In early September 2016, the underground train route, Circle Line of Singapore experienced multiple disruptions. Trains stalled for no apparent reason due to “intermittent signal interference”. Simply put the incidents were caused by some form of signal loss that would trigger the emergency brake safety feature in those trains causing them to stop randomly in tracks.
GoVTech (Government Technology Agency of Singapore) worked together with LTA (Land Transport Authority) and SMRT (Singapore Mass Rapid Transport) to identify the problem. A complete account of this, is provided in the beautiful blog post written by Daniel Sim which documents all the analysis done by GovTechies Lee Shangqian, Daniel Sim & Clarence Ng.
Further data visualization revealed that a rogue train was causing signal interference in opposite, nearby trains causing them to stop at the tracks. On his post PM Lee described this as “a fascinating account, demonstrating close teamwork, sharp analysis, and a never-say-die attitude”, adding that “this is how a Smart Nation should use data to solve real-world problems”.
The Data scientists acknowledged that the quick analysis was possible mainly due to the data provided by SMRT and LTA. Availability of Data is perhaps our most vital instrument to solving complex issues such as this. Data collection has become more and more easy due to various advancement in the storage and retrieval technology, but Data alone cannot make any sense of issues. Every branch of industry and business generates a large amount of data which is stored faster than our ability to use it, for making decision.
Simply put data alone has no value in itself if no information is generated out of it. Design plays a secret yet vital role with Big Data in the form of Visual Analytics. Data visualization turns information overload into opportunities.
Visual analytics is highly interdisciplinary and combines various related dimensions areas such as visualization techniques, data mining, data management, data fusion, statistics and cognition science etc. On a grand scale, visual analytics provides technology that combines the strengths of human and electronic data processing.
The Analysis of Rogue Train was inspired by the extensive visualization project of Boston Subway system. The keyword here being the Visualization. A quick glance at this page would enable you to understand the power of charts, graphs and other creative visualizations that were used to achieve this interactive exploration. Design drives visualization and it helps cross functional teams such as the one who worked on “Rogue Train” issue to work on multiple aspects with common understanding.
A picture is always worth a thousand words, especially when you’re trying to find relationships and understand data, which could include millions of variables. In my opinion we need more of design thinking approach and design oriented professionals to contribute on data visualization realm to bring about radical change in the way we visualize & utilize data. Designers & Developers of Tech Companies should start validating visual outputs by applying more design ideas in creating a rich experience for the end user. Big Data needs some accessorizing and now it’s the time!
Business Analyst - Snr Software Consultant.