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Home > Big news > News > Interview with Dr.Ian Oppermann, Chief Data Scientist NSW Government & CEO NSW Data Analytics Centre on Next Big Tech Asia 2017
Interview with Dr.Ian Oppermann, Chief Data Scientist NSW Government & CEO NSW Data Analytics Centre on Next Big Tech Asia 2017
October 9, 2017 News

Dr.Ian Oppermann


Big Community: Has the Big Data buzz died down or is it still something that companies aren’t prepared to handle?

Dr.Ian: The term “Big Data” has become a bit obsolete. Part of the challenge is that every time we try to describe what big data is, technology moves to overtake it. What has not changed is the power of using ever increasing variety of data to bring insight into the problems we care about.  Data is a way of seeing the world, science is a way of understanding it. When you bring these two elements together, you create powerful news ways of exploring challenges. You can ask questions you have never been able to ask before and know things you have never been able to know before. The value being created from data analytics is still accelerating.

Big Community: What are the criteria’s that companies need to focus on in order to make the leap to a digital transformation possible and plausible?

Dr.Ian: It is always worth starting with a business problem. Very often we work with our client agencies by asking them to imagine a world which is completely digital, all joined up and they have access to any data set they can imagine. We then ask them to frame questions of the data which have the characteristic of “…if you knew the answer to this question – in real time – what would make the biggest difference to the way you deliver your service / understand the problem / or evaluate the effectiveness of different interventions”. This then gives us a goal to work back from. After that, we start thinking about the data we would use to help answer those questions. We then start to explore the information management frameworks, the business process redesign and the workforce education needed. Once we have this roadmap, broken down into near term, mid-term and long term horizons, we then explore the existing data quality and availability issues. It always needs to start with a business problem to ensure we are focussed on creating value.

Big Community: Are there specific technologies that can enhance the user experience and can you share an example?

Dr.Ian: Taking business owners through the process outlined above is a valuable way of staying focussed on the value of data analytics. It also hides a great deal of complexity.  What is important is to then to give back short term results which are useful, and consistent with the roadmap you have worked through with the client. Business problem owners may be impressed by the “art of the possible” with data analytics, but if they do not quickly get something relevant to their world and their challenges, they will rapidly lose interest. Dashboards and visualisations of results are simple ways of keeping people engaged. As everyone has their own favourite visualisation tools, being able to support a wide range of visualisation tools is important. Our work with CTP (Compulsory Third Party insurance) developed powerful predictors of fraud and yet to be useful to SIRA they had to be embedded in dashboards.  We have used Microstrategy, Qlik, and Tableau to create dashboards and all have their strengths.

Big Community: How can companies leverage the skills and platforms available today to make their transformation seamless and worthwhile?

Dr.Ian: The capability of the technology in the market is extremely impressive and growing and an equally impressive rate. A couple of key points to consider:

  • open source tools are far better than you might imagine and become better and better at connecting with each other,
  • do not even consider building your own software. Integration of commercial and open source layers is the way to go,
  • you need some capability in-house. Even if you outsource your platform build, you need enough capability in-house to ensure you get what you need and you can remain an intelligent buyer / user
  • don’t underestimate the change process to get your team using new technology. Everything is moving so quickly, that people sometimes cling to what they know and can be productive with. Take your team on the journey.

Big Community: “Will too much reliance on data and analytics have an adverse effect on industries who have adopted the technology?”

Dr.Ian: That is an interesting question. When calculators first arrived, we were wary of them and were always encouraged to “sense-check” the results. Using data analytics is similar. There is bias in every data set (each is a way of “seeing” the world and so inherently biased). Each algorithm has bias as it was developed by people with a view of the world or a mental framework. Every time we see and interpret a result, we introduce even greater bias. So over all, data analytics needs to be seen as a decision aided tool. Blind faith in any technology can lead to problems. As the technology matures, the risks and potential problems change over time. As motor vehicles have matured over more than a century, our concerns have changed from reliability of performance, to driver safety, to pedestrian safety, to clogged highways and now to who is responsible when an autonomous vehicle has to decide between two possible accident outcomes (pedestrian or driver safety). We continue to rely on vehicles, but our focus needs to keep shifting.