‘Data is the new gold’

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

When tycoon Sabin Aboitiz talks about data, the excitement in the air is almost tangible. The passion, the smile, the voice, it’s all a bit more intense. His energy is infectious.

One would think there’s a gold rush of sorts, as if Aboitiz, the president and CEO of Cebu-based conglomerate Aboitiz Equity Ventures, had found a long lost map to a gold mine.

Aboitiz Data Innovation

At Singapore’s ArtScience Museum, where art meets science and technology – an appropriate place to announce this gold rush of sorts – the Aboitiz Group unveiled its new leg of growth, a data science and artificial intelligence company (DSAI) called Aboitiz Data Innovation (ADI).

In this museum surrounded by commanding views of tech-savvy Singapore and a charming lily pond at the famed Marina Bay Sands District, the Aboitiz Group kicked off ADI: Let’s Press Start, to showcase the possibilities that DSAI can offer to transform businesses, governments and the great, big world.

“Data is the new oil or gold. Its value and currency is firmly and permanently established, and is strengthening by the minute,” Aboitiz said during the launch last week.

“To seize it would be imperative, which is exactly what we are doing here today with the launch of Aboitiz Data Innovation, and with our ongoing Great Transformation into a fully data-driven techglomerate – the first of its kind in the Philippines,” he added.

Props to the Aboitiz Group for taking this great big leap.

Like gold or oil

Indeed, just like gold or oil, data increases in value when processed. Raw data isn’t valuable in itself, same with gold, but mint it and that shimmering slab of gold may be your most precious material possession.

History has shown us the way.

Ancient Lydia, that Anatolian kingdom for instance, created the first coins in the world out of shining gold or silver, as far back as 600 B.C.

The same is true with oil. In 1847, a Scottish chemist James Young discovered that petroleum seepage from a coal mine, when distilled, was suitable for lamps.
This is how data can provide value, said Aboitiz, by having experts including data scientists tell us what the available data we have really means.

And this is where the Aboitiz Group’s Singapore-headquartered ADI, as a data science and artificial intelligence company, comes in. It aims to simplify the complex world of data and enable the different units in the conglomerate, its partners, other companies and governments to build on their new and existing data to create innovative DSAI-enabled products.

These products in turn, are meant to solve business, environmental, social and governance challenges, said ADI CEO David Hardoon during the glittery and vibrant launch.

“ADI is revolutionizing how data is used across industries, sectors and borders,” said Hardoon, adding that the impact will be on customer services, operational efficiency and risk management.

One way that ADI is harnessing data is  the way it is improving the Aboitiz Group’s cement business. ADI looked for variables that affect cement strength more significantly than others.

With AI-based prediction on product quality, operators now have a better foresight on production quality even before cement curing, Hardoon said.

Another example is early detection of faults in Aboitiz’s power plants using an AI model to catch unusual sensor readings which could be indicative of problems.

ADI can provide these similar services not just within the group but also to other companies and to the government.

It is thrilling, indeed and I can understand Sabin Aboitiz’s excitement when talking about the limitless possibilities that data can offer.

I agree very much that technology and data can vastly improve our lives. But of course, as with any resource or commodity, it must be used wisely.

The government, for instance, can make our lives so much easier if only it uses the data it captures from all of us in a better and simpler way.

Let me use our arrival procedures as an example. Why do we need to fill up the same forms every time we re-enter the Philippines when in fact, we already submitted the same data the first time? Isn’t this a waste of everyone’s time and resources? Oh, and by the way, it doesn’t look like our authorities are actually digesting the information anyway.

That’s just one mundane example but there are far bigger and more important ways to use data better.

For businesses as well, data can be so important in assessing growth.

Good data versus opinion

Good data could actually beat people’s opinion. For example, when your business is growing, more and more people will have opinions about which steps need to be taken but if you have access to data, you can easily measure which factors influence profit or costs.

There are indeed many ways to use data to improve the world we live in.

At the same time, I am well aware there’s a dark side to it and we can only hope companies and governments with access to our data don’t abuse it by, say, selling it illegally (read: spam texts) or using it against individuals such as red-tagging perceived threats to the state.

Countries have gone to war over oil and gold. Economies have crashed and lives have been destroyed. This shouldn’t be the case with data.

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Email: [email protected].

Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.

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