How Data Is Reshaping The Business World

CIO World Asia speaks with Jee Loong Chew, Head Of Analytics and Intelligence from FCM Travel

When data is efficiently comprehended and correlated to uncover the underlying business challenges and then design a solution to address them, data is a valuable asset to any organization. When data is interpreted wrongly, it can lead to big issues, as businesses focus in the wrong ways. Furthermore, organizations prefer to overlook minor economic swings in favor of larger issues, but data allows them to see the truth.

As data evolves across several business domains, it provides the organization with limitless chances to connect the dots and pursue higher development. Any organization’s task is to get meaningful benefits from data, which can only be accomplished with a strong focus on data and a high-performing team of data analysts, statisticians, and data scientists. Finally, any organization’s most important goal is to use data lawfully while preserving the privacy of individuals and enterprises.

CIO World Asia spoke with Jee Loong Chew, Head Of Analytics And Intelligence, FCM Travel, on the importance of data and how companies can leverage on or even expand their data team.

Data Trends That Are Up And Coming In The Next 5 Years

From an organisational perspective, there is a very strong shift in how organisations are sourcing or collecting data. When we take a look at the traditional perspective, everyone is sourcing for data. There is a huge difference between how an organisation would source for data and how an individual would source for data although many of the technologies overlap. Traditionally or even now, most organisations would employ 3 different tactics on the market and one of them is the informal approach which is using open source technologies to do web screening. 

An example would be when the pandemic broke out, the government decided to publish data pertaining to covid cases. One of the most effective ways was that the data scientists skewed the data to present a better view of the incidents across the world and overtime, it moved from informal to semi-formal where a good example is WHO. WHO started to collect data from different countries and centralised it for people to have a better overview and it moved overtime, to something more formal where data marketplace or exchanges were adopted. This channel is simply more formal and it is legal. 

In technical terms, if an organisation were to engage a data provider or partner, it is where a contract is established and a key structure is put in place. The organisation will have an understanding of how the data will flow from the providers to the company. This could also be in reverse, where the data provider could be a seller and the organisation would be a buyer. In essence, there is a transactional relationship for data between the company as well as the provider and this could work vice versa. 

With different markets or different partners, your organisation could be the seller while other parties could be the buyers. This is enriching because traditionally and even up till now, organisations tend to only have internal data; companies only know how they operate, how they began and how they perform but to have a better benchmark of the market and industry, companies require external data. Some of this data could be about how the market is performing and some of it could be incidental information such as how VTL regulations in Malaysia affects Singapore. 

These data can be useful depending on the industry as well as the nature of your company. Bringing in such data to the company could help the company receive better insights and even see potential market trends which they could leverage on for their upcoming projects and products. 

“I will definitely say that this is a strong area to grow in and FCM Asia has certainly moved towards this,” said Jee Loong Chew, Head Of Analytics And Intelligence at FCM Travel.

With regards to data marketplace or data exchange, there is a term, data monetisation which is a revenue stream for companies. As companies sell and monetize their data, it becomes a new revenue stream and FCM Travel is not the only company going in that direction. According to Jee Loong, he foresees that in the near future, a lot of companies will make the right investments in data monetisation. 

With data monetisation, it is important to look at what kind of data can companies sell. Following the example of data on COVID-19 cases, there are multiple facets on it alone and what was noticed during the early period of the pandemic was that there were a lot of ad-hoc or last minute changes to the COVID-19 regulations. What was interesting for FCM Travel is that they encountered a lot of clients and travellers who were personally having a lot of difficulties reaching from point A to point B. This is because there were too many fluctuations and variations in the regulations. It was also observed that travellers did not know enough of the travelling policy. 

For FCM travel, they have the insights locally and were kept abreast of certain policies and even did a little bit of projection of what could probably happen to certain restrictions and it not only guided them in business strategy but also in providing a wonderful personal experience for the travellers. FCM Travel was able to arrange multiple connecting flights for them and although it was slightly longer, they still managed to reach their destination while fulfilling all the necessary VTL requirements. 

Jee Loong highlighted that, “With that example, it shows the importance of keeping abreast of available data as well as changing policies and regulations. This also shows how companies should employ more data sources so that they are able to aid their customers as best as possible and even provide exceptional service.”

Making Crucial Use Of Company Data

In the organisational perspective, there is always a priority in data governance, security and privacy. It is an evergoing requirement and need. Simply, it means that organisations need to keep abreast of the various regional, national and international data protection laws and regulations as it will affect the internals of the company; what techniques or solutions are employed to ensure data security as well as privacy. 

There is a growing trend and focus towards a specific theme called data residency. It is no longer just about storing and collecting data. It is more about how data can be moved and processed across different countries and different regions. This is especially critical and more and more countries are starting to put their focus on this. For international and global companies, they definitely have to pay special attention to this. 

Data access and data monetization also goes back to the theme of data security, governance and privacy but of course, with a slightly different flavour. Technically it boils down to what kind of access each employee has to the data within the company and it has to be very specific with a certain level of compliance. This is only internally but when companies have to share data with clients on an international level, organisations need to control what kind of information can be shared, who can access it and how it can be handled. 

Having A Holistic Technological Solution

When comparing today and the last 10 years, industries were almost ametted and in fact the labels are still quite cemented such as engineering, finance and travel but the underlying supporting structure is Tech or IT. Industries are getting a bit more unified due to this and a lot of companies need to realise that the providers are almost lingering around the same few organisations such as the top few providers in the world like Microsoft, Google, AWS, Alibaba and so on. They are usually a brand or image that most of us are very comfortable with from a technical perspective and many of us have seen them in different facets. 

“For FCM Travel, in an organisational structure, these are very typical partners that they would engage but it is important to address that although these platforms and providers are around, we have to start by looking at our organisational needs,” advised Jee Loong.

Sometimes, companies have legacy requirements which they put in place. The banking and finance industry would have more strict requirements of how they maintain their legacy system. Fortunately for ecommerce and travel, they are a little bit more fluid and dynamic where they are now able to move in different investments in technology. Traditionally, companies would have servers on premise whereas now, there is a strong push to go to the Cloud. Interestingly, you would see that some organisations have a need for a hybrid – where they have some on-premise requirements and some cloud requirements. 

Companies must also look at client requirements; the clients that they engage with, they must mutually secure, fulfil and establish those requirements. Providers will usually come in and custom craft a solution that fulfils the company’s technological regulations or requirements.

To be honest, it starts with the organisation. You must know what you have as well as what you can complement to bring your company to the next level. Sometimes there could be some constraints but there could also be an advantage in how you shape your organisational structure.

Jee Loong Chew, Head Of Analytics And Intelligence, FCM Travel

Sometimes, companies have to push the boundaries and make the hard decisions to commission a legacy and to move into a new era, to a new venture. Companies need to start with their organisations first and they cannot have a top pick when it comes to these providers as every single one of them can provide something new that they are able to generate. These providers are also able to work well and gel well with other platforms and there is no longer a constraint where companies will only have to pick one. Companies can choose multiple providers but must try to complement and understand how to drive their own momentum.

Motivating Traditional Companies To Adopt Forward Data Solutions

For organisations, they have to make the decision to invest and should they choose not to, the people-change will not come naturally after that. Firstly, organisations, especially SMEs that are still doubtful about adopting forward data solutions, should start by defining their organisational structure for their data. This is because having a proper structure in place will give an emphasis and focus, and even a charter of responsibility to the team or the departments to lead that transformation. 

From the structure, companies should also start to define the roles of their employees. Compared to the past two or three years, the roles are more defined now. For example, today, when looking at the job profile of job openings, you might come across the terms “data analyst”, “data engineers” and “data scientists”. A few years ago, data scientists were not really around and even if they were around for larger companies, they had a different set of requirements compared to today. Before there were date engineers, they were referred to as ITs. However today, the definition is far more clearer and it is important for organisations right now to know these roles clearly as it will affect their investment in people, skillset and technologies. 

“So, my personal advice is to start with a data analyst and I will dare say that most organisations would have an analyst. They may not have the term or title of a ‘data analyst’ but there has to be someone that has been dealing with analysis within the company,” advised Jee Loong.

Once the role is crafted, businesses can start by having a clear KPI and OPI for your organisation and you will have to partner with the business side of the house. This is so that companies can bring value to themselves and not only the data team. However, companies must still plan ahead of their outstructure and hiring because it is easy to hire a data analyst but it is very challenging to hire a data engineer and a data scientist. So companies will need to have a 3 to 5 year roadmap of when they will come in so that companies are clear of the investments they will need to put in as well as the potential success which they have measured for themselves. 

“Through measuring your success, you will start to realise if you are moving in the right trajectory. Sometimes, you may saturate and that is fine. It means it is time to push your organisation to the next level and hire a data scientist,” said Jee Loong.

Overall, data and analytics provide the technologies and tools needed to build a future where enterprises produce at optimal efficiency while wasting the least amount of resources and time possible. Enterprises that are committed to business transformation must invest in analytics and data in order to reap the benefits of data use, which can lead to new internal and external strategic benefits.