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Data: The Next Frontier

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“More data don’t guarantee better decisions. … The right data, however, do,” said Dr. Michael Hasler, program director for the business analytics Master’s program at the McCombs School of Business. The idea of “Big Data” is ubiquitous, and companies often believe they need to become part of the big data push without necessarily understanding why or how. But at the Texas Enterprise Speaker Series, Hasler reminded the audience gathered at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus that data’s real value isn’t in merely being collected, but in how it helps us make better decisions.

“Data is the new oil,” explained Hasler. “And just like oil, data in its unrefined state is really difficult to use. In its unrefined state, it’s a bunch of zeros and ones. We have to clean it and organize it in order to use it.”

Data Must Be Saved

Dr. Niall Gaffney, director of Data Intensive Computing at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin, agrees. “Data unto itself is worthless,” he said. “It’s like that junk drawer that you’ve got in the kitchen. There’s a lot of useful stuff in there — if you had it organized and set up right.”

And Gaffney knows a little bit about big data. Not only is he on the leadership team at TACC, which houses Stampede — one of the biggest supercomputers in the world — but he is also a former Hubble Space Telescope data scientist who was instrumental in the development of the Hubble Legacy Archive (HLA), a project that catalogued 23 years’ worth of Hubble images and information to make that data available for open research.

The HLA was an ambitious endeavor and one that would not have been possible had decades’ worth of researchers not made one crucial decision: to save their data. Even when the technology didn’t exist to examine it — even before they knew exactly what questions they wanted to ask of it — they preserved it.

“For data to work for you,” Gaffney explains, “you can’t lose it. … It can’t be recreated. You never know how you’re going to use it in the long run.”

Data Must Be Organized

Once scientists began combing through half a petabyte (524,288 gigabytes) worth of data that had been amassed, they noticed something surprising: While plotting supernovae in deep space, they found they were brighter than they should be at such a great distance. They deduced that the only way this could be explained was that the universe is expanding faster today than in times past.

“So when you come up with something like that, you come up with something called Dark Energy,” Gaffney said. “And when you come up with something called Dark Energy, you win one of these: a Nobel Prize.”

Gaffney’s point is simple and applicable to all fields, from astronomy and physics to business or medicine: Data saved is data used — whether today or in 20 years — and we can’t always predict how that data will be applied.

The HLA has simplified the research of three new Nobel Laureates and countless other astronomers, and it has also contributed to something you might have on your smartphone right now: Google Sky Map. During Gaffney’s time at the Space Telescope Science Institute, he and his fellow scientists approached Google and asked if the tech giant had considered turning the view of Google Earth outward,  toward space. His team, along with other groups working to collect and organize astronomical data, contributed their findings from the HLA so Google could build an accurate, responsive, and interactive view of our galaxy and beyond.

“You may think that it’s a really hard thing to put together a Google Earth — and it is — but it didn’t start as just Google Earth. It’s a complex set of simple questions that go into building these things, and how you really harness the power of data is by asking a lot of little questions that you can answer, and assembling that into a grand-scale answer,” says Gaffney.

Data Must Provide Insights

To be useful, data must be stored and organized. To be valuable, data must provide insights. Whether it’s studying deep space supernovae or analyzing consumer-buying habits, the right data enable us to make better decisions.

But the data-driven world is changing rapidly. In 1993, 100 terabytes of data were transferred over the Internet. In 2013, 200 terabytes of data were transferred across the Internet … per second. The volume, velocity, and variety of data are increasing exponentially, and this can make it very challenging to sift through and find relevant correlations that produce usable results, especially for those managers not accustomed to working with large, dynamic data sets.

But learning to do so, argues Hasler, is essential. Big data can mean big value — hundreds of billions of dollars, in fact. Geotracking and geofencing technologies, which rely on big data, has the potential to be worth $600 billion annually to the global economy. That’s the kind of decision-making power data can bring to corporations, but it also requires professionals who can do the work.

The McKinsey Global Institute reports “that there will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data” in the years ahead. How much of a shortage? By 2018, U.S. organizations will need more than 1.5 million managers and analysts who can turn data into decisions.

Hasler encourages business leaders to ask themselves the following questions before jumping blindly into the numbers:

What data do I already have?
What other data do I need?
How can I get that data?
What skills and tools do I need?
How do I protect and store my data and protect my customers’ privacy?

After all, he says, it’s not the data itself that is crucial for success — it’s knowing how and why to apply it.

“Analytics do not begin with data,” he said. “They begin with problems and opportunities.”

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About the Author

This article was written by Adrienne Dawson a writer at Texas Enterprise an organisation created to share the business and public policy knowledge created at The University of Texas at Austin with Texas and with the world. see more.

Callum Connects

Denise Mossis Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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