MEDIA & MARKETING | Contributed Content, Singapore
Marcus Loh

Singapore doubles-down on data literacy in Smart Nation drive


Just as Singapore is benefiting from the invisible hand of technology, we have also ushered an era of data ubiquity where anyone – from the CEO to the intern, from professor to the student – can use that data for smarter decision-making.

Every day, new data and emergent technologies are presenting opportunities for institutions, enterprises and governments to learn about policy failures and successes and act on new knowledge about what works to improve the lives of students, workers and citizens.

Singapore is in a fortunate position where the country’s state of technological advances and connectivity has permeated almost every facet of its citizen’s daily life.

Data as the language of invisible tech
Dr Hee Li Min, director of research at the Centre for Liveable Cities, described how the country’s Housing and Development Board uses data analytics to better plan apartment blocks. Dr Hee said: “Parameters such as wind, shading and urban heat effect are modelled and simulated even before the first brick is laid, so that when the buildings are finally constructed, living conditions are more pleasurable…. Meanwhile, sensors would also help housing estates be more resource-efficient and save on costs. The need for maintenance would also be conveyed through sensors, so you don’t even need to inform town councils about any problems arising.”

Experts opine that we have produced more data in the last three years than our past 5,000 years of human history. As more we live more of our lives in the digital world, and as our digital footprints grow, so does the amount of data we collectively produce.

Unfortunately, the same velocity cannot be used to describe how many organisations are putting all these data to good use. Only 0.5 percent of data that we have produced globally are harnessed for productive ends. This tells us that like the oil of the 21st century, data that is neither structured for analysis nor placed in the hands of more people with the necessary skills and tools to make sense of all these data, is akin to leaving oil in its crude and original state instead of harnessing it as energy for good.

To that end, Singapore has done exceedingly well in sharing, interpreting and acting on both new and existing data that has permeated the Smart Nation. Singapore’s lead agency for technology adoption across the civil service, the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) announced last year a partnership with a visual analytics firm to equip public officers with data skills for a “Future-Ready Singapore”.

“As part of our digital government transformation, our aim is for more public officers to be able to understand and make use of data. This will help us accelerate Singapore’s progress towards building a Smart Nation.” said Jacqueline Poh, then-Chief Executive for GovTech. This partnership will also give public agencies access to a bespoke selection of content, learning resources, and subject matter experts where concepts and best practices in visual analytics are constantly being advanced.

Learning to speak the data lingo
Beyond the civil service, educators are also ensuring the next generation is equipped with data analytics skills in line with the Government’s Smart Nation ambitions and cultivating a more data-savvy workforce. 

One of Singapore’s leading higher education institutions, Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) offers data analytics and visualisation skills in relevant modules to their full-time students and night classes to mid-career professionals. The Data Visualisation module at NYP emphasises critical thinking for students and focuses on their abilities to leverage data to solve real, community-wide problems, such as proposing a suitable location to build a retirement home based on publicly available data. NYP has seen success with their data analytics program since then. The institution has seen graduands already sharing that what they picked up in these classes were the most useful skills they have learned for their jobs.

By acquiring deeper capabilities in self-service data analytics, students, public servants and workers have uncovered opportunities and outcomes they would otherwise have been blind to and offer invaluable insights to help their stakeholders contribute to Singapore’s national agenda and become forces for positive social impact.

Given how pervasive data already is in virtually every aspect of our lives, we must double-down on our efforts to empower more – not less – people to be data literate and to see and understand their data for themselves. We should recognise that as much as Singapore is benefiting from the invisible hand of technology, we have also ushered an era of data ubiquity.

In the advent of affordable analytics platforms today, almost anyone – from the CEO to the intern, from professor to the student – should use that data in some way for smarter decision-making. To that end, we need to also acknowledge that not everyone uses data the same way. Some people need to perform advanced analysis, mash up multiple data sources and create complex data models for the organisations. Others may have simple business questions they want to explore and understand.

Therein presents vast opportunities for Singapore’s movement toward a more data literate society, to engage with a broader, underserved population that might simply need to consume data in interactive ways for decision-making, even though they may not need the type of sophisticated analytics that analysts do.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Marcus Loh

Marcus Loh

Marcus Loh is Director, Asia Pacific Communication for global visual analytics firm Tableau Software. He was named a Linkedin Power Profile and was listed in Singapore Business Review’s top 10 “Notable Chief Marketing Officers under 40”. Marcus holds an M.S from Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and won a scholarship for his second master’s degree from the Singapore Management University and Università della Svizzera italiana. He serves on various advisory capacities for academia and industry including, the Institute of Public Relations of Singapore, CMO Council, UOB-SMU Asian Enterprise Institute, Asia Enterprise Brand Awards, to name a few.

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