Gelato on Friday? App can suggest eateries you'd like

Singapore is becoming a leader in data analytics and agencies such as the Economic Development Board have been working to establish this position. Capabilities in this field will create economic value and jobs. Arti Mulchand talks to three people working in the sector.

Confronted by a dizzying array of options, a diner turns to SingTel's online dining guide (HGW).

Within seconds, he is shown some of the best Vietnamese restaurants Singapore has to offer.

That Vietnamese food - his favourite - was recommended is not coincidental. It is just what some data crunchers in SingTel's Exeter Road office hoped to achieve.

While still in its testing phase, new algorithms built into the Singapore site will soon be able to remember things like a person's food preferences. It could also "know" that a particular user likes Vietnamese food on Saturdays and gelatos on Sunday afternoons, says 27-year-old Anthony Chow, lead personalisation data scientist with SingTel Group Digital Life.

"It sifts out the few from the tens of thousands of possible restaurants that the user might like.

"These days, people really only have 15 seconds or so of tolerance when they use an app to make a decision," he says.

These algorithms are already being used on HGW's site in Malaysia, and there are plans to extend them to Singapore soon.

Mr Chow's department drives the development of other lifestyle products based on the application of data analytics, including games app store WePlay. It is also involved in location-based deals such as SGMalls, presenting relevant games or deals based on past gaming or buying behaviour.

His interest in the area was a natural progression from a childhood filled with detective novels, unravelling mysteries about the universe, and, generally, "uncovering truths".

As Singapore's largest telecommunications company, SingTel is a veritable playground for truths. It has data on user location, demographics, interests - captured when you use the apps - and even insights into a person's social network based on his texts and calls.

Mr Chow, an Infocomm Development Authority scholarship recipient who joined SingTel last year, did his degree in electrical and electronic engineering at Imperial College London. He then did his master's at Stanford University, specialising in data mining. There, he discovered a love for software, spending his free time building algorithms that, for instance, matched recruiters to job-seekers.

His advice to people looking to join the sector is this: "This is a multidisciplinary sector and it is impossible to know everything.

"Always be on the lookout for being able to do something different that brings value."

This article was first published on Oct 27, 2014.

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