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EXCLUSIVE - Team Goji– From hackathon winning prototype to valuable real-world application

Photo: Stephanie Chia (left) and Johnson Poh (right) with Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan (centre)

At the 2015 IDA Smart Nation Hackathon@SG, Stephanie Chia and Johnson Poh topped the competition in the Open Category and in Best User Experience. Team Goji, as they were called, developed a data visualisation application that helps bankers and lawyers piece together corporate and financial data from Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) in just a matter of seconds. The application meant that bankers could assess credit worthiness of companies faster and lawyers could trace business networks for ligitation cases better.

The team is working to enhance the prototype to help analyts leverage on government data from data.gov.sg to understand the financial health of companies and compare with industry benchmarks.

OpenGov met with Team Goji to learn more about how such applications will create value for both the public and private sector.

The team

As a two-man team, Goji is underpinned by strong technical expertise and business experience in the finance and defence industry.

Mr. Poh is presently Chief Data Scientist (ASEAN) at Booz Allen Hamilton with more than 10 years of experience in big data processing, advanced analytics and visualisation capabilities. As an Adjunct Faculty Member of the Singapore Management University School of Information Systems, Mr. Poh believes that delivering a viable data visualisation product is anchored on an interactive user experience that produces insightful results. Mr. Poh’s previous experience as a Principal Data Scientist at the Ministry of Defence, focusing on operational and investigative analytics, had taught him the importance of building an integrated database platform that is essential to maintaining a robust data infrastructure and repository.

This strong data technical infrastructure has led Goji from ideation to creation, helping to support an application for banks to make better credit decisions – something that Ms. Chia is well-versed in. Having been in the retail banking lending and payments business, Ms. Chia recognised that banks need to find faster and smarter ways to piece together a business’ credit worthiness.

Ms. Chia’s unique experience from civil servant to banker, has led her to realise how valuable government data can be to the private sector.  “More can be done to improve the userbility and value of government data for public and corporate use”, she remarks. Having been actively involved in launching new digital banking products such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, Ms. Chia says that “whether you’re a employee or a client of the bank, using digital applications have to be simple and help you get to your objective quicker”.

The concept - presenting ACRA data in visual format for faster analysis

The 2015 IDA Smart Nation Hackathon@SG was a pivotal milestone where several Singapore government agencies and statutory boards released data for public use and innovation. The hackathon reaped its returns by producing a plethora of solutions to real world problems.

"When we saw the ACRA data, we saw the potential to use technology to piece the data together to form valuable insights in a split second.  We pitched this application as a way for banks to reduce the time it takes to assess companies’ credit worthiness," said Ms Chia.                              

She had seen first-hand how her colleagues spent a laborious amount of time downloading huge volumes of data off very unfriendly data platforms and piecing the information together like a jigsaw puzzle. The process impacts the time it takes to get back to clients, who were waiting on the outcome of their borrowing applications.

Faster analysis means faster decisions. “When an SME approaches your bank for a loan, are you going to tell the SME that it takes two weeks before we can give you the loan because of our due diligence process? You lose business. If you can minimise the due diligence process, you can get the loan to your client much faster,” Ms. Chia said.

Technology and data sources

Layered on top of the data is the visulisation interface. Mr Poh notes that there are three key principles in delivering a viable information service:

  • Integration – where various data sources is transformed and processed to create an integrated network database
  • Interactive – data visualisation gives the user a more multi-facted experience
  • Insights – the interactive user experience must produce meaningful and insightful results
Image credit: Team Goji

“Visual representations can make it easier to gain insights faster. Complex shareholding networks would be significantly easier to understand, while trends are also easier to grasp. The time saved can be dedicated to gaining deeper insights.” Mr. Poh said. “To enrich these entities, there will be other sources of information integrated into the database.” Mr. Poh said that Goji was exploring more open source information, not just from the government but also from social media, and internet search engines.

At the moment, the application uses structured data. However, the team is considering forms of unstructured data, coupled with more advanced analytics on textual information to further enrich the entities in the database.

Intended users

The application is intended for anyone who needs to evaluate how financially sound a corporate entity is. The scalability of the project goes beyond credit risk analysis. Other industries such as the legal industry can use visualisation networks to better understand data for litigation cases. 

A lot of other countries in the region have their own government databases. Singapore can be the test-bed and other countries in the region with similar databases can also use the application.

Going to production

Different industries have different needs. To scale, Goji plans to customise the application’s infrastructure to suite the needs of different industries. Testing will be required to find out what works best with different industries.  

Public perception of data analytics and automation

Team Goji’s work revolves around data analytics and automation. Recently there has a renewed focus on data across the banking sector. Banks are seeking faster ways of doing things, reducing manpower cost and improving turnaround time. Data can be used to improve efficiency and finding the right target segments for products.

 Ms. Chia said, “A lot more can be done to encourage people to use data to complete tasks faster and gain meaningful insights. As a product manager, I would definitely appreciate such tools to support me in my work. Also, when most people hear the word ‘automation’, the first thought which occurs to them is ‘am I going to lose my job?’. There is a misconception there. While you might lose the function that you were performing, you could turn your time and effort towards more complex functions that require more analysis. Most banks are thinking of ways to re-skill their work force for such purposes. Banks are looking at ways in which routine work can be automated, and time saved can be directed towards higher order activities.”                              

As and when Goji goes into production, it will solve very real challenges for businesses, facilitating faster and better credit analysis and improving productivity.  It is a perfect example of how citizen-driven innovation and co-creation with the government can help Singapore achieve its Smart Nation vision. 

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