Riding the Big Data wave: Interview with Ying Shao Wei, COO, DataSpark

Strata + Hadoop World Singapore 2016 saw the congregation, in Singapore, of thought leaders in the Big Data analytics and insights arena, enabling practitioners to learn through the sharing of experiences and exchange of ideas. It also provided participantsthe opportunity to network for future collaboration.

Ying Shao Wei – Chief Operating Officer, DataSpark – was one of the distinguished speakers in the conference to helm a session attended by fellow data scientists and C-suite leaders as he shared his insights into the analysis of “mobility as a vital sign of people and the economy”.

Addressing queries at DataSpark’s booth, Strata & Hadoop 2016

(Left) Mr Ying Shao Wei, COO, DataSpark; (Right) Ms Cathy Chang, Director of Delivery & Operations, DataSpark

As a thought leader in mobility intelligence, Ying explained how telco-enabled insights could provide deep, refreshing and actionable perspectives on the health of urbaninfrastructure such as road and train systems; the economy, in terms of trade activities and major tourism events; as well as the general well-being of the populace.

Ying is a veteran in the Big Data sector with deep expertise in telecommunications and Government sectors in multiple geographies across Asia. The Imperial College graduate had served as a Deputy Director in the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Singapore, and was an Associate Principal in McKinsey and Company, before joining Singtel as Head of Strategy and Analytics in the Digital Life Group of the leading telco in Singapore.

Since 2014, Ying has led DataSpark as its COO, transforming the fledgling startup into an innovative Big Data analytics and insights powerhouse which leverages a variety of datasets and technologies to address geo-spatial needs across multiple industries.

To understand more about what Big Data and where it is heading, I sat down with Ying to tap his insights into the trends and prospects of Big Data in this fast-paced sector.


Big Data is the buzz word in the world of Enterprise IT. However, to the man in the street, how does Big Data affect them in their daily lives?

Ying Shao Wei: There are significant ways in which Big Data is already benefiting the man in the street.

Big Data enables the huge amount of customer feedback – through online reviews and social media – to be processed so that companies have a better chance of responding to and acting quickly upon such feedback. So with Big Data, customers are more likely to have their preferences addressed.

When you visit an e-commerce website, you will be provided more relevant recommended products and services, thanks to recommendation systems enabled by Big Data.

Because of Big Data, I am able to see and sense my surrounding environment with better clarity than ever before. When I use online maps to navigate or plan for a journey, I am using Big Data to save tremendous time and effort in getting from one place to another. 

With Big Data, mobile subscribers are also now getting better network experiences when they use their mobile broadband connections. At DataSpark, we are using Big Data to help telecom companies roll out and deploy cellular sites, ensuring mobile subscribers are able to seamlessly communicate with each other and download and watch online videos without interruption – anytime, anywhere.


How can businesses benefit from Big Data and capitalise on the insights derived from Big Data analytics?

Ying Shao Wei: Businesses benefit from the insights gleaned from Big Data and the operational actions enabled by Big Data.

Big Data is providing businesses with much deeper and granular understanding of their customers. You can study customers’ behaviour on your company websites and in physical stores to infer which products and services are preferred. You now have finer customer segmentation because of Big Data. You can translate such improved understanding of the customers into operational improvements in marketing messages, product design, channel touch-points etc.

At DataSpark, we help enterprises develop better and more actionable profiles of your customers, by analysing their mobility patterns both online and in the physical domains. Mall owners and retailers know who their mall or store visitors are, where they come from – not just where they believe the visitors are and where they come from.  They are then able to more precisely engage these visitors with the right product offerings at the right location and time.

‍“Big Data is providing businesses with much deeper and granular understanding of their customers….Governments are using Big Data to improve the delivery of public services.”Mr Ying Shao Wei, COO, DataSpark, speaking at Strata & Hadoop 2016


At DataSpark, we also help financial institutions “Know Your Customer”. In many developing countries, the banks and insurance companies only have “thin files” – if any – on a large part of the adult population, which is essentially the unbanked segment. With DataSpark’s capabilities, we help these financial services companies validate the identity of these consumers and assess their readiness for specific financial products and services.


Can the government and non-profit organisations leverage the power of Big Data to multiply their effectiveness in achieving their organisational goals?

Ying Shao Wei: Governments are using Big Data to improve the delivery of public services. The term Smart Cities or Smart Nation is almost as banal as Big Data these days, but there are real benefits that the power of Big Data can bring to urban infrastructure and security planning and operations.

At DataSpark, we help Government agencies with city and transportation planning. By mining the movement trajectories of a very large population sample, we are able to provide a city-view (even country-view) of the city in motion each day, across the hours of the day. We provide quantitative insights on how certain public infrastructure such as highways and railways are utilised, and estimate what might be the impact on commuting traffic should there be blockage or a new access way be built.


What does DataSpark bring to the table for its customers?

Ying Shao Wei: DataSpark is a mobility intelligence software company. We develop geospatial analytics capabilities to interpret location and movement data at scale, for supporting important decisions in crowd control, urban infrastructure planning and operations, as well as optimisation of marketing spend.

Our proprietary Geo-analytics software platform with patent-pending algorithms and methods, mines telco network and other sources of data and transforms these signals into meaningful features about the mobility patterns of the population at large, for our clients which comprise telecom service providers, large commercial enterprises and Government agencies.


What do you see as the main trends for Big Data and data analytics?

Ying Shao Wei: Many companies already perform some level of analytics. What Big Data is doing, is changing the way in which the analytics is done.

First, there is now a proliferation of data sources. Collection of data is now much easier,since the cost of sensors and storage are no longer barriers. Even if one does not collect any data, there are multiple data sources that could be readily purchased – voter rolls, social media twitter feeds etc. From being data-poor, businesses now face the ironic situation of having too much data and becoming knowledge-poor instead.

Second, compute is much more scalable and accessible, thanks to the availability of cloud infrastructure services. More importantly, there is also a growing wealth of open source software tools and components, which analysts now have access to. Take for example the analysis of real-time twitter feeds. What might have taken dozens of analysts and engineers to build and process 10 years ago will probably require only a team of two now – using Apache Lucene to index and convert the feeds into meaningful insights or alerts.

Third, the practice of analytics is becoming mainstream. As BI tools become more sophisticated, we are seeing a democratisation of data science with self-serve analytics. More end users are becoming power users, guided by more intelligent expert systems to visualise data sets and draw actionable insights.

Lastly, I see data analytics being increasingly featured as an important agenda of business strategies. C-levels are getting more savvy about data. Companies are becoming more aware of their digital assets, both from an opportunity and threat (read:privacy) standpoint. In many industries, Big Data and data analytics are catalysing changes and disrupting existing business models.


How do you envisage DataSpark growing in the next few years?

Ying Shao Wei: DataSpark will continue to spearhead Singtel Group’s efforts to capitalise on the massive data flowing through its telecom network, be it for optimising the customer experience of its more than 600 million mobile subscribers, or for helping Governments and enterprises with their infrastructure and security planning and operations.

Our product roadmap will see our Geo-Analytics software system and mobility intelligence algorithms expand in scope and depth. Specifically, we see ourselves enriching our current data sources with more IoT sensor information.  We see ourselves contributing more significantly to the digital geography of the evolving geo-spatial era, by building innovative machine learning or deep learning applications that capitalise on the online and offline signatures of humanity to solve really challenging socioeconomic problems – such as urbanisation, poverty alleviation and public safety.

As the geo-spatial revolution continues to unfold around us, we aspire to position ourselves as the provider of “mobility intelligence for every application for every user interaction”.



What should companies and organisations do to better prepare themselves to leverage the benefits of Big Data and data analytics?

Ying Shao Wei: The Big Data area is moving at breakneck speed. On their own, very few entities have the resources to keep pace and fully capitalise on the Big Data trends. There are lots of opportunities for companies to partner one another to use Big Data and data analytics to improve existing business operations and/or build new data businesses.

Here at DataSpark, we not only address the analytics needs of businesses and societies, we also believe strongly in forging alliances with other data-rich businesses and leading thinkers to pioneer innovative geo-spatial applications that affect the socio-economic well-being of millions of people.

If you want to explore how you can exploit Big Data and analytics for your business or organisation, simply contact me or my data scientists at DataSpark for a chat.