Australian Business Intent on Exploiting Digital Opportunities

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016
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A new study indicates that businesses throughout Australasia are keen to capitalize on the potential benefits of digital transformation and associated big data analytics, with some organizations already successfully applying Internet of Things (IoT) approaches to existing operations.

A white paper on the current state of digital transformation produced by Tech Research Asia on behalf of Hitachi Data Systems found that the vast majority of survey respondents in the ANZ region considered their CEOs to be “digital believers.” Over 95 per cent consider data to be important or critical to some or all aspects of business.

While the paper firmly indicates that industry leaders are convinced of the business case for digitization and big data, experts contend that we are only just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to their potential.

The generation of vast amounts of data by digital technologies promises to create a huge market for the development of applications and algorithms that are capable of leveraging these new information streams to create value for businesses.

According to Nathan McGregor, Hitachi Data Systems vice president and general manager for Australia and New Zealand, hardware and sensor technology already deployed in the field has outpaced the development of analytics or algorithms that are capable of extracting value from data.

“The data generation is there, but the use cases for all that data still need to be developed,” he said. “The sensors are still ahead of the data use cases right now, and we’re not taking advantage or leveraging what’s currently available.

“A lot of organizations know what questions they want answered, and what data sets they may use to get to the answer, but they don’t have the skills to bring all those things together.”

This unmet demand amongst established organizations will create huge opportunities for data scientists in future if they prove capable of developing algorithms that can extract answers or solutions from the data sets provided by businesses.

McGregor notes that Australia is particularly well positioned to capitalize upon these market opportunities given the strengths of our tertiary institutions and STEM sector, and the fact that big data analytics and algorithm development aren’t dependent upon economics of scale or capital intensive assets like other tech industries.

“If the hardware and techology comes from places that have better scale in terms of delivery of the technology, the real problem is getting that data and using it in a more innovative way. Then that’s a brain game,” he said.

“The tyranny of distance becomes irrelevant because now we’re all connected via the Web and can deliver instantly to any place around the world where the customer is – there’s enormous opportunity for us there.”

Many parts of the world, including Australia, are already host to outstanding examples of the way digital transformation and IoT technology can radically improve the performance and efficiency of infrastructure, built assets and businesses.

The Australian mining sector has turned to digital technology to implement condition-based maintenance, using algorithms to determine in advance when vehicles are likely to incur damage and require maintenance work. This is a potentially immense cost savings measure given that the price tag for the individual components of heavy-duty mining vehicles can run to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The algorithm is based on known patterns that know what happens if for example you have a certain kind of oil temperature for a certain temperature,” said McGregor. “Algorithms can be generated to provide these outcomes, and once they are developed they can be applied elsewhere to solve other problems.”

Infrastructure, and transit infrastructure in particular, is a prime candidate for the use of digital technology and big data analytics to enhance maintenance and upkeep operations.

Reliance Rail, a public-private partnership between Sydney Trains and a number of leading engineering firms including Downer EDI, uses sensor technology to collect data and provide preventative maintenance to Sydney’s new double decker Waratah trains.

In the UK, Hitachi uses data analytics to manage Virgin Rail’s train network so that coordination, scheduling and maintenance are performed in a more productive and efficient manner.

Utilities also stand to derive major benefits from digital transformation. Digital technology has already increased the resilience and efficiency of power systems via the creation of smart grids, while the lessons learned from this process are also applicable to other utilities such as water and gas.

Water utilities, for example, in many cases already possess sensor systems that provide them with ample volumes of data that still aren’t fully exploited. The algorithms applied to power grids and gas networks could potentially be applied to water systems, in order to reduce wastage and extract greater productivity from existing pipe systems.

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