Not many jobs in the world require one to be well versed in areas as diverse as marketing, technology and business.
Yet, these are the skills that Mr William Chan, 37, has honed over more than a decade as a data analytics specialist.
As the director of data and analytics services at GroupM, a global advertising media company, he helps his colleagues make sense of social media and marketing trends by analysing multiple data sources.
He and his team of 10 analysts work closely with their digital marketing colleagues to understand the business requirements, which could be anything from tracking the performance of a marketing campaign to figuring out the amount of money spent across different media channels.
Then, Mr Chan pulls out the relevant data sets from the company's data store, and delivers analytics and visualisation tools that his colleagues can use whenever they need to track the performance of new marketing campaigns.
His work is not as simple as it seems, because data sets are often structured differently, so there is a need to reconcile such differences in order to make accurate and meaningful analyses.
This has become particularly important, as Mr Chan has begun venturing into predictive analytics to help clients optimise their marketing spending and target their customers better.
He made his foray into data analytics while pursuing an accountancy degree at the Nanyang Technological University, where he took a course in computer-assisted auditing, which involves using IT tools to search for irregularities in accounting.
"I found it very interesting to leverage on IT to uncover anomalies and insights by analysing huge amounts of data," said Mr Chan.
After graduating, he started his career as an IT auditor at consulting firm Ernst & Young, before joining PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) where he worked for seven years.
At PwC, he was credited with building up the company's data analytics practice to support business units that require data analytics services, to detect fraud and assess business risks for clients.
Once, he was involved in a "financial due diligence" exercise, which required him to use analytics to comb through heaps of financial data of a company that was being acquired by his client.
"It proved to be one of the most challenging projects I've undertaken so far, as I had to identify any anomaly within a span of two days," he said.
Yet, he enjoys his work because it lets him hone a wide range of skills in data analytics, technology and business. "It's the ideal combination that I've been looking for," he said.
To keep up with the evolving technology and business landscape, he said, data analytics specialists should network with their business colleagues and read widely. But more importantly, they should have a curious mind.
"You need to be curious and ask questions so you understand what the data means," he said. "If we don't interpret the data correctly, we won't be able to gain any insights to improve business performance."
He advised undergraduates, who are after a career in data analytics, to acquire broad-based skills, not just in IT and programming, but also in business and data analysis.
It is not necessary for students to acquire deep expertise in any one area, he said, as most of the learning takes place while on the job.
"For instance, they don't have to focus on programming, or even have knowledge about the media industry in our case, because they can always learn along the way," he said.
This article was first published on April 11, 2015.
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