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The fourth industrial revolution has arrived, bringing with it a digital cache of untapped potential ranging from biometrics to blockchain. Companies, enterprises and institutions across multiple sectors are now gunning to become the first within their industries to adopt, implement and fully utilize these emerging technologies that come with such rapid global digitisation. Out of all the new technologies that will undoubtedly change our lives, Big Data is the most crucial and in-demand field that not only allows us to harness incredible amounts of data at any given time, but helps us collect, curate and analyse specific aspects of that data that can be used to leverage actionable insight and ameliorate real-time decision making challenges. 

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In Asia and the Pacific, organisations have slowly but surely begun venturing into this unchartered territory of data analytics. Although there is still much to do in terms of full-scale implementation and taking advantage of analytics maturity, several Asian countries have already started employing Big Data to oversee social/economic indicators and enhance the distribution of public goods and services.

An example of this is applying Big Data to enable more robust, efficient and accurate data profiling and progress of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This initiative was established in September 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly as a way of designing a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”

In 2017, Bangladesh and the World Bank Group signed a $113 million financing contract to revamp the country’s weather forecasting and hydrological information services. This move will greatly improve early disaster warning signals and allow rural communities to gain access to information relating to weather and water uncertainties. For a country like Bangladesh, which has suffered immensely for decades as a result of flash floods, droughts and other natural disasters, this initiative alleviates the burden of dealing with the stress of planning and preparing for uncertain climate changes.

World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal, Qimiao Fan said, “With Bangladesh often exposed to extreme weather events, the lack of reliable forecasting and information on weather can cost lives and hurt the productivity of key sectors, such as agriculture, which contributes to about 16 % of GDP, and employs 45 % of the population. By ensuring reliable and systematic weather and climate information, this project will strengthen disaster preparedness, as well as help farmers better adjust to weather variability at the farm level, and thus improve productivity.”

Besides proving to be a valuable asset for predicting and providing detailed analyses for disaster management, Big Data has also found itself incredibly useful when it comes to examining public opinions and awareness on a specific subject using social media data. In Indonesia, UNICEF has employed Big Data within the context of social media in understanding public misperceptions about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases. Misinformation and the spreading of incorrect data has led to severely decreased vaccine coverage and high dropout rates, causing incomplete immunisation of patients which dangerously impacts preventable disease control and eradication efforts. In order to find a solution to this worrying issue, Pulse Lab Jakarta teamed up with the WHO, UNICEF, Ministry of Health and Ministry of National Development Planning to monitor Twitter conversations on immunisation and help public health practitioners gain a clearer insight into public opinion and awareness on the topic.

As such, between January 2012 and December 2013, the project successfully extracted 88,368 relevant tweets posted by the public in the Bahasa Indonesia language. The study not only highlighted the different levels of public concern regarding immunisation, but also allowed analysts to use the filtered real-time information to complement pre-existing knowledge and data on the issue. In addition to immunisation, Pulse Lab Jakarta also organised a similar project that engaged Big Data within a social media framework - the discrimination of women in the workplace. Using the same methodology, the initiative was able to extract relevant Twitter conversations and present analysts with a range of feasibility topics such as perceptions regarding appropriateness, burdens of being working women with children and discriminatory job hiring practices.

In many developing Asian countries, traffic management and planning have become one of the most urgent and critical issues faced by governments. Traffic congestion and road accidents that cause unnecessary injuries and loss of life can have a significantly detrimental impact on the morale of a nation, urging lawmakers to push for stricter legislation when it comes to road safety. In the Philippines alone, an estimated 12,690 deaths due to road accidents occurred in 2016 based on a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO). “One death is too many when it comes to road crashes because we know that it is highly preventable. There are proven solutions available to protect Filipinos on the road. While there are strong legislations in the country, we continue to call on the government and various road safety partners to strengthen the implementation and enforcement of these laws,” said Dr Gundo Weiler, WHO Representative in the Philippines.

As a way to attenuate this problem, The World Bank, ride-hailing platform Grab and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) collaborated to initiate the OpenTraffic campaign which would help address traffic issues in the country using open-source tools to collect Grab’s GPS data and convert them into traffic statistics. These statistics would then be used to analyse traffic flow and identify road accident hotspots, which would directly enhance emergency response systems. The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) also partnered with data science agency Thinking Machines to develop ideas and solutions to further ease the severe traffic in Metro Manila using data analyses from Waze.

“Using big data is one of the potential solutions to the challenges faced by our transport systems. Through this we can provide accurate, real-time information for initiatives that can help alleviate traffic congestion and improve road safety,” said Joseph Emilio A. Abaya, the DOTC Secretary.

Out of all the countries in the Asia Pacific region, no nation better exemplifies the efficient implementation, practice and analysis of Big Data than China. It comes as no surprise that China, with a population of almost 2 billion people and one of the major players in the current technological renaissance, would need Big Data to help manage and organise all aspects of its enormous administrative infrastructure. Many of China’s richest companies like Alibaba, Baidu and JD.com are all readily embracing Big Data as a way to engage closely with their customer base and their needs using advanced data analytics. Alibaba has recently created an 800-person data platform division team to analyse competitive strategies and sales, although monetising said data would take some time.

On the other hand, Baidu, also known as China’s Google, launched Beijing Big Data Lab which will focus on procuring information and insights from online searches and other services. It would later use this data in multiple industries such as social services, machine learning, healthcare, predictive analysis and others. A clear example of this is Baidu’s partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to create an e-waste light app that enables end users to better manage the safe and proper disposal of their old or unused electronic equipment.

Partnerships and programs like this not only provide technical and field experts from both sides to formulate and implement solutions using Big Data, but information such as this can potentially drive innovation within a nation and ultimately serve the country’s economic and social ecosystem better.

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