Small players slow to adopt big data

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 9, 2017.
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KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC) is concerned over the low level of big data analytics (BDA) adoption among small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country.

Chief executive officer Datuk Yasmin Mahmood said SMEs need to start adopting BDA in their operations in order to survive in the exponentially growing data-centric economy, or face the risk of getting left behind.

“Business owners need to understand that it is no longer an option — getting the value out of data is a must for the survival of their business and to remain competitive,” she told The Edge Financial Daily.

“Currently, [the adoption of data analytics in businesses] is not enough; we are still in a nascent stage. And in a way, that worries me,” she added.

Whether it is to increase productivity and revenue, or reduce costs, or even create new business models, adopting data as a value creation tool for added competitive edge is crucial for companies to become a data-driven organisation, she said.

Yasmin noted that at present, financial services institutions and telecommunications companies in Malaysia are leading at this stage, having the realisation of the significance of data analytics and making serious efforts on that end.

“What worries me the most are the mid-tier companies, and they are the ones in key industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, and retail and distribution in which we know that the impact of data analytics is so compelling,” she said.

Yasmin dispelled the notion that a big investment is necessary in order to start adopting BDA. She pointed out that in the world of cloud technology, companies need not invest so much in hardware or systems such as a local area network or a massive server.

“As an example, for the people in our e-usahawan programme, we are teaching them data analytics that’s coming from Google analytics and Facebook analytics. [From there] they can analyse consumer patterns and selling patterns. [There is] no need to invest in hardware; you can just go into [the] cloud computing system,” she said.

For corporates, on the other hand, Yasmin said most companies already have multiple data that are residing in their various departments and business units, and so it is a matter of utilising them for better business decision-making process.

Yasmin said companies such as Gamuda Bhd and UMW Holdings Bhd are currently migrating their operations to digital platforms for data collection which will then be pumped into a data analytics engine for predictive maintenance.

“For instance, AirAsia is a company that has gone to global leadership because they fully optimise data and they are one of the first airline companies [in the region] to be able to provide low-cost flights. So data as a competitive advantage is becoming so apparent,” she added.

According to Yasmin, MDEC has been working closely with industry players to be the bridge that can match them to technology solution providers according to their business needs. With this, she hopes to increase the conversation surrounding BDA so that more innovations can be achieved.

“We’ve got to be very clear about what is the business outcome and then from there, link them up with the various technologies [that are available].

“That is the kind of conversation we want to have more with the business community, where we explain ‘if you do this and spend this much amount of money, it’s going to give you this kind of return’. That is what we are trying to achieve in this space,” she added.

At the moment, Yasmin believes that investing in human capital is of utmost importance for companies which are interested to embark on BDA. For starters, companies should start setting up a new team consisting of the different business units from where the data is collected. Thereafter, data analysts can understand the business value of the company and will then get better analysis for forecasting and predictive measures.

“The value of the data will be coming from the different business units. So you cannot just put somebody there and let the person become the chief data officer but do not have the access to all the various business units, as if it is an isolated unit by itself. That’s not going to work,” she added.