Get smarter with apps and data analytics

Intelligent apps and data analytics transform the workplace (image Duncan Andison / iStockPhoto)

More Hong Kong companies use and develop intelligent apps, and utilize data analytics to refine their business processes, improve business decisions and customer experiences. To help companies make smarter business decisions, intelligent apps and data analytics tools extensively leverage emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

“Some large companies exploit intelligent apps and use the full toolkit of big data and ML to refine their offers and overhaul customer experiences,” says Whit Andrews, distinguished vice president at Gartner

Whit Andrews of Gartner

According to the Dimension Data’s Tech Trends 2019 report, apps will become more intelligent in the coming year. “We’ll see applications gathering input from users and making changes to their own functionality to improve the user experience,” says Dimension Data in the report.

In a digital workplace environment, Dimension Data noted apps, AI and ML will play a significant role. For example, companies use data from collaboration and room-booking apps, and combine them with Wi-Fi and sensor data to understand where people are and how they are working together. They can then optimize office space utilization such as converting conference rooms into huddle spaces.

The value of data

In Hong Kong, the HKSAR government, public, and private sectors have started to recognize the value of data through intelligent apps and data analytics.

The Hospital Authority (HA) is preparing for a big data analytics platform. Running on a pilot basis, Data Collaboration Lab was set up by the HA in October, which allows academic researchers to access HA’s clinical data for collaborative research projects.

Opening up data is also underway for all the other government departments. They are required to progressively open up their data for free use by the public under data.gov.hk portal. They have to formulate and publish their annual open data plans starting end 2018. To improve public transport services, the government proposed in the 2018 Policy Address to fund and develop a data collection system and a mobile app, as well as install global positioning devices on green minibuses to enable passengers to access the real-time arrival information of minibuses routes through the mobile app.

In the private sector, enhancing user experiences and making smart decisions are crucial to many companies in using intelligent apps or data analytics tools. To this end, developers have started to utilize emerging technologies or data-driven apps to support companies to achieve their goals.

HKSTP's Peter Mok

“More incubatees are developing intelligent applications to resolve the pain points of corporations,” says Peter Mok, head of incubation & acceleration programmes at Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP). “New applications we’ve received are exploring solutions with the use of emerging technologies such as blockchain.”

HKSTP provides incubation programs for startups. One of them is the Incu-App program that offers support to incubatees in content development, application platforms, financial and business support.

App-based van hire platform GoGoVan utilizes traffic data and analytics to optimize its services. “By utilizing the data gathered from our driver partners, we’re able to react to real-time incidents like roadblocks, collisions or heavy traffic jam, and suggest routes and districts for drivers to serve clients,” says Reeve Kwan, cofounder of GoGoVan.

Data analytics tools get advanced

Data analytics service providers SAP and Tableau Software agreed that more data analytics tools are integrated with AI, ML, and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to provide smart analytics to users.

“A salient common thought among local companies is an urgency to intelligently manage their data and generate insights from multiple data sources,” says Thomas Gerstner, managing director at SAP Hong Kong and Macau.

He added that an intelligent enterprise framework can help companies to find new areas of growth, redefine business models, and intelligently harness external and internal data. Intelligent technologies like AI, ML, and predictive analytics, and data management platforms are key components of this enterprise framework.

Similarly, Tableau Software says a growing number of companies is interested in smart analytics. “They are keen to know how technologies such as AI, ML, and NLP can improve businesses’ analytical capabilities,” says Thomas Yap, head of Greater China at Tableau.

Tableau has incorporated NLP in its products to enable users to interact with data through natural language. They can ask questions in plain language and get insights through interactive visualization, according to Yap.

Challenges remain

Similar to other disruptive technologies, data analytics skills are in shortage in Hong Kong.

“AI and data analytics are the new trend. Our challenge is how to incubate companies in these various fields and keep the momentum,” says Mok from the HKSTP.

He added that the HKSTP will introduce a new initiative called the “Science and Technology Entrepreneur Programme” (STEP) to provide support for start-ups and young technopreneurs. In addition, the financial aid package of the Incu-App program is increased to provide extended support to apps incubates.

Both Gerstner and Yap noted the importance of a data-driven culture in companies.

“Local businesses need to empower more people with data and the tools to use it,” says Tableau’s Yap. He suggested companies to start showing their staff the impact data has made. Staff will recognize the benefits and harness the potential of data. This will spread a data-driven culture within a company.

According to Gerstner, C-level suites should have a holistic mindset and aspiration to implement changes across various corporate functions such as embedding technologies in strategies and operations. “This IT capability will enable companies to generate end-to-end data flow and thus provide a comprehensive overview of their business.”

Another challenge is about NLP’s capability of understanding mixed languages. “A big challenge is how to scale NLP systems to support languages such as Cantonese and Mandarin, which are lexically completely different from English,” says Kwan from GoGoVan.

IDC’s Andrews suggested companies to carry out their application development projects with caution. “Organizations must establish a process to continually evaluate where intelligence can be applied today and over time.”