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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.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

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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