Inside GHD's drive to embrace data science

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Inside GHD's drive to embrace data science

New team tests its capabilities on construction projects.

Professional services company GHD is in the early stages of building an internal data science capability, hiring a team of eight and deploying a ‘greenfield’ instance of SAP’s HANA to crunch the data.

Data and analytics solutions architect Jorge Lizama told iTnews the firm saw an advantage in becoming a first-mover in the data analytics space.

The Brisbane-based capability is still nascent – less than a year old – but Lizama said finding work hasn’t been a problem.

“At the moment we’re developing the maturity of our capability and making sure that we can deliver at a top quality level," he said.

“Then we’ll go out there to our internal service lines and say ‘these are the types of things we can deliver’.”

Presently, the team has three project clients, all garnered from within its Australian business.

This staged approach has helped Lizama and his team to develop and test various use cases for their capabilities before progressively rolling them out to GHD’s global operations

Already, Lizama envisages a range of ways that the team might work with GHD’s 75-plus service lines – everything from servicing the internal analytics needs of project teams to powering as-a-service style analytics offerings for external clients.

“People in our service lines come to us and ask to use our system to crunch data in order to provide something back to a client,” Lizama said.

“We provide all of the support creating the space to store the data, the logic, the data models, and they execute the model and get the results back they want.”

GHD may also be able to unlock value in the delivery of infrastructure solutions “with a digital flavour”.

“These projects are highly confidential, but I can say that one of the major projects we did was to measure physical movements on a major, mission-critical structure while there was construction work going on around it,” Lizama said.

“The job entailed placing eight sensors on the structure, giving the client access in real time to data about vibration, movement, and the impact of weather and construction on the asset.

"The engineers didn’t believe it would be possible, but it was a great success. If the structure had failed, life would have been lost, so the ability to use data analytics to protect that asset was particularly important.”

GHD’s intention to set itself apart from rivals by investing in data science also extends to its analytics platform of choice: SAP’s HANA.

While it is common to see HANA added to environments where SAP already has a foothold, GHD is breaking the mould by deploying HANA as its first SAP system.

“We’re not a classic SAP customer that first bought the ERP and then extended it with other SAP products,” Lizama said.

“Our only SAP product is actually HANA because we saw the potential to be able to create a data transformation for our clients.”

GHD is extending the base HANA install with other add-ons, including predictive analysis library and more recently with Vora, a tool that can bridge HANA and big data systems like Spark and Hadoop.

“Currently HANA is the main technology component underpinning our capabilities, but looking into the future we’ll be faced with a big data challenge and that’s where you start drawing the line of where HANA can be the single capability and when you may need to extend a bit to other technologies like Spark and Hadoop,” Lizama said.

“We’re trying to build a scalable, consistent data architecture.

“HANA is still going to be the centrepiece, but we’re going to extend it through other big data elements.”

Once Lizama is comfortable that the data capability and its technology systems are mature, he plans to ramp up to service the national needs of GHD first, before extending it internationally.

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