Correspondent's Take

CFE report: Seeing the big picture with data mining

The call to turn the wealth of data in companies' possession into an asset is loud and clear.

For retailers and mall operators, their wealth could be found in footfall data and shoppers' spending information.

For telcos, it could be the websites that consumers regularly visit to buy goods.

Analyse that, and retailers and mall operators can better plan promotions to target the right crowd. Telcos, too, can better profile their broadband users to allow marketers to target the right segment of consumers.

The most prominent success in data mining is found in Uber and Grab, whose ride-hailing mobile services have changed the transport sector.

The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), given the task of coming up with a blueprint for economic growth, cited Uber and Grab to show how data can be used to break new ground. Their apps make use of data such as commuters and drivers' locations to accurately predict how soon a ride will be available. The apps also efficiently match demand for rides with supply, and optimise routes by allowing commuters heading in the same direction to share rides.

The CFE, which released its report yesterday, recommended that the Government create a dedicated programme office to help companies mine their data.

 

The objective: Co-develop flagship data science projects with the private sector to solve real-world problems, which can in turn inspire others to do the same.

Only then can Singapore companies be ready to tap new growth opportunities amid global uncertainties.

If data is the new "oil" of the 21st century, then Singapore has placed its bets in the right place. The only question is: Do we have enough data scientists to take us there?

Singapore is reportedly expected to find itself short of a total of 30,000 technology specialists - including some 11,000 software developers - by this year.

The CFE rightly pointed out that training is key to see the plan reach fruition. It suggested that the Government build joint laboratories with companies to develop data analytics capabilities.

The committee also recommended that full-time national servicemen be trained to develop niche skills in cyber security so that they are ready to plug the skills gap when they enter the workforce.

If the proposal is accepted, it will be a strategic move. It sends a signal that cyber security is to economic growth what national service training is to national security.

Data must be protected to instil trust, which is key to the Singapore brand in the future economy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2017, with the headline 'Seeing the big picture with data mining'. Print Edition | Subscribe