Singapore uni buys into Microsoft's big data vision

National University of Singapore deploys SQL Server 2012 to unlock self-service business intelligence for its employees, which in turn empowers them to deliver better services for its online student learning platform.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--The National University of Singapore (NUS) today announced the successful implementation of SQL Server 2012 to give employees in its Centre for Instructional Technology (CIT) the ability to run hypotheses and validate IT proposals on a self-service basis.
This, in turn, empowered the team to better deliver content and services to the student population via its learning management system--the Integrated Virtual Learning Environment (IVLE), according to Jeffery Tay, associate director of CIT at NUS.  
In a briefing session Tuesday, Tay revealed the CIT had started thinking about big data implementation in 2010 and when it finally deployed its IT system in 2011, the IVLE usage dashboard was "static, basic and liable to data corruption". It also needed the IT team to be heavily involved in re-configuring the dashboard as and when there were new information added to it, he said, adding the system took some two years to set up and be fully functional.
By contrast, the implementation of Microsoft's SQL Server 2012 took between three to six months, he revealed. Besides cutting down on time, the Power View dashboard for IVLE usage was significantly improved in that it was easily understood, configurable and managed almost entirely by end-users, he said.
This then allows the team to run their hypotheses and back these up with concrete proposals to improve the IVLE platform, Tay added. For instance, the previous analytics dashboard did not show mobile usage among NUS' student population. With the new dashboard, CIT found out that content consumption and usage were increasingly done via mobile devices running on Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems, he said.
Backed up by hard data, the CIT was able to justify the need to create native mobile apps for the two platform, as well as a video delivery program for course content to Android mobile devices , the executive said.
Additionally, as part of its 2015 IT roadmap, CIT aims to use Microsoft's big data analytics tool to better monitor student usage of IVLE such as whether they are using it in school or at home, and to better personalize the ways students learn, Tay said.

Thailand's DSI using big data to shorten its investigation processes, and better identify suspects when a crime has been committed.

Asia adoption ramping up

The Singapore university is one of the latest in the region to sign up for Microsoft's big data offerings. Arun Ulag, Microsoft's general manager for server & tools division in Asia-Pacific, said in the same briefing session Tuesday that Thailand's Department of Special Investigation (DSI) had implemented a big data system based on SQL Server 2012 and Apache Hadoop software to more effectively retrieve and correlate different sets of information stored up in its siloed databases.
The law enforcement agency did not use to have a standard method for police officers to access information from structured and unstructured data for specific investigations, and this slowed down processes so much so that it used to take about two years to solve one case, Ulag revealed.
In the initial test phase, though, DSI imported records from 250 closed cases to simulate a large volume of investigative data. It then subjected the system to different tests and searches to evaluate its performance, and narrowed down a list of suspects that matched the actual offenders arrested in the actual crimes.
Yannaphon Youngyuen, deputy director of the DSI at Thailand's Ministry of Justice, said in a prepared statement: "With the traditional approach, it took two years to search for tips and gather and analyze data. With Microsoft's big data solution, it took only 15 days. This reassured us that implementing the system would increase the accuracy of our results while saving [our] officers' time."    
Kenneth Cukier, data editor of The Economist, added in the briefing that he believes Asia has what it takes to be a "pioneer of today's data age", and these two case studies help back up his assertions.
He said given the economic growth of the region, as well as the relative lack of legacy IT systems in many of Asia's emerging markets, this would give businesses here the space to experiment with big data applications. It also has people with good mathematic skills, which would help bolster the development of big data usage here, Cukier said.

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