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MPA scholar is harnessing the power of data

Photo Caption: Mr Chua Chun Kang, an economics major, started out at MPA with no prior experience in data science

By Nicole Lim

In today’s technologically-advanced world, data science and analytics are a priority for many top global organisations. Mr Chua Chun Kang recognised their value early on, and has been able to apply his skills to improve business processes in the maritime sector, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The 31-year-old, who is a data analytics manager at the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), shares a project he worked on during the pandemic. 

He and his team were tasked to identify the parent company of vessels calling at Singapore for crew change. Together, they developed a machine learning algorithm that takes in self-declared vessel information from ship agents and recognises its parent company.

“Accurate identification not only allows us to visualise which key companies were performing crew changes in Singapore, but it also allows us to carry out enforcement and business development work with them,” he says. “Most importantly, it frees up more time to do other tasks.”

Starting fresh

An economist by training, Mr Chua felt that he had only a partial understanding of data science. He became interested in the field when he realised it could simplify his workflow and minimise errors when evaluating business solutions. 

“It is useful for all public officers to have at least some brief understanding of data analytics to increase work productivity and perform better in the interest of the public,” he says. 

He shares that he had to invest a lot of time picking up programming from scratch. It was no easy feat having to juggle a full-time job and family commitments, he says. 

What complicates matters is that data science is a constantly evolving body of knowledge. “This means having to continuously study and learn about alternative techniques,” he adds. 

Unlocking opportunities

However, having made his interest in the subject known, he was pleasantly surprised when offered the opportunity by MPA to study and specialise in the field.

It affirmed his belief that the organisation is supportive of his efforts to experiment with new techniques and research on resolving business problems. 

Mr Chua also worked on a data collaboration between MPA and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). He was tasked to determine the relationship among maritime grant recipients and labour productivity, as well as wages. 

“The study validated the effectiveness of our programme, and provided recommendations to further improve it,” he says. 

In November 2020, MPA established the Statistics and Data Systems Department with the aim of using data to drive organisational goals. 

This is proof that the organisation is serious about data analytics, says Mr Chua. 

Today, Mr Chua marries his expertise in economics with his knowledge in data science to understand the business needs of different projects and to recommend relevant solutions for implementation, which helps to ensure MPA remains operationally ready and business-friendly. 

Mr Chua’s advice to all scholarship recipients as well as those who aspire to be one is to work hard and to believe in their work. “You will get recognised for it,” he says. 

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