TL;DR – You can do cool stuff with data science!
A mysterious wireless signal interference caused numerous massive disruptions of a train line. You don’t know what was causing those signal interference. It could be a whole host of different reasons, from the mundane (e.g. faulty signalling hardware on a train) to something far more nefarious (e.g. terrorists trying to sabotage our traffic infrastructure).
What would you do? How would you find out what exactly caused the problem?
You could run costly diagnostic tests. You could try to isolate the problem by going down the entire line. You could try to look for the problem by inspecting every train. But that would be very labour intensive and take a lot of time. Or you could get a trio of data scientists in to analyse the data.
The story of how they analysed the data, come up and test different hypotheses, and eventually solved the problem makes for a fascinating read.
Even our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong couldn’t resist putting up a Facebook post about it.
It wasn’t a smooth and direct path to the solution. The trio of data scientists had to call upon their technical expertise to crunch. They went up a number of blind alleys. They had to rely on their intuition. Pulling all these together, they managed to nail down the root of the problem – faulty signalling hardware of a single train.
Data science and technology redefining work of government
This is but one example of the many things that can be done with data analytics. In addition to solving the mystery of signal interferences, the Data Science Division of GovTech has been busy with a whole host of projects.
One example is how a team in GovTech used text analytics to extract data from written feedback that HDB got. The government then concluded that a significant percentage of people asked for flexible hours to collect their new house keys, instead of the set times HDB was using.
The Data Science Division’s biggest project is to compile and present the treasure trove of data that the government has in easy to understand ways. And GovTech has made much of these data publicly available.
And it’s not just that the data are visualised in pretty charts. If you are thinking of developing some apps that can help make the lives of Singaporeans better, you can also tap on some of the data. For now, GovTech has provided APIs where developers can get various data on weather, traffic situation and taxi availability. As Liu Feng-Yuan, Director of the Data Science Division at GovTech put it:
“Rather than govern as a funder or provider of public goods and services, governments that embrace technology now need to create market platforms that are open and competitive to private sector players to plug into them.”
Put together, this is Singapore’s way of redefining the role of the government using technology. Mr Liu said:
“With more complete data, the government can more appropriately deliver policies that are suitable and customised to individual citizens’ needs.”
Data science as an opportunity
It’s not just the government that needs to grab hold of the opportunities presented by data science.
Data science is also a way that Singapore can overcome our resource and geographical constraints. That is one of the points made by Minister Chan Chun Sing at this year’s Public Policy Challenge (PPC).
Minister Chan said that companies can identify new business opportunities through collecting, storing, and analysing data. Furthermore, data security is also a growth area for the economy. All these, in turn, will help them create new jobs.
So yes, people, don’t say we didn’t share the lobang, the future of jobs is in data and connectivity. Or at least a major part of the future will be.
And there are many opportunities for us to pick up some skills in data analytics. Just head to the SkillsFuture website and search for “data analytics”. You will get a whole list of courses that you can sign up for. With the government taking the lead in adapting to and seizing the opportunities that come with technology and data science, hopefully more Singaporeans will be inspired to follow suit.