Big Data Made EZ

NUS-ISS is using its expertise to help EZ-Link mine the stream of big data produced by millions of users of Singapore's contactless smart card every day.

Swiping in and out of MRT stations and on and off buses with your ez-link card produces a staggering amount of data.

To date, EZ-Link has issued more than 17 million ez-link cards for transit, Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), car parks fitted with EZ-Link's Electronic Payment System (EPS), and more than 30,000 points of sales across the island, including retail shops, food & beverage outlets, private transport, government services and community services.

Millions of transactions are created every day, each adding its own unique footprint to the terabytes-worth of data already stored on EZ-Link servers. Such data is now helping to drive decisions at EZ-Link, thanks to work conducted in consultation with NUS-ISS.

The institute was approached by the contactless smart card operator last year to review the torrent of data ez-link cards were producing, and help explore ways to make the most sense out of it.

Catherine Khaw (photo on right), the Chief of Intelligent Systems Practice at NUS-ISS said: “EZ-Link is sitting on an information gold mine in the form of the data that is produced by its cards. It realises that the intelligence and knowledge contained in this data has the potential to drive its business in the right direction and create a smarter and more effective organisation. Given our expertise, we were ideally placed to help them get closer to this goal.”

The project was initiated by EZ-Link’s Chief Executive Officer Nicholas Lee, who wanted to empower his senior leadership team by giving them timely information and insights to guide decision making. Specifically, EZ-Link wanted to harness operational data to improve its business development, product sales, planning and marketing strategies.

In the past, it would take a long time for information to be collected and analysed. The information that was eventually summarised and reported tends to be tactical and often not useful for setting strategic directions. There was also the challenge of assimilating and combining data from different sources, both internal and external. Some of the data came from open sources and lacked coherence and sufficient details to be used on their own.

A mission statement was established for the project ‘to provide the right information to the right people at the right time’.

Over the four-month-long project duration, the NUS-ISS business analytics team studied the way EZ-Link collected and deployed existing data². The team documented the data network and proposed a data structure and report to make quality data more easily accessible.

The streamlined process that was created produced a clear mapping of information that supported decision making, enabling the management to gain an oversight of the critical control factors in business operations as well as insights into commuters’ behaviours and travelling patterns.

“NUS-ISS has helped us align the data with our business objectives. The research that Catherine and her team has conducted has allowed us to learn about hidden commuter patterns that were neither easy to spot nor intuitive, even to planning professionals,” said Mr Lee.

As a result of this project, EZ-Link has achieved a greater understanding of commuter patterns, peak period loading, journey profiles and transport security. These insights would eventually be shared with business partners as well as government authorities and transport operators to improve their operations.

The work done for EZ-Link by NUS-ISS marks the start of what is hoped would be an ongoing relationship that will allow the smart card provider to extract greater value out of its data.

“This is the first step of EZ-Link’s big data journey. We look forward to working with them on future phases, and in supporting EZ-Link to become an effective, data-driven organisation,” said Catherine.

EZ-Link ensures that no consumer data were released to third parties without the explicit consent of the consumer, and that serious precautions are taken on protecting customer data. The data provided for the project are transactional data and non-personal data. Click here to view EZ-Link's company profile

To find out more about NUS-ISS' consulting services, click here