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Big Data Applications for SMEs (Interview with SpryAct)

The increasing popularity of online activities contributes to increasing footprints on the Internet. While these footprints provide valuable information to various businesses, and while nearly all organizations are aware of the benefits big data can offer, few companies in Hong Kong are taking advantage of it.

Photo: Jacky Lee (left) and Louis Tsao (right), co-founders of SpryAct.
Jacky Lee (left) and Louis Tsao (right), co-founders of SpryAct.
Photo: Jacky Lee (left) and Louis Tsao (right), co-founders of SpryAct.
Jacky Lee (left) and Louis Tsao (right), co-founders of SpryAct.

Fascinated by the potential applications of big data in the commercial sector, Louis Tsao and Jacky Lee founded SpryAct, which provides big data insights to companies in Hong Kong, hoping to gain first-mover advantages. One of SpryAct’s core services is to help companies make more informed business decisions by analysing large volumes of transaction data, as well as other forms of data that may be untapped by conventional business intelligence programmes.

SpryAct captures data from public domains such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and forums, and integrates them with data from clients’ companies to help customers build sophisticated profile of customers and acquire a deeper understanding of customers’ preferences, shopping behaviour, and purchasing decisions. These findings are of paramount importance when planning product development, formulating target marketing and promotions, and identifying niche markets.

Big data analytics, which already have wide applications in the Western world, are still a relatively nascent concept in Hong Kong. Tsao and Lee find it difficult to convince their potential clients that big data strategy is much more than a pure IT or promotion project, and it requires the whole company to undergo a change of mindset, which should be a top-down management decision. “However, during a sales pitch, we were often directed to the IT or marketing department, which has no authority to make a high level decision.”

“Also, Hong Kong companies often expect immediate results or a guaranteed return on investment (ROI) from big data, which may not be very realistic. On top of that, there remains a concern that collecting lots of information will make companies prime targets for hackers and cybercrime.”

For SMEs, however, cost is the biggest barrier, as a basic big data analytic service costs at least a million – which include hardware and software costs, plus professional service charges for six to eight months. Most SMEs often shy away from such price levels. For large corporations with deep pockets, SpryAct, is facing keen competition from big players like IBM and Microsoft. While both IBM and Microsoft have their proprietary software for data management, SpryAct uses the open platform Cloudera as it delivers higher flexibility and better cost control.

"Companies with a large transaction volume in a highly competitive market environment can benefit immensely from big data analytics. Even for those who do not generate that much data, they can make good use of those publicly available data,” said Lee.

Tsao and Lee are now exploring how they could offer SMEs the opportunities to draw useful business insights from big data at an affordable price. They are establishing a platform which collect and analyse information from public domains, with a tentative subscription fee of HK$20,000 per month.

Lee believes that SpryAct will face a make-or-break test in the next three years. “We should either see some major breakthroughs for our business, as Hong Kong businesses continue to understand the benefits big data can offer or something has to change in our business model”.

Content provided by Picture: Wenda Ma
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