[OPINION] Data science in nation-building: The unsung profession that will change PH

Erny Nazario
[OPINION] Data science in nation-building: The unsung profession that will change PH
All one needs is a sense of curiosity and a knack for perseverance, for everything you could possibly need to know about the field is available online on YouTube, through massive online open courses, and other tutorials

Though I now work as a product manager for analytics at Manila-based HR-tech company Sprout Solutions – a role that involves many data science tasks – I never planned to develop this expertise. Data science, as we know it today, only came into being around 2013, when you can see Google searches about the field and the profession spike sharply upward, like a hockey stick.

In the Philippines, data science still remains largely unknown outside the realm of tech, and this needs to change.

I believe data science is the key to our nation’s future, and I’m here to make a pitch for its merits, no matter who you are. If you’re a business leader, you need to incorporate data science into your products and services. If you’re a young professional, you need to add data science to your skill set.

Data science at the workplace

Data science can help us solve the biggest problems facing the Philippines. The country is already one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and we can continue this rise if we address some of the long-running inefficiencies that have plagued our nation – a task that data science is naturally suited for.

Take my work at Sprout as an example. One of the main products I’ve worked on is Sprout Insight, a solution that brings tools from data science – artificial intelligence and predictive analytics  – to the world of human resources.

By tracking different metrics like demographics, compensation, and attendance patterns, Sprout Insight can make powerful predictions for client companies, ranging from the employees who are likely to resign within 3 months to those who will not report for work in the event of flooding. Such details may seem benign, trivial even, but they have powerful implications for the business.

Now companies can curb attrition by focusing on at-risk employees and improve business continuity planning (and safety!) in extreme weather conditions. If knowledge is power, data is its most important asset.

Solving the country’s major problems.

Take the case of traffic. When we speak of fixing traffic in Manila and other cities, we usually do so in the context of adding things, be they carpool lanes, toll roads, highway on-ramps. (READ: On the MRT: A capacity conundrum

Applying data science to road congestion is far less resource-intensive than adding infrastructure because it enables us to make better use of what is already there. 

After collecting data on traffic patterns in the metro, for example, we can find ways to optimize usage of our on-ramps, so that vehicles do not congest only a few of these entry points but distribute more evenly in usage.

Between human resources and traffic congestion, there is no problem in the Philippines that would not benefit from the application of data science. To this notion, the skeptic might ask, “With which data scientists?” The Philippines, after all, is not known as a haven for data scientists, as I myself have noted.

Though this may sound counter-intuitive, the fact that the Philippines is a laggard in data science is actually an advantage.

Opportunities for data science in PH

Because companies, organizations, and government agencies in the Philippines are far behind their counterparts in North America – where leveraging data sets for competitive advantages is already the norm – we can organically build a pool of data scientists from the ground up. (READ: Data scientists call for responsible use of data in analysis, reporting

They can learn the basic languages essential to data science, such as python, R, and SQL, that will enable them to help organizations optimize and automate their processes. As the data science industry matures, our professionals can then pick up the advanced skills that will enable them to do higher level work for their organizations.

Some may assume that this kind of upskilling in data science would require advanced formal education,  but it does not. (READ: Big data could be big business for PH – expert

All one needs is a sense of curiosity and a knack for perseverance, for everything you could possibly need to know about the field is available online on YouTube, through massive online open courses (MOOCs), and other tutorials.

Since companies have a vested interest in you learning data science, most provide resources to this end. For example, companies can hold regular brown bag sessions like we do at Sprout Solutions. These sessions may include topics that relate to analytics and data science and are open to anyone interested in developing their knowledge and expertise.

We should all be motivated by the fact that one of the fields that can most improve the Philippines is just within arm’s reach, ready for the taking. The hungry Filipino today can be the upstart data scientist of tomorrow. – Rappler.com 

Erny Nazario is a product manager at Sprout Solutions. He believes in harnessing the power of analytics in solving real-life problems. 

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