Tan Poh Choo, Operations Director Singapore, SAS, Singapore

By Nurfilzah Rohaidi

Women in GovTech Special Report 2017.

What was the most exciting thing you worked on this year?

If I were to pick, we started way before this year, engaging with IMDA and GovTech on the Smart Nation initiative.

Traditionally, the customers and partners we work with are typically MNCs, banks and government agencies, but for Smart Nation initiatives, we find it meaningful to partner local enterprises which have strong niche technological capabilities and desire to embed SAS analytics to enhance their technological offerings.

It’s a very good handshake with SAS, as they have niche innovations that our own R&D may not plan into the product roadmap. These organisations may not have the full infrastructure to go to market in a scalable fashion, since they channel their resources towards specific technical or engineering development work. On the other hand, SAS has 41 years of experience behind us, with sales, marketing, product and partner network, coupled with a robust and scalable data analytics platform they could leverage on to enhance their technology.

Some of these organisations are well-entrenched in industry sectors that we are not as well represented. This is a good start to a synergistic and complementary relationship.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2018?

I would bet on what we call Edge Analytics. We live in a world where there is more and more connectivity across devices, machines and equipment, and demand for real-time data streams and insights. The hardware and software technologies of today allow us to efficiently handle the volume, variety, velocity and veracity of real-time data.

For example, all of us carry mobile devices, whether you are at home or on the street, and this is where interesting data is captured and stored. Edge Analytics allows us to start analytical computation at the device level, bypassing to-and-fro transmission, storage and processing of data at centralised servers. It significantly reduces the time required for alerts or intervention. This is what I term as ‘real’ real-time and definitely, the ‘rise of the machines’.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2017, what would it be?

From a lot of interactions that I’ve had, having the right mindset is important for successful adoption of technology and embarking on an analytics journey. The progress of these organisations we work with is highly dependent on the mindset at senior management level that needs to cascade down to the ground level. I sense frustration from some organisations where the senior executives may be highly visionary, but unfortunately the team executing the vision, struggles to get going.

Fortunately, there are organisations where the senior management and working level are very aligned. Even though they may be a small entity or without a big budget, they can progress a lot faster and be more optimal in how they leverage technology and skills to address their organisation’s challenges.

As much as we believe that the big brand names are organisations that are more advanced in their analytical adoption, some of the niche, small players can ‘move the needle’ faster. Agility and clarity are two key mindsets for organisations to progress forward.

What was the greatest challenge that you overcame in 2017?

In the last few years, there has been strong interest in and demand for analytical technologies, which adds to the demand for data analysts by our customers, partners and ourselves. There is insufficient analytically-skilled resources in the entire ecosystem!

We supplement through running our Business Intelligence & Analytics (BIA) Programme, taking in school interns from universities and polytechnics and subcontractors from our partners. I can’t claim that the balance of demand and supply of such resources is ideal, but it has definitely improved.

What book did you read in 2017 that most interested or inspired you?

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson. Before bedtime, I read the book and in between some meetings, I watch the TED Talks videos. They gave me tips in terms of how I should position a message or say something that leaves an impression, even though it may not be the most interesting topic.

One part that I thought was useful which I shared with my team was the art of telling stories, which is very relevant to our business. Oftentimes, we are telling our customers a story to convince them of our technology, why they should invest in us and how we could solve their problems. Analytics may not be the most natural thing that people think about, or that they readily think is useful or relevant to them. We need to illustrate through ‘stories’ or use cases of how it will benefit them and why they should do something now, not later.

Over the years, our slide decks have improved: fewer words and bullet points, a lot more pictures and use cases or customer stories. We used to begin with ‘This is who we are, what we do, our technology, our architecture, our different offerings’. More and more, our slides are aesthetically more attractive, bolder and definitely less wordy, centered around our customers’ stories - what our customers are doing, and how they have benefitted.

Who inspired you in 2017, and why?

I tracked quite closely between Hillary and Donald during their presidential campaigns. As a woman, I was disappointed; I was hopeful for a first woman American President. Despite having spent more than half her life in the political ecosystem, with relevant accumulated experience, she was unsuccessful.

Based on what has been published in the media, and from a third-party perspective, I think she dealt very well after her loss. Her strength in dealing with defeat and disappointment not once, but twice after so much preparation and a long and grueling duel, is admirable.

She was able to bounce back after a couple of months of ‘recovery’ and recuperation. She definitely has drawn comfort and encouragement from her family and friends. How many of us can deal with what she had gone through and be back in the limelight within the year?

Learn more about how SAS can help your agency integrate data to deliver valuable information and foresight by filling out the form below.