There is a hype around big data – how it will transform the dynamics of businesses, redefine marketing rules, impact distribution and eventually profits. But do businesses understand big data and the analytics involved in it? Singapore based startup, and big data analytics solutions firm, Antuit, is enabling enterprise clients to unlock business value from data within the constraints of their budgets and maturity on the big data curve. Antuit recently partnered with Institute of Systems Science (ISS) at the National University of Singapore (NUS), to develop a Trade Index tool that will provide quantitative insights into Singapore’s import and export trends at an aggregate and sector level. When combined with client data through statistically significant quantitative models, these insights will enable local corporations to predict sector specific consumption and sourcing trends.
e27 speaks to Arijit Sengupta, Founder & Managing Partner, Antuit; and Marc Dragon, Partner, Antuit on the future of analytics and how Antuit is helping businesses take the right decisions using data. Also, on panel is Dr Carol Anne Hargreaves, Chief, Business Alalytics Practice, Institute of Systems Science (NUS), who chips in with details on the institute’s partnership with Antuit and how Trade Index will help businesses.
Excerpts from the interview:
e27: Certainly businesses interpreted data differently earlier. With analytics coming in how are they interpreting it now?
Arijit Sengupta: In a traditional situation what happens is that a bunch of people sit together to make forecasts and somebody at the head office will comment on the forecasts and say, “I think that these (forecasts) 20 per cent are accurate and 80 per cent is not so good and let’s go for a 10 per cent adjustment.” So the outcome is very different. Now we are approaching these decisions in a very scientific way and using different levels of data programs.
In an idealistic situation, we could take all data and build up a very robust model and help people do the ideal prediction but that doesn’t happen in real world. So, we look at what data is available, what level of maturity the company is and then instead of saying, “Let’s do cool analytics,” we ask the business problem and use data to solve it in a tactical way.
e27: Does Antuit just analyse data and provide consultancy to businesses or do you do activations for them like marketing, campaigns or some point of action?
Marc Dragon: We provide solutions and forecasts, like at what point to make the data actionable – be it in terms of marketing, inventory, market behaviour, the right prices that the product may push off.
e27: When do clients really come to you? Before they need a stitch, or when they need a stitch or when they need nine?
Arijit Sengupta: Most of them don’t know that they need nine. We have to educate the client about the power of analytics. The key is, once you are able to correlate usage of analytics to their context and show them how it can create business impact, dollar impact, then they respond well in time and sometimes even before time.
e27: How close can you come to the forecast in terms of reality?
Arijit Sengupta: No one can predict the future…
e27: Client has his own forecast. Why would that forecast differ from your forecast?
Arijit Sengupta: For any event you have statistical analogy, and any outcome is driven by a set of factors. The more data you have on set of factors, the better the outcome prediction is. The better your model is in terms of understanding relationships between the variables, the better your prediction is.
There is a cycle of usage of data. People first collect data and then they warehouse it, they build reports on it and build models to arrive at decisions. A lot of companies are struggling even with collection of data. We look at our own data, enterprise data – sales, stock inventory, and purchase data; and then at third party data, surveys, media data and even earned data from social media feedback and sentimental indices that is going on in the digital interactions…
Marc Dragon: We step in at two levels – industry specific forecast and client specific…. Each specific industry and sub-industry has different norms in terms of forecast accuracies. For example, in a consumer goods company, the accuracy may be about 80 per cent, but with some other technologies, the norm of accuracy could be up to 95 per cent. Some clients are following specific models for 10-15 years and say, “This is so far I know the market. I can do better?” That’s where we step in. Another client in the same industry might be doing a fine forecast and better than the first client, but they too have questions… they want to implement new things, may be just to have competitive edge and that is where we step in.
Dr Carol Anne Hargreaves: With Trade Index, which will provide quantitative insights into Singapore’s import and export trends, we can pre-collect data and understand when it is up. We are able to tell, which country is contributing the most to imports; the government can know which company is driving the export or likewise the import. The government can then make decisions that should it release more resources, should it exercise restrain, is the industry in good or bad health… We would be able to make recommendations to drive the market from red to green. When combined with client data through statistically significant quantitative models, these insights will enable local corporations to proactively predict sector specific consumption and sourcing trends with greater accuracy. This will lead to significantly improved operational and strategic decisions in key areas such as sourcing, inventory management, distribution and allocation of working capital investments.
e27: So which sectors are you looking at specifically?
Dr Carol Anne Hargreaves: Initially, we will concentrate our efforts on the consumer and enterprise electronics sectors in the Singapore/ASEAN region, with longer term plans to expand the Trade Index and its application geographically and to new sectors.
e27: So how will ISS help Antuit in this collaboration?
Dr Carol Anne Hargreaves: With research methodology, direction what we should look at and what shall compare data with…
Arijit Sengupta: Another thing I want to highlight here is that we see this kind of partnership very critical in an industry, which is resource short and capability poor. It is very important that we affiliate with the right people, bringing the right set of experts into the company as we build out and try to fulfil the ambition of being the top key player in the market place.
e27: Will Trade Index help at the macroeconomic level too or would it be limited to client specific requests?
Arijit Sengupta: I’ll give two extreme hypothetical scenarios where it will be deployed. Let’s say for the retail technology sector, we are able to use the index for predicting demand and its direct impact. So, we are able to say that there is a slowdown coming based on some of the trends. At the other end of the spectrum, we are able to look at the macro-economic forecast and stock market movement. Then, we say that there is a lead lag relationship between export import data and GDP or stock market index, which is ‘X’ and therefore, based on the index we are able to give solutions.
e27: Do you see yourself as an enabler in influencing government economic policies in a scenario if you are able to forecast economy movement?
Arijit Sengupta: It is important for us to provide insights and to use data rightly. How people use that, it is up to them. So, if you get a mandate from a client or from the government, we will help them with whatever way we can. A part of the process also is to increase credibility and build capability. If we do them well and start showing some real strength in the power of prediction, I am sure, different people will start looking and elaborating that.
e27: Antuit has a presence in Singapore, Bangalore (India) and New York (USA). How is the response to big data different in these markets?
Arijit Sengupta: We have clients from ASEAN, South and North Asia, we have done work for some Spanish clients too and some specific clients in Australia. In USA, we have national clients and some of these are global companies, who are asking us to diversify from what we are doing from beyond the USA to some of their other markets as well. There is no ambiguity about in terms of usage of big data and sophistication of clients and application and the willingness to do it in the USA, which is the leading marketplace. Asia is the growth market and if we are able to build the bridge between mature market and growth market, we can have power clients and be a leader in the space.
e27: Coming back to the question of the source of Big Data. Many traditional companies go by a gut feel. How difficult or easy is it for you to convince them to move to Analytics?
Arijit Sengupta: I don’t have a 100 per cent answer to that. Else, we would have been a billion dollar company. If we look at from where we started… even the name of the company – Antuit – is on analysis and intuition. We have been business owners and have worked with business owners with intuition and we know intuition is very powerful. In our opinion, that is not something you have to ignore. So you don’t take businesses and make them statistical enterprises and take intuition out of it. The play is to really match that knowledge and that expertise that comes from intuition.
e27: Where do you see Antuit in a couple of years?
Arijit Sengupta: We are basically a small company right now and we want to be leaders from our solutions company stand point – a 50 million dollar company, a 100 million dollar company, a 500 million dollar company… I won’t constraint myself with a number. We want to be one of the top few players who are in Big Data solutions market mix and we want to globally spread. We feel the market is rich and we have an opportunity to achieve that.
Our growth strategy is not only organic but look at acquisition opportunities too. We started with a small acquisition in July this year, when we completed the acquisition of Marketwell, a New York-based analytics firm. That is one little feat considering that Antuit came into being in March only this year. In August 2013, we received an initial investment of US$3 million in a round led by Zodius Capital. Neeraj Bhargava, the CEO of Zodius, and I have worked together at WNS, a leading provider of global business process outsourcing (BPO) services. He also is the Chairman of Antuit. We should see more investments together.