Big data set for big growth in Singapore

Data scientist Goh Chi Keong and his team at engine maker Rolls-Royce turn business questions into data analytics problems - that can be solved through quantitative analysis of huge amounts of data.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

While he does not get grease on his fingers, data scientist Goh Chi Keong, 37, has a hand in many products at engine maker Rolls-Royce.

Behind the scenes, his team turns business questions into data analytics problems - that can be solved through quantitative analysis of huge amounts of data.

In the engine design stage, for instance, he was able to use data to optimise designs.

As the research and technology team lead, he also has to be on the lookout for new technology that can be rolled out in the company.

Mr Goh is looking forward to working on even more challenging problems that stretch across multiple business units. "I love getting my hands dirty," he said.

He is one of a growing number of data scientists in Singapore over the past decade, as server technology gets cheaper and more companies mine data to find ways to boost their competitive edge.

The data analytics sector is expected to contribute at least $1 billion to the economy per year by next year, said Mr Kiren Kumar, executive director for infocomm and media at the Economic Development Board.

"As more companies go digital, they will need to better leverage digital assets and will require the right talent to help them achieve their digital vision," he said.

There were more than 2,000 data analysts working here in 2014, according to the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA). Nearly a third more will be needed over the coming three years.

Around two in three work in non-infocomm companies, said an IDA spokesman. These include banks, telcos and high-tech manufacturing companies.

For example, DBS Bank ran a data experiment to test whether it is more effective to offer a promotion when a customer buys a plane ticket, or to offer it to a segment of customers close to the travel season.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital's team of three data scientists worked with IDA's Government Digital Services team to create a model which predicts the risk of patients having the bacteria MRSA when they are admitted to wards before any physical tests, so that early infection control precautions can be taken.

The 10 data analysts at online shopping platform Lazada have worked on customising offers to suit customers' preferences in e-mail campaigns, and automating the measurement of image quality across the website. The latter is done to ensure most of the image space is taken up by a product and not white space, so the images are more attractive.

With the use of data analytics multiplying, other jobs related to data are also in demand. A total of 13,179 data processing jobs were posted on online hiring portal in the second quarter of last year, with another 23,242 posts for data entry.

To cater to the demand, polytechnics have stepped up to the plate, with new diploma and part-time specialist diploma courses in big data management launched. Demand for places in computing degree courses is also on the rise, this paper previously reported.

IDA has also worked with e-learning platform Coursera to fund the fees for Singaporeans who complete a massive open online course on data science and analytics run by Johns Hopkins University.

Said Mr Thia Kai Xin, 28, a Lazada employee and one of the course's facilitators: "The field keeps expanding. Every few months we see new technology, new tools, new algorithms.

"They can be applied to many industries," he added. "Hopefully whatever I do can help people."

This article was first published on Jan 12, 2016. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.