CommunicAsia 2014: Big on Big Data


2 July 2014
CommunicAsia 2014

A show as big and diverse as CommunicAsia and its sister events EnterpriseIT and BroadcastAsia (this year’s stats: 2,000 exhibitors from 55 countries and five floors of exhibits spread over 60,000 square metres at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands resort) gives tech pundits and media a good idea of what technologies will be hot in the coming year.

Highlights in this year’s show: Mobile payment, Internet-of-Things, security, over-the-top (OTT) content, 4K video, satellite communication and high-speed networking.

The loudest shout-out, however, was for something that has been hot for the past few years. That’s Big Data analytics.

The tone was set from the get-go. In his keynote speech at the opening day of the events, Singapore’s Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim sketched out Singapore’s blueprint for transforming itself into a “Smart Nation”. This blueprint will be underpinned by data and analytics. And it will be powered by a drove of sensors scattered around where people work and live. The sensors will collect large swathes of data – Big Data – that will feed a new wave of data analytic tools and smart applications to enhance transport, eldercare and other public services in Singapore.

A pilot programme at the Jurong Lake District, for instance, will see over 1,000 sensors being deployed and could feature applications like traffic monitoring and litter alert systems.

Big Data was also the subject of many presentations and panel discussions at the show’s conference. Representatives from EMC, Dell, Huawei, IBM and others took to the stage to talk about it. A common refrain heard at the show: Businesses must act now and start retooling their IT systems and business models to prep for the inevitable coming of the Big Data age. Telcos, for instance, should start seeing their cell towers not just as cell towers, but also as information-gathering platforms.

Big Data refers to data sets too big or too unconventional to be processed by traditional database systems. Big Data analytics is seen as the next big growth area for businesses, which can tap this technology to supercharge core business processes like market research and sales. Research firm IDC has pegged the Big Data technology and services market to grow at a 27 per cent CAGR to US$32.4 billion in 2017 – or six times the growth rate of the overall ICT market.

But as is the case with new technologies, a considerable lag often exists between hype level and adoption. A survey last year by research firm Gartner found that only 8 per cent of respondents have deployed Big Data technologies, although 64 per cent indicated they plan to do so. Gartner characterised last year as one of experimentation and early deployment of the technology.

Expect more experimentation this year and a couple of teething issues as well. Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, highlighted one such roadblock in his keynote address.

He felt that the data privacy policies used by many countries could hamstring Big Data applications. This is because the current crop of policies are typically structured around on having consumers consent to how data is being collected, instead of how data will be used. However, it is latter that will determine how useful Big Data applications can be.

Another potential roadblock to Big Data adoption has to do with the growing fears surrounding the erosion of personal privacy. With such concerns sure to escalate in the age of Big Data, organisations and planners of Singapore’s Smart Nation will have to figure out how to assuage them if their Big Data projects are to succeed and be seen to benefit consumers and citizens.