Big data, analytics key play for SingTel

Singapore telco believes business intelligence will be a pillar of future growth, driven by the opportunities opened up by trends such as urbanization and "smart" cities.
Written by Ryan Huang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Southeast Asia's largest telco SingTel says analytics and big data will be a "big play" for the company and are important for its future growth.

Bill Chang, CEO of group enterprise at SingTel, said with the need to do things more efficiently based on information and communication, particularly in urbanized "smart" cities, new business models will emerge.

In a media briefing here on Thursday, Chang noted IT will be tapped to ensure sustainability and efficiency for a growing population and cities with over-burdened systems. In these regions, there are massive amounts of data generated because of more smart machines "talking" to each other, sensory networks, mobile workers, and rising adoption of social networks--which can be mined for real-time insights.

"Take China's transport for example, we will need to know where the chokepoints are when people travel especially during peak holidays as there are massive amounts of people involved," he explained, adding real-time information and analytics are needed.

Chang added other areas which will also contribute to the rise of big data include healthcare, education, government and financial services.  

For the education sector, he revealed SingTel would be introducing a cloud-based voice analytics service that would allow schools to conduct oral linguistics tests and grade the students instantly.

"Previously, a class of 40 students would have to queue up to take their examinations one by one, but now they can do it any time, from anywhere, with our voice-analysis software," the executive explained.

He added SingTel was currently in talks with research houses to bolster its analytics capabilities, but declined to comment on possible acquisitions. The telco has gone on a buying spree this year to snap up companies such as U.S. mobile advertising firm Amobee and restaurant review site HungryGoWhere.

Identifying key trends (source: SingTel presentation slides)

Building cloud momentum

SingTel is also transforming all of its core communication services to build on its momentum for cloud services and toward a direction of everything-as-a-service (EaaS), Chang said.

"In the future, all services should be decomposed into bite-sized portions so that it can be dynamically provisioned and consumed. Gone are the days of high capital expenditure," the executive noted.

To that end, SingTel has launched a slew of ICT products targeted at small and midsize businesses (SMBs) to "help them in these challenging times".

It introduced new features such as a virtual marketplace, called Trading Board, hosted on its MyBusiness online resource portal, targeting smaller companies though it is accessible to the general public. This platform allows SMBs to join others to bulk-buy services and products, pitch for businesses or take up job tenders, he said.

There is also an online library of government grants from different agencies designed to help SMBs more easily look up what is available for them, which has long been a pain point for them, the executive pointed out.

SingTel hopes by offering these free services on the portal, visitors who are non-customers will eventually take up its services.

Hedging against Asia slowdown
Amid the slowing global economy, Chang noted some companies' IT budgets have been affected but SingTel's range of enterprise products should help shore its performance during a sustained downturn and offset any potential losses from other segments.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) was an example of a growth sector that helped the company tide over the financial crisis in 2008, he pointed out, adding the segment posted its strongest gains then.

There have also been some concerns from customers over whether SingTel used Huawei Technologies' equipment in its cloud stack, recounted Chang, in response to queries from ZDNet Asia over the current scrutiny over the Chinese telecoms equipment vendor in Australia and the U.S.

To this, he said: "We don't use any Huawei equipment in our cloud stack, or any Chinese vendor as yet. Customers have asked, and we have been upfront about it."
"With this feedback, certainly it's caused us to be very careful on that," the executive added.

However, according to SingTel, Huawei equipment is used in other parts of the telco's communications infrastructure.

In March this year, SingTel had moved 500 jobs to Sino Huawei, which it had contracted to manage its copper-based voice and data network for five years starting June 2012.

It had then explained the transfer was part of restructuring efforts to move from a carriage-based telco to a multimedia company.

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