics and purchasing behaviour could also be examined to shed light on customer preferences and make more accurate market projections for targeted marketing.
Bearing in mind these business needs and problem statements, companies can then determine the big data technologies required and consider adopting a ready solution available on the market or tapping on the services of big data companies, making cost-benefit evaluation of the various options. Big data software and services are more affordable and scalable now as they can be delivered over the cloud. Greater competition is also driving costs down. To help defray the initial investments, another option is to collaborate with other industry players to develop big data solutions to common problem statements.
Partnering for Big Data Success
Local enterprises across different industries can tap on the capabilities at agencies such as the IDA and A*STAR to innovate and adopt technologies, including big data analytics. A*STAR’s commercialisation arm, Exploit Technologies (ETPL) actively works with Singapore companies to encourage technology adoption, as well as co-develop new products and services.
For example, tapping on the data analytics capabilities at A*STAR’s Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC), a local SME in the business of designing and manufacturing components for data centres worked with IHPC to co-develop a light-weight, energy efficient rack structure. The improved product could dissipate heat more effectively, leading to lower server temperature and energy consumption. The success of the product led the team to expand their collaboration from data racks to other components, such as better chimneys and fans that add further value to its data centre customers. This in turn, boosted the SME’s competiveness against Chinese and Indian manufacturers.
Big data and analytics are also integral to Singapore’s smart nation vision and much progress has been made in the last few years to establish the backbone infrastructure and capabilities to achieve this. Here, there are opportunities for home grown big data companies. The Government will be calling for infrastructure upgrades and security contracts as part of Singapore's smart nation initiative. By enrolling in IDA’s Accreditation scheme, these companies have a better chance of landing new contracts to co-create digital solutions for Singapore.
For more information on A*STAR ready technologies for SMEs, contact A-STAR_SME@a-star.edu.sg or visit http://www.a-star.edu.sg/sme/
- Prof Tan Sze Wee, Executive Director, Science and Engineering Research Council,
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) -