Pulse Group finds its Big Data niche

As Big Data continues to gain mindshare among business and technology leaders, one organization has taken on the hype to claim itself as Asia’s first Big Data and marketing analytics agency. Pulse Group chairman and CEO, Bob Chua, shares his insight into the foundations of Pulse Group as well as the burgeoning discussion around Big Data.

Datastorageasean (DSA): Let's jump straight into the current hype around Big Data. We see that Pulse Group describes itself (amongst other things) as a Big Data agency. What exactly does that mean?

Bob Chua: I think we can safely cluster Big Data players into 3 categories today: hardware, software and solution providers. The most apparent players from a hardware point of view would be the usual suspects who have now tweaked their offering to provide the compute power, storage, or capacity towards Big Data. As for software, this could be in the form of middleware players who process, organize, analyze or visualize data. And lastly the solution providers like Pulse that use all of the above to provide 'insights' to organizations by leveraging the previous layers.

As we have been working with Brand owners, governments, and government agencies globally since 2005, we have had the natural transition from providing marketing analytics (or how I now define small data), into a more multi-dimensional and larger data-set solution which fall into the Big Data category.

For example, we used to work with single data-sets such as 'customer satisfaction, brand awareness, market segmentation etc'. These days we are to compute such data-sets derived from weather patterns, news flow, or ERP data which makes our 'insights' all the more interesting and predictive.

DSA: Whether it’s big or not, data is possibly the most important business commodity we have today. Do you agree with that?

Bob Chua: Indeed. As the saying goes, data is the new oil. Everyone is racing to gain that edge on their competition, and we are helping them achieve that via leveraging the numerous amounts of data already available.

DSA: We see a lot of software analytics firms riding the big data wave. Does this threaten your business model?

Bob Chua: Not at all. As we highlighted earlier, we are not a software player, however, we leverage software and hardware to create insights. We are a knowledge capital based organization and sweat our assets such as statisticians, data scientists, econometrists, physicists, and quants to leverage insights. Software in itself is merely an enabler.

DSA: Can you explain how business can benefit from looking more deeply into their business data?

Bob Chua: We work with clients on many different scenarios. However the common themes are to 1) identify risk and uncertainty; 2) predict outcomes, segments, and new opportunities; and 3) visualize patterns. In all these scenarios there is an element of either cost saving, leveraging an opportunity, or gaining an edge.

DSA: Have you ever come across business that have a wealth of data but harness nearly none of it?

Bob Chua: This is true in almost all cases we work on, as clients sometimes do not know what data is available to them or more importantly how to correlate freakonomics fuzzy data into something meaningful and beneficial to their business. That is exactly where we come in.

DSA: Is it ever possible to have bad or useless data?

Bob Chua: Indeed. There is a possibility for both. All data that we work with has to first be cleaned before we can make any sense of it, else GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). As for useless data, yes we find that 90 percent of the data we may end up working with produces very insignificant value. That said the 10 percent golden budget can make all the difference.

DSA: How about collecting data, are there ways business can improve the type of data they collect and the ways in which they collect it?

Bob Chua: Yes. Pulse specialises in this field of collecting, cleaning and processing primary data. Sometimes, existing data does not necessarily provide the answers which we may be seeking, and hence we need new data sources etc. If you think of all the sensory data, transactional data out there, a lot may go un-utilised forever.

DSA: Does Pulse have any view or advice on the whole Data Lifecycle Management Process? (from creation to destruction and everything in between)

Bob Chua: It really depends by industry and volume. For banks, insurance and telco industries, they collect petabytes of data every single day. If you look at intelligence industries etc. they collect even more. Such data can only be stored for a pre-determined timeline due to their sizes, and hence real-time processing of such data with parameters of 'insight' detection as well as deletion need to be set.

DSA: We notice Pulse has specialism in certain vertical markets, is that because certain industries are more enlightened when it comes to market and data research?

Bob Chua: In relation to Big Data, the early adopters have been the industries with the low-hanging fruit, i.e. organizations that currently collect a vast amount of data. In our case, it has been the financial services and telco sector.

DSA: What's the future for Pulse, do you expect to diversify and will your growth be organic?

Bob Chua: We're very clear on the way forward. Pulse has been around and grown rapidly since 2005, mainly as a Marketing Analytics agency. The industry that it serves is estimated to be $32Bn as of 2012. In 2013, we decided to establish a BIG DATA practice to focus primarily on Big Data Analytics, which is already worth $55Bn. While we share a similar a long runaway, we believe that Pulse and Pulsate service a naturally evolving marketplace within a similar clientele. The distinction of our offerings however will enable us clearer focus. 

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