How SMEs and manufacturers can reap value from big data

  • Companies have easy access to open-sourced tools to digitally transform businesses
  • Tech bridges the ‘trust gap’ and voice interface to be the next wave of business disruption


(From left) Matryzel Consulting Inc chairman and CEO Bobby Varanasi; Socar Malaysia CEO Leon Sing Foong; Supahands CEO and co-founder Mark Koh; and Amazon India Alexa evangelist Sohan Maheshwar


WITH Malaysian small-medium enterprises (SMEs) and manufacturers still lagging behind in harnessing the power of big data and analytics, the Next Big Tech Asia 2018 on Oct 2-3 organised a track of sessions catering specially to this group of companies.

In a panel session titled “Leveraging Digital Technologies Using Cloud and Big Data to Transform The Business Model”, the panellists Leon Sing Foong, CEO of Socar Malaysia; Mark Koh, CEO and co-founder of Supahands; and Sohan Maheshwar, Alexa evangelist at Amazon India were probed by moderator Bobby Varanasi, chairman and CEO of Matryzel Consulting Inc.

Briefly providing insight into what big data can offer, Sohan highlights, “Big data and machine learning allows companies to realise problems they didn’t know existed - finding and addressing inefficiencies can be really disruptive in the manufacturing space.”

He further adds, “The availability of open sourced tools and platforms out there that give businesses access to technology to digitally transform, which was not possible five years ago without large investments and a tech team.”

Bringing business value through big data

To share wisdom with less digitally-adept manufacturing and SMEs in the audience, Bobby asks the panellists to share examples of how digital technologies are helping their companies become closer to customers.

Based on his experience in working closely with automotive manufacturers, Leon shares how these companies use data to increase car safety. “Every single car these days comes with a controller area network (CAN) system which means all our driving behaviour is being tracked. Only when they know the way people drive can they improve safety mechanisms and how the car is built.”

Addressing the incremental value of this technology to producers versus the end user, Leon emphasises, “I think when it comes to safety, one can never say any single improvement is too marginal. It is beneficial in the long term, because it might mean lots of lives being saved.”

As for Supahands that is within the outsourcing space, Koh shares the benefits of technology for resource allocation.

“The amount data that is available and how you use it to customise services for individuals is key. At Supahands, we collect demographic and personality information from our network of humans and to match that across the type of available jobs that come through. We try to create a more efficient workforce – our workforce is cloudbased and work remotely.”

Koh adds, “There are tools today that allow SMEs to work remotely for customer service or even accounting work. By creating leveraging on tools available in the market, cost savings and employee happiness can substantially increase.”

Following this, Sohan shared an example of the e-commerce website, Amazon. While 20 years ago Amazon lacked access to data and online shopping was not popular, the company taken strides to evolve its processes today.

“With data on shopping habits, we can predict when a user is going purchase something and place the item in a warehouse close to the buyer – it optimises the experience of the retailer and customer,” Sohan shares, giving the audience a taste of possibilities with big data.

Concerns of data security should not impede big data

As with most cases, discussing the power of big data and machine learning brings with it concerns of data protection. On this issue, Leon believes the key lies in separating data security and ownership versus the application of big data.

“The key behind data security is having the right enforcements. In the Europe, violation of data privacy laws can cost you a fine of 4% annual revenue,” Leon says. However, he adds, “While data privacy is taken very seriously, companies there don’t step back from machine learning and data analytics.”

Leon urges companies to make use of the massive data processing power and algorithms. “It really helps companies to make better, faster decisions and cover up some blind spots us humans may have.”

Technology for ‘new economy’ businesses

Beyond transforming digitally, it is also a challenging for a company to change its business model and internal processes. With this in mind, panellists shared their knowledge of ‘new economy’ business models.

The main difference between car sharing and traditional car rental is what Leon labels ‘the trust gap’. “Without trust, the sharing economy will not work – people will not choose to stay in someone else’s home or booking a car. Technology like Know Your Customer (KYC) has enabled us bridge this gap in a short period of time by minimising the cost of transacting information for us to build trust.”

From Koh’s perspective, his business model is nothing new. “But what technology has allowed us to do is create a lot more efficiency. In the KYC model, we can use facial recognition to remove certain steps in the verification process flow.”

Focussing specifically on Amazon’s virtual assistant technology, Alexa, Sohan believes voice will take centre stage as a user interface and will have a significant impact on how businesses operate. “We humans have been using our voices to communicate but our tech hasn’t really reflected that.

“But with our technological capabilities today, we finally are at that space where we can talk to machines and have it respond intelligently. So far, humans have been forced to think like computers – we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of swiping screens and drop-down menus, but that’s the interface constructs we are used to seeing, but that is going to change,” Sohan explains.


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