Diving deep into the sea of data

Diving deep into the sea of data

If mixing medicine with astronomy to create new smart solutions for the marine and energy industry sounds like a totally bizarre idea to you, think again. This is precisely what two prominent data scientists – Ilona Söchting and Sirkku Karinen – at Wärtsilä, are up to.

Text: Rainer Ahlvik Photo: Johannes Tervo

When in the hands of the right people, massive amounts of data can uncover new facts and insights that can take a company’s business to the next level. Wärtsilä’s Ilona Söchting and Sirkku Karinen are a living proof of that.

They come from two very different worlds, though. Söchting, a senior developer and specialist in advanced analytics, hails from Grosswallstadt near Frankfurt am Main, Germany, while Karinen, a solution manager in the analytics wing, is from the Finnish capital, Helsinki.

And geography is not the only thing that sets them apart. Söchting has a PhD in Astrophysics, specialising in utilisation, machine learning, and pattern recognition. Karinen, on the other hand, has a PhD in Medicine and she developed algorithms and software to analyse molecular medicine, mainly in cancer genetics.

However, they share a common passion — analysing big data. “We are proof that data analytics is basically the same, regardless of your background. The same principles can be applied to any data analysis,” says Karinen.

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Building a culture

Traditionally, Wärtsilä has always collected business-related data about installations and various components. This data has mainly been utilised to improve engines and components. Advanced data analytics, however, can take these numbers to the next level. Combining data repositories in Wärtsilä with external data sources can reveal new facts. “Using data from different sources adds an enormous value to the analytics work. I am actually amazed by how much data Wärtsilä has,” says Söchting.

The challenge is in unlocking this data for use as many companies lack a “data culture”. The duo, therefore, spend much time educating the organisation on the benefits of data analytics.

In their latest project that aims to predict traffic, the two are using data to provide input for new opportunities. “Data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which provides unique identification, real time position, course and speed of vessels, is being combined with internal data sources from engines and components. This gives us a unique opportunity to tailor new products and services,” explains Karinen.

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Digging for good data

For Karinen and Söchting, one of the biggest challenges is dealing with dirty and unwieldy data. It is rarely nice, clean and pretty and sometimes it takes all their energy to clean and sort the data even before they can begin to analyse it. However, once that barrier is crossed, the data can then be used for creating new businesses such as the above mentioned AIS data-based initiative for the marine solutions.

Karinen explains, “Standard data analysis follows given procedures for clean-up, error monitoring, and analysis. It is vital that these procedures and rules are followed to obtain good results.”

“The general misconception is that you can feed in any type of data and get magnificent results,” adds Söchting. To give an example, Söchting compares this process to a Google search. “People do not realise that Google has spent billions and done a tremendous job classifying and analysing different, millions of sources so that we can get a good search result,” she says.

There is, however, a significant difference between search results and what this data means for businesses like Wärtsilä. “Our products are often mission critical for the customer, such as in emergency power plants at hospitals or on cruise vessels carrying thousands of passengers. For Wärtsilä, failure is not an option,” the two agree.

The insights produced by data analytics are raw material for Wärtsilä’s business experts, who can further develop the data. The result is often innovative data-driven business processes, such as spare parts predictability. “We see ourselves as a function that supports others in achieving better results,” says Karinen.


Strategic choice

There is a lot of hype around digitalisation to which data analytics is closely related. Companies need to decide whether to outsource their analytics or do it in-house. And as such, data analytics is a necessity today for almost every company.

Benefits can be reaped in the form of business opportunities as well as in improving internal processes, such as automating processes for accountants doing reconsolidation, for instance, using Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Business opportunities currently being explored are voyage management products with optimised traffic predictions with the ultimate aim of being able to have fully autonomous vessels.

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