Question posted by Ms Lai, Internet industry on 03 Nov 2021

Q: Hi Dr Hong
We have implemented several analytics software behind our product for a year now, but as a small company, these insights aren't having an impact on our operations. We also have a full time data analyst, what kind of projects should he be working on that will enhance the value of the company over a 6-12 months time period?


Thanks for reaching out to me through USAEI. Your experience with analytics is not uncommon. Most organizations have recently complained that they don't see value from their analytics, machine learning (ML), deep learning (DL), and even artificial intelligence (AI) endeavors.

The problem does not lie with the analytics technology. Rather, analytics is only a tool that guides, validates, automates, augment, and amplify business decisions. The problem lies with how most organizations define the business value that they want analytics to solve. 

These are some of the common problems that I have seen, and one leads to another:

1. Business managers do not have a concrete idea of what they want to solve and hopes that analytics can help them ask the right questions. Analytics, ML, DL, AI are tools, they are incapable of asking questions. However, given the right questions, they can help you find answers and insights that humans cannot match. Just as we don't expect excel to generate business hypothesis, we can't rely on analytics, ML, DL, and AI to do the same. They are just a very powerful tool, not a domain expert.

2. Business managers have a poor definition of value and impact. A good value proposition is a concrete statement with 3 components as a fill-in-the-blanks statement: As a <which type of customer>, I want <what features/products/services>, to achieve <what objectives do I really care about>. Type of customers can be other businesses, consumers, internal staff, management, and any other stakeholders. If we find that we cannot fill in the blanks with a convincing statement, then it means that the idea is either too vague, broad, naive, confusing, or not valuable. Very often than not, once we have a good set of value propositions, we realized that we don't need analytics, ML, DL, and AI to solve it. Most business value can immediately be realized with a better process, incentive design, platform business model that directly address what the customer wants and not what the business can do.

3.  Using analytics, ML, DL, and AI like how we use excel - reporting. The value of analytics, ML, DL, and AI does not lie in cost-cutting type of automation or reporting. Its augmentation and amplification, meaning that they are designed to help us deliver value by making better decisions given the business questions. The corresponding output of analytics, ML, DL, and AI is actionable insights. However, for them to derive actionable insights requires (1) and (2) to be defined first, else its like trying to discover if there's something that might interest somebody, somewhere in the data.

4. Next, the business competency of the data analyst. There is a hierarchy of competency for data analyst and it starts with experience and communication. A good data analyst is also one with sufficient business intuition to understand what the users of the solution needs and how we can find them in the data using the latest tools. If a data analyst is always behind the screen and does not spend a significant amount of time talking to stakeholders and conducting small demonstrations to solicit feedback, then he will never be able to create impactful actionable insights.

5.  Lastly, the technical competency of the data analyst. Technical and domain experience are complementary. Strong technical experience will make up for domain experience and as their domain experience increases through experimentation, their value doubles. Knowing how to use analytics software is not a technical expertise. Technical skillsets revolve around knowing how to make data speak, how different models work, how to create visualizations that communicate multiple ideas almost instantly, and how results from one experiment lead to another, and another, before finally uncovering actionable insights. Thus, in truth, there are no paid analytics software in the market that can outperform the best suite of open-source tools in the market if the data analyst is competent. Using off-the-shelf analytics software simply allows data analysts to hide their insufficiencies behind automated features.

As you would have realized by now, any analytics projects that we task, regardless whether other organizations brag about it or being written by big three consulting agencies, they are ultimately irrelevant until we have points (1) to (4) sorted out.



Answered by Dr Jack Hong on 05 Nov 2021 14:39

Common Questions asked by SMEs

Q: I am a start-up and our main focus is to grow the business. When and what HR fundamentals should I need for a start? When do I need to start considering having a HR Professional on board?

At the start

  1. Base on the business strategy you have in mind, draft the organisation structure and the job roles
  2. Draft the Job Description to facilitate hiring and selection of the employee of a good fit as well as ensure that the job scope is clear to the Employee
  3. Ensure that the employment contract is in compliance with MOM Key Employment Terms (KETs) in addition to the legal terms drafted by the lawyers.
  4. This should follow by an Employee Handbook which outlines other Employment Conditions, Leave, Salary and Benefits Guidelines; Code of Conduct and Workplace Guidelines

As you grow

  1. As the Organisation grow to about 8-10 employees, develop a performance management system to define Key performance indicators and desired attributes to enable motivation and recognition
  2. Develop learning and development process and guidelines to facilitate learning and career growth
  3. When you attain a staff strength of 25-30 employees, hire an experience Human Resource Professional (about 3-4 years) to manage the HR fundamentals and employee relations and support the business growth.

Answered by Karen Lur on 23 Jul 2021 09:08

Common Questions asked by SMEs

Q: I am a 2nd generation helming the organisation, as I scale, how do I build the right culture and instil the desired behaviours in the organisation?

  1. Firstly, it would be good to define the type of organisation culture you would like to instil by defining your Organisation Values
  2. From the Values, you could define the core competencies with the desired behaviours and attributes you would like all employees including leaders to have
  3. Incorporate the Values and Core Competencies in the On Boarding process for the new hires to set the expectations of the culture and behaviours
  4. Incorporate these core competencies in the performance management process to accord the importance and recognise desired behaviours
  5. Plan a quarterly Value in Action (VIA) programme to recognise employees who walk the Values and demonstrate the desired Behaviours

Answered by Karen Lur on 23 Jul 2021 09:07

Common Questions asked by SMEs

Q: My staff has to work from home with immediate effect. She needs to access her office PC and server remotely. What should I do?

For a quick solution, install a remote tool like Teamviewer onto her office PC, so that she can still work from home. For server access and if you want tight security, it's better to install a hardware firewall with VPN feature. In this way, you can control who can gain remote access back to your office.

Answered by Wong Chee Foo on 16 Mar 2020 12:16

Common Questions asked by SMEs

Q: Should I use free anti-virus software for my office?

There are differences in installing a free anti-virus vs paid ones.

First, free anti-virus is standalone. You won't know if your colleague PC is infected with a virus. Very often, a free anti-virus bundle with other third-party bloated software or adverts during the installation. It installs non-related software and tends to slow down your PC performance.

Why? The developers that create this free software needs some form of revenue to support their project. Also, they’re not obliged to provide the latest virus protection and immediate support when your PC is infected. If budget is the main concern, Windows built-in standalone defender works okay though.

The main reason why business still buys paid anti-virus is for the support and latest protection. Most importantly, you get to see an overall view of all PC health in a single dashboard.

Answered by Wong Chee Foo on 13 Jun 2019 17:05

Common Questions asked by SMEs

Q: What do I need to take note if I want to implement a full backup of all the 20+ PCs in my office?

It's a great decision to backup your office PCs. Unlike a NAS or server, your PC has probably only one hard disk. That means if it crashes, your data is lost too. Though business PC offers three years onsite warranty, it does not cover data recovery if your hard disk fails.

Firstly, it's recommended to use a centralised NAS storage to store every PC data, over a portable hard disk attached to every PC. It's overall cheaper and easier for any engineer to monitor if a backup fails.

Now, PC backup works best if all your PCs are linked to your office network mostly via wired, and not wireless. Why? Because PC backup will transfer the data across your office network and uses high network bandwidth. This network consumption results in slower internal network speed, which in turns affects a slower Internet and share application and files access.

No matter how good backup software is, it consumes PC resources when the backup kicks in. Hence, you'll experience PC lagging. It's important to plan the backup strategy at staggered timing during off-peak hours like lunch hours. Also, a good backup software should give you the flexibility to backup specific files at scheduled timing, and provides notification if the backup fails. I do not see any need to backup the PC operating system as you can recover them from the manufacturer recovery image.

Answered by Wong Chee Foo on 13 Jun 2019 17:05

Common Questions asked by SMEs

Q: We have a staff who is not performing to our standards. We cannot dismiss her, can we ask her to resign on her own?

Dismissal would be more appropriate based on misconduct. It would be advisable to build a case of poor performance, such as performance appraisal, verbal or written warning letters, etc. so that termination of her service would be deemed reasonable and fair.

Answered by Sally Sim on 14 Jul 2021 10:44

Common Questions asked by SMEs

Q: What are the essential policies that should exist in the employee handbook of a company?

It should include Mission & Core Values, Employment structure, Benefits & Welfare, Training & Development, Workplace Resolution, Disciplinary, etc.

Answered by Sally Sim on 14 Jul 2021 10:44

Common Questions asked by SMEs

Q: What would you recommend as the best approach to adopt for going overseas?

There is no one size fits all approach to going overseas. Much depends on the risk appetite, of the firm. SMEs considering going overseas can consider exporting, licensing, franchising, joint ventures, acquisition or green-field operations. Each of these options carry benefits and risks.

Venturing overseas carry a fair amount of risks and rewards. SMEs planning to go overseas are advised to have a partner or guide that understands the market and can help the SME navigate through the treacherous grounds.

Answered by Dr Patrick Tan on 13 Jun 2019 17:05

Common Questions asked by SMEs

Q: What is the most important factor for firms looking at expanding overseas?

There are many important factors to consider when looking at overseas expansion. First and foremost, SMEs need to understand what is their primary motivation to internationalize.

Different companies may be motivated by different reasons. Some of the possible motivations for internationalization are:

  • to follow and support their clients’ overseas expansion;
  • to compensate for home market saturation or decline;
  • possibility or necessity of increasing sales;
  • to access resources and / reduce its costs of labour;
  • to diversify its operations and associated risks; •
  • to take advantage of growth opportunities in other markets;
  • to exploit economies of scale and reach;
  • to gain knowledge about other clients and markets, the capacity and strength of competitors at a global level; etc.

Once the SMEs is clear on its motivation, having the right business model can minimize some of the risks of internationalization

Answered by Dr Patrick Tan on 13 Jun 2019 17:05

Common Questions asked by SMEs

Q: Are there any industry best practices that an SME can follow for data collection?

Having a lot of data is not the objective. What we really want is useful data. For data to be useful, it must be both accurate and representative. Data integrity issues such as duplicated entries, multiple identifiers for the same item, incomplete fields, and selective recording may cause an analytics system to recommend the wrong decisions.

Answered by Dr Jack Hong on 13 Jun 2019 17:04

Common Questions asked by SMEs

Q: How should an SME start its digital transformation process?

SMEs must recognise that the new drivers of digital transformation are strategic in nature, with technology playing a secondary role as enablers. They need to first figure out how to adapt their business models with the new drivers, before evaluating what technology will best apply.

Answered by Dr Jack Hong on 13 Jun 2019 17:04

Common Questions asked by SMEs

Q: What is digital transformation?

Digital Transformation is a set of new business drivers that obliterates barriers to industries that were previously built on old drivers of success. These drivers include consumer networks and advocacy; “co-opetition” and the platform business model; data, analytics, and artificial intelligence; innovation, rapid experimentation and agile practices; value proposition-based decision making and digital-savvy leadership.

Answered by Dr Jack Hong on 13 Jun 2019 16:57


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