Big data: It's how you use it that counts

SAS chief executive Jim Goodnight thinks smart cities can be effective only if collected data is analysed and applied.
SAS chief executive Jim Goodnight thinks smart cities can be effective only if collected data is analysed and applied.

Modern society is awash with data, but whether firms can utilise it effectively is a different matter altogether. Annabeth Leow looks at how various industry sectors here are building on data analytics to bolster growth.

For all the chatter about collecting and storing big data, the old adage seems to be true: Size does not matter as much as how you use it.

The head honcho of a global analytics firm last month gave the example of how cities around the world are now billing themselves as "smart". "If you have a sensor-based city, where you have sensors everywhere, then you have huge amounts of data that have to be analysed and put to use," SAS co-founder and chief executive Jim Goodnight noted, in a briefing on the sidelines of his firm's Analytics Experience conference in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

"There's no reason to have sensors if you're not going to analyse the data and make use of it."

The same principle applies to the business world.

Experts told The Straits Times that savvy use of data has been patchy here, with the public services more often than not taking the lead over industry.

Associate Professor James Pang, co-director of the National University of Singapore's Business Analytics Centre, says healthcare and transport are areas that have benefited."The Government did put in a lot of effort, so from the public-sector perspective, we are in very good shape."

But he adds: "For private-sector companies, especially local ones, we cannot compare with the United States or China."

He notes that while multinationals may have built analytics hubs here to tap home-grown talent, smaller enterprises "are very reliant on government policy, such as initiatives and funding".

Assistant professor of marketing Ernst Osinga from the Singapore Management University's Lee Kong Chian School of Business adds: "A barrier for Singaporean firms is that the local market is relatively small.

"Analytics requires investment. In larger markets, the required investments will be lower relative to a retailer's revenues."

Besides urban solutions, banking and finance are also relatively more mature in terms of data analytics.

Mr Paul Cobban, chief data and transformation officer at local lender DBS Bank, told ST: "Banks historically have had, and continue to have, vast amounts of data on their customers and beyond.

"What's happened over the past few years is, the cost of storing data has been reduced."

In the past, says Mr Cobban, banks were "all about lockdown and control", with an emphasis on safeguarding data - but they must now think in a new way, to use that information safely and fruitfully.

But, according to Foodpanda Singapore managing director Luc Andreani, even the new players dubbed "tech disrupters" stand to gain from streamlined processes.

The third-party food delivery marketplace, which was acquired last year by Delivery Hero, can now count on a centralised data warehouse in Berlin, Germany, and common analytics tools across all operations worldwide.

Mr Andreani says: "What we want to do is segment the data in a much better way, depending on who we send it to." For example, a restaurant marketing manager and a store manager could be looking out for very different business metrics.

"One thing that we would like to collect better is customer satisfaction after every order," he adds.

Ultimately, says SAS chief marketing officer Randy Guard, "connectivity itself is not enough", when it comes to extracting data for business use. Instead, decisions must be made as data flows into a control centre from on-site.

"With analytics and (the Internet of Things), we should also call this the Intelligence of Things," he said in a keynote address at his firm's Amsterdam conference.

"And when I talk about analytics in this world, I'm talking about streaming analytics. I'm talking about analytics at the edge."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2017, with the headline 'Big data: It's how you use it that counts'. Print Edition | Subscribe