Jobs for the future

Big data spells big opportunities here

Ms Goh, head of Citi's data innovation office in Asia, says the future is in big data. She accepted her newly created role 18 months ago. Citi is among a growing number of companies which believe that mining the data of customers is strategic to thei
Ms Goh, head of Citi's data innovation office in Asia, says the future is in big data. She accepted her newly created role 18 months ago. Citi is among a growing number of companies which believe that mining the data of customers is strategic to their business.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

In the second of a weekly series on bright spots in the economy, we look at the digital sector.

"My boss told me to bet my future on big data," said Ms Goh Sok Kim. And bet on data she did when she accepted a newly created role as head of Citi's data innovation office in Asia 18 months ago.

The banking group is one of a growing number of firms which believe that mining the data of customers, such as their feedback and past purchases, is strategic to their business.

The end goal is to better manage fraud risk, recommend products based on customers' risk appetite or preferences, and explore new customer service opportunities.

Likening her team of about 10 people to a start-up within a big organisation, Ms Goh, 48, previously Citi's head of compliance technology services in Asia, said: "We work closely with the business unit in the bank to identify their needs, develop technical proof of concept and deploy the technology."

The Singapore Government - which also recognises big data has the potential to be a growth sector that generates jobs - has urged companies to turn the wealth of data in their possession into an asset.

For retailers and mall operators, their wealth could be found in footfall data and shoppers' spending information. Analyse that, and they can better plan promotions to target the right crowd.

To that end, the Government has set aside $80 million over four years under an SMEs Go Digital Programme to help local companies with more advanced needs - such as cyber security, data analytics and artificial intelligence. Seizing opportunities in the digital economy is also a key recommendation of the Committee on the Future Economy.

Mr Daljit Sall, director of human resources firm Randstad Technologies Singapore, said the need to "make sense" of vast amounts of data that organisations accumulate through their online platforms will continue to drive the demand for data scientists, analysts and other such roles.

Randstad said it has seen demand for such big data-related roles increase by 50 per cent in Singapore over the last two years.

A survey by the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore in 2015 estimated that 53,000 new jobs in areas such as data analytics, software engineering, cyber security and digital marketing will be created by next year.

Ms Linda Teo, country manager of human resources firm ManpowerGroup Singapore, expects wages for jobs like data scientists or data analysts to go up as a result.

She said: "More people should consider data science positions as well as related positions in digital marketing and artificial intelligence."

Other factors driving up salaries for these positions in Singapore include the limited availability of skilled individuals and the restrictions on foreign talent, she added.

A 2016 ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage Survey of more than 42,000 employers globally found that such technology roles were the second hardest to fill - after skilled trades such as electricians, carpenters, welders and plumbers.

While data science roles are here to stay, new ones in areas such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the Internet of Things (IoT) will also emerge, said Mr Monty Sujanani, manager of technology projects at Robert Walters Singapore. He said: "Building the infrastructure needed for a smart city will lead to a demand for these new roles. Cities around the world, including Singapore, are transforming digitally."

IoT refers to day-to-day appliances like light bulbs, air purifiers and cameras which are connected to the Internet for remote management. They can also be programmed to turn on, for example, when the air contains contaminants or when motion is detected.

Research firm Gartner estimates the number of such devices - excluding smartphones and computers - will reach 21 billion by 2020, up from 4.9 billion last year.

Said Mr Kunasilan Gounden, head of appliance maker Dyson's connectivity software unit in South-east Asia: "Technology of the future should be intelligent enough to respond to your needs and preferences, as well as the environment."

For instance, Dyson's purifier fan can respond to a drop in indoor air quality by activating itself automatically to remove harmful pollutants. Users can also download the Dyson Link smartphone app to track indoor air quality captured by sensors embedded in the fan.

And more appliances will be intelligent enough to make autonomous decisions based on their surroundings in the future, said Mr Gounden, 49, who started working in his newly created role late last year.

More artificial intelligence software researchers and developers will also be needed to help design devices with such capabilities.

Although technical skills are the skills of the future, Citi's Ms Goh noted that softer marketing and business skills are equally important. "You need to understand the business to develop good algorithms to solve the business problem or seize the business opportunity." Agreeing, ManpowerGroup's Ms Teo said such soft skills combined with hard technical skills will make IT professionals "more marketable in the ever-changing world of work".

As minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament this month: "We don't just need techies and coders. We need people who can apply tech to the real world, to make a real difference in addressing the needs of real people."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'Big data spells big opportunities here'. Print Edition | Subscribe