apacciooutlook logo

Big Data Initiatives need Innovative Thinking to Make Things Happen

By Kah Chai Tan, Group CIO, Sime Darby Berhad

Big Data Initiatives need Innovative Thinking to Make Things Happen

Kah Chai Tan, Group CIO, Sime Darby Berhad

Technological Trends have tremendous impact on enterprise IT and they are here to stay. Cloud has transformed the way IT services are delivered and supported. It has made IT more agile and scalable, and further commoditized IT infrastructure and application services.

Big data allows enterprise to generate new insights about their business and customers never known before.Social offers new alternatives for enterprise to engage and collaborate with their consumers, employees and partners.Mobile has transformed enterprises to be ON always and has rendered new ways to work and engage with customers and employees.

IoT, geo-location, smart machines and many other digital technologies have opened up new possibilities for enterprise IT to create new solutions and business values.

Big Data Analytics to Drive Business Transformations

In recent years, the proliferation of digital technologies has given rise to an exponential growth of data in many forms and sizes. In parallel, the advancement in data science, data modeling and analytical tools has allowed organizations to process huge amount of data to generate new insights, to identify patterns and to predict trends,behaviors etc.

Contrary to transactional data captured in traditional business systems which are usually historical, the new form of data is much more dynamic, unstructured and transient in nature. For example, data captured by IoT such as soil sensors or machines provide insights about soil and machine condition that could prompt early remedial actions to a plant or machine.

Digital images captured by drones and processed using advanced imaging software can provide insights on plant health, land forms, animals, the environment etc. These insights could serve as early warning for preventive actions or for post-disaster rescue operations.

Big data analytics is part of our Digital Business Innovation roadmap and we are still in exploratory phase.We have introduced a new data analytics platform with in-memory technology for data modeling and a new data visualization tool for data discovery.

By combining the use of satellite images, Google maps and the geo-location of our oil palm estates in GIS system, we are able to centrally monitor any fire hazards in areas neighboring our estates and take prompt action to control the situation on the ground.

We are also using real-time production data with location and time captured on mobile devices in the field. The data visualization tool has allowed us to map and provide new insights on traceability of palm oil to our customers.

Experince as a Global CIO

As the CIO of a multinational conglomerate, it has been a journey filled with many challenges. When I first started with Sime Darby, IT policies and authorities, decision rights, standards, strategy or architecture were either nonexistent, not aligned or loosely defined and enforced. My first task was to establish a comprehensive IT governance structure and operating model.

To optimize the usage of IT assets and resources, we adopted a federated IT model. Divisional IT units are present within each business division as a business partner while the Global Service Centre IT department provides a centralized resource pool to support common applications and infrastructure across the group. Group IT oversees the overarching IT strategy, architecture, policy & standards, PMO, risk and security for the entire group.

In 2007, Sime Darby merged with two other companies, Kumpulan Guthrie and Golden Hope Plantations, which presented us with new challenges and opportunities to consolidate our IT portfolio and resources and to industrialize the IT services to reach  greater service maturity. In recent years, the advancement and proliferation of digital technologies have posed  new challenges for us to innovate and deliver digital solutions.

Gaining Insights from Different Projects is Vital

Personally for me, any project that adds value and brings about positive changes to business is interesting.The Digital Business Innovation initiative that we have embarked on in recent years is probably the most interesting one. It allows IT to go beyond its role by embracing and/or combining the various digital technologies with the enterprise IT applications to provide new business solutions and accelerate innovations.

At our Plantation division, we have deployed many applications on mobile devices to thousands of our field workers to capture production data, track logistics,monitor productivity, report unusual field conditions, and ensure quality and compliance to safety & sustainable environmental practices.

We are  piloting the use of soil sensors to collect ground information for better agronomic management.We have also setup an in-house team to fly drones to capture images of our estates.

Word of Caution for Solution providers

Solution providers today need to have a better understanding of our business landscapes, needs and  priorities before approaching us to sell their solutions.Using the above big data analytics as an example, there are many solutions out there which can be used to sieve through all the structured and unstructured data that we have in our plantation business to provide insights that deliver tangible business outcomes.

“Group IT oversees the overarching IT strategy,architecture, policy & standards, PMO, risk and security for the entire group”

They should carry out research on the industry trends and challenges; attend industry conferences or events to understand the problems, speak with industry organizations and the right people to know the pain  points, read the annual reports to know the financial and non-financial performance of the company etc. They will then be able to better tailor their solutions to the needs of their customers.

Right technology or a combination of technologies is key to success. Delivering the new solutions also requires new approaches and skills in a much shorter time. We have to continuously discover how to use them or combine the use of several technologies to innovate and deliver new digital capabilities.