Are data analytics companies able to serve the ‘multi-faced’ Asian customers?

  • There is a need for unique approaches to harness and deliver value in Asia
  • There are still gaps in the demand and supply of data analytics services

Are data analytics companies able to serve the ‘multi-faced’ Asian customers?Data analytics is on the rise in Asia but are the data analytics service providers able to serve the ‘multi-faced’ Asian customers? In an exclusive interview with DNA, Arun Sundar, chief strategy officer at TrustSphere and the chair of Emerging technologies Group in Asia Cloud Computing Association (ACCA), Singapore, discusses the findings of a data analytics study encompassing the Asia Pacific region.

THE Asia Cloud Computing Association (ACCA) launched a whitepaper titled ‘Data Analytics to Bridge Knowledge Gaps: An ACCA White Paper on Supply and Demand for Big Data Analytics in Asia Pacific’ in mid-October in Singapore. 

With the Marina Bay as the backdrop, the evening was marked by the austere presence of business leaders from across Asia including technology providers, business CXOs, members of the media, private equity, trade bodies, and policymakers.

When Arun Sundar (pic, right), chief strategy officer at TrustSphere and the chair of Emerging technologies Group in Asia Cloud Computing Association (ACCA), Singapore, announced the results of this study, it made some very interesting revelations.

It was a unique and a first of its kind study in Apac. The survey was carried out across the Asia-Pacific region amongst 25 companies and data analytics service providers, including the likes of Google, Telstra, and Cisco, among others.

Primarily, the study revealed that even though Asian companies find analytics key to staying competitive (62% of companies surveyed said they used data analytics),  there are still gaps in the demand and supply of data analytics services: a kind of a mismatch between what customers are looking for and what they are being offered.

For example, according to the survey results, on the demand side, “analytics users see the cost of procuring analytics services as the greatest barrier; on the supply side, analytics providers believe that the greatest barrier is the prospective users’ lack of awareness on how to execute analytics services and the lack of skilled analytics employees”.

Similarly, current and prospective users of analytics demand greater customisation of analytics services and interfaces. Are they getting this level of customisation from the analytics vendors?

What is the importance of this Asia Pacific-wide study and what are the implications of its findings for the analytics vendors and Asian business? To understand this, we reached out to Sundar who had led this study for ACCA. Here is the transcript of the interview. 

1. What was the main objective behind commissioning this work of research on data analytics and cloud adoption in Asia Pacific?

The Emerging technologies Group in ACCA which I chair, is a thank-tank of the best practitioners in APJ, which constantly keeps a watch on the disruptive technologies and their adoption rates in Asia and works towards bringing the eco-system together in lines with this.

Through dialogues with the industry and users, we noted a trend where the demand and direction for data analytics was not synchronous with the supply side’s thinking, understanding and preparedness. Given that 60% of world population lives in Asia, its potential in leveraging analytics cannot be over-stated. 

Hence we were convinced that it makes sense to do a deeper examination of the issues with a 360 degree approach touching not just users and service providers, but the entire technology eco-system and come up with recommendations. The fact that such a comprehensive study bringing together the entire eco-system was completely absent added merit to the initiative.

Are data analytics companies able to serve the ‘multi-faced’ Asian customers?2. At the launch of the whitepaper, you commented that Asian businesses are yet to make a leap to data-driven analytics adoption and there is a need for mindset change. Can you please elaborate on this?

The business and organisational culture as a whole in Asia has been a hierarchical one. The average tenure of CEOs in APJ far outweighs that of the west. The super-fast growth that Asian economies have been witnessing sealed the belief in the ‘wisdom’ of the top brass in organisations. However, the business functions, like marketing, HR, operations, customer management etc, have understood and fast leveraging the value of data analytics.

In essence, business functions are data/analytics driven but organisations are still not. This is the mindset change, which is needed and I foresee that being driven by the business unit heads. A slowing economic trend coupled with tangible success stories are starting be catalysts in this transformation.

3. What, according to you, are the top three findings of the report?

There are quite a few. However the top three would be as follows:

(a) As stated in my earlier answer, business functions are data and analytics driven but organisations are still not. This is the mindset change, which is needed.

(b) There is a gap in understanding the ‘adoption issue’. While service providers thought the top issues were skill gaps, data gaps and gap in understanding the potential value analytics could provide, the users thought it was about helping them with a convincing RoI (return on investment) model, customisation of the value proposition to suit the Asian businesses and hand-holding in identifying data sources to tap into. The need to align/help the ‘multi-faced’ Asian customer was very profound.

4.  That’s very interesting, and it caught the attention of a lot of guests during the launch when you said that – what did you mean by ‘multi-faced customer’?

What I saw was that when service providers talk about ‘customers’ they have only one persona in mind – a CEO/CFO/BU Head/IT, etc.  They rate a user’s capability to understand value, implement, sign the cheque, etc., attached to one persona. However, that is mostly not true.

The business value might be to a marketing head, the implementation charge would be to an IT head, the security concern rests with the compliance while the CFO needs to sign the cheque.

So, an approach which is armed towards each of them is needed and missing. Users/Analytics champions need help to help them manage this conundrum until analytics becomes mainstream table stakes for the BU leaders with clearly earmarked budgets at their discretion and sign-off. Service providers need to play a role here. 

5. What is the connection between cloud and data analytics? Is it a relationship of dependence: cloud enables data analytics?

One feeds the other. Cloud has laid the backbone and brought downs the operational costs substantially. With the commoditisation of the Cloud market place, the service providers are leveraging Analytics and Machine learning as part of their core offering to differentiate. This commoditisation will democratise analytics bringing them to the large segment of SMBs, which is Asia’s back bone.

6. What are the barriers to data analytics in the region? Is it cost or culture or something else?

It’s not mainstream yet. It’s not seen as a must-have. It’s a culture, which is changing.

7. What are your recommendations to companies in the region in terms of cloud and data analytics adoption?

Quite a few, but the best summary would be as follows:

You need to clearly demarcate between a system of record (data), a system of insight (feed for analytics) and a system of engagement (applications, data scientists, analytical models).

There have been a lot of investments in Systems of Engagements in the past decade in Asia. Some organisations have already started building systems of record; others need to, even if in a small way. In the absence of that you still have public data/open data available. Focus should be on building the 'system of insight’, which is relevant to you. Start with your business space (not necessarily a business problem) and identity the systems of insights you need. Once the intent is clear, content would follow!

8. Is machine learning and IoT (Internet of Things) the next phase of data analytics evolution? What opportunities do you see in these technologies for companies in Asean?

In line with my above framework, IoT is both a system of record (as it generates data) and a system of engagement (as it consumes data). For the natural evolution of IoT, associated 'systems of engagement' (which is analytics and insight) would become basic.

Asia is home to four billion plus and Asean has 600 million plus customers. Together, this is a market that no serious technology business can ignore.

If there is one learning that global businesses in Asia have had in the past five decades here, it is the need for unique approaches to harness and deliver value in Asia.

The commoditisation and democratisation of technologies, I am sure will accelerate Asia to the centre stage of innovation both on the supply side and demand side. It’s the best time to be in Asia. Interesting times, as the saying goes. 

(Zafar Anjum is DNA's Contributing Editor in Singapore)
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