Howard Wang is Chief Information Officer for Aden Group. We spoke to Howard about how companies can get the most from big data.
Big data, at its simplest, is about getting a large volume of information and being able to use it effectively. People sometimes forget that second part, but it’s key.
Big data is so “big” because everyone is now connected to the internet and generating information throughout the day. Every phone, every laptop, every wearable in your building is a rich source of data. When you add smart buildings to the equation, the capacity grows even more. An IoT-connected building can collect and combine information from so many systems: heat, light, water, waste, occupancy… the list goes on.
Two changes have happened in recent years. One: we can now collect data at a much higher speed than before and in a much a larger volume than before. Two: because of IoT, it’s much easier to overlap info from different systems, from inside and outside the building, and to have this data be very dynamic. You can get a real-time map of what’s happening all around your facility, and have data from many points interacting and updating.
The biggest mistake people make about big data is thinking that the more you collect, the more value you’ll see from it. Actually, this is wrong. If you just collect and collect without strategy, you won’t have enough context to find key details and make smart decisions. You can get lost in a sort of “data jungle” - you see a tangle of information everywhere and don’t have any direction to find your way out.
Big data success is all about setting clear business objectives. You need to start with a measurable business objective before you get the data. Then, you collect lots of information in a targeted way. The data collected should all help you answer key questions about your goal. If you’re not getting the answers you need, don’t panic. You can go back to adjust the sources of data, the kind of data you collect, and so on. But having measurability and focus from day one is so important.
In the next few years, we need to continuously use new technologies to enlarge our buildings’ data sources. This is already picking up speed as smart building and smart city infrastructure grows. As we connect more information that was hidden before, we improve our data visibility; we can start to digest the information and do a lot of things like mining, analyzing, restructuring and calculating through different logics. From this, we’ll see more and more value from what we collect.
I often say: “Let data talk”. That means, let data help you make better decisions. It means, know how to use big data as a tool. Because, even with today’s best technology, it’s us humans who must make the big business decisions. The human brain can tell you: “Here’s the situation. From my experience, under these kind of conditions, it should go this way.” But we all know there’s risk in this.
The human brain has its limits, particularly for operations relating to calculating and digesting mass information. Big data and machine learning do these operations very well - the human brain really can’t compete in this specific function. How do we make our decision more accurate? We have to base it on more data. But, of course, it takes strategic thinking and smart planning to get high-value information in the first place. That analytic and creative thinking must be provided by people and organizations.
Data cannot replace what people do, but it can improve what people do. Big data is about expanding humans’ capability: supporting, improving and enlarging our potential for decision making. That’s the real power of data science and technology.
Too many data companies over-rely on their technology. They offer impressive tools, but lose direction when it comes to strategic partnership and helping clients extract meaning from their data. Then, suddenly, the client has accumulated too much info and cannot analyze it effectively. The value gets lost.
At Aden, we talk about “technology with a human touch” and this balance is really crucial to us. We don’t believe you that technology alone will create workspace or asset-management solutions. You need to match up the right people, strategy and technology. We believe in real partnerships that can create a detailed and customized data strategy. The fact that we’re Asia-focused and headquartered in Shanghai means that there’s no distance between us and our clients. This is where I see Aden really standing out in the field.