Big data is Singapore's new 'natural resource'

Panelists at ZDNet Asia's Big Debate share how big data is helping Singapore, and what's holding back companies from fully tapping the potential of analytics.

Big data is Singapore’s new natural resource

SINGAPORE--Big data can help companies gain a competitive advantage, but knowing the context behind the data collection is important to avoid making spurious decisions.

"For [Singapore], it's a new natural resource--which we don't have much of," said Janet Ang, managing director of IBM Singapore. "For companies, data is the competitive advantage. We've heard that slogan for a long time, but big data will give you another level of insight."

Speaking on the panel at ZDNet Asia's Big Debate held here Wednesday, Ang added about 90 percent of the world's data right now was created in the last two years alone, reflecting the exponential increase in data creation.

Big Debate panelists

"Rubbish in, rubbish out"
The era of low hanging fruit is almost over, noted Jude Yew, assistant professor at the Department of Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore. "What you need to know is what is going on in the data. For example, the 'Like' button on Facebook , what does it actually mean?

"There's meaning behind actions that the data is capturing , that if we're not careful can lead us to make spurious conclusions. As the saying goes, 'rubbish in rubbish out'," said Yew.

The assistant professor added governments and companies should review how they designed their applications, and be aware of the possible bias in data collection and of employees.

Doubts over value, mindsets hold back potential
To help Singapore companies adopt big data technology, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) said it has taken a holistic approach as part of its 10-year masterplan called Intelligent Nation 2015 or iN2015.

This involves three areas: stimulating the demand side; growing the supply side by attracting leading vendors here; and building the necessary infrastructure to support to support the ecosystem, said Tan Eng Pheng, senior director of industry cluster group at IDA.

He also pointed out the upcoming Personal Data Protection Act reflected Singapore's commitment  to ensure data is protected. 

"We discovered that some of the industries faced difficulties in cost of adoption, had certain doubts," Tan said, adding this led to the set up of a base of shared services for the retail sector to help lower the cost of adoption.

Still, despite the advancement and accessibility of the technology, getting the most of big data boils down to the employee mindset, pointed out James Woo, CIO of healthcare services provider, The Farrer Park Company.

"They are afraid if they adopt this tool, there is a demand for them to drive up the topline. Hence they back off from the technology. It's about people, and convincing the business to sponsor [such deployments]," Woo said, noting the need to demonostrate to the management team the merits of big data analytics.