A new research and design laboratory at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), called Scilinx, was developed to address the needs of businesses and industries that require high-level, specialised expertise to develop solutions for their agile, freely evolving operational systems and processes.
Specifically, there is a need to design tools that can extract insights while a system is evolving and use these insights to improve performance, productivity and give the business a competitive edge, explains Scilinx founder and Wits School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics PhD student and associate lecturer Phumlani Khoza.
The Scilinx approach is encapsulated in an “advancing operational frontier”, which aims to give businesses and organisations direct access through its commercial arm, Scilinx Studio, to a dedicated research team with the relevant expertise to develop tailored cutting-edge and cross-disciplinary business solutions in the Scilinx research laboratory.
“Through custom-built machine learning-enabled tools, its work is a revival of operations research – the application of advanced analytical methods to solve organisational problems. Using this approach, there is a direct connection with the nuts-and-bolts of organisational processes,” he explains.
The emergence of big data has resulted in complex data sets or a “big data mess”, which are large collections of data from varied sources with no prescribed structure, he says.
This makes it difficult for organisations to create a holistic view of all of their data. Incomplete data leads to inaccurate analysis and few organisations know the extent to which their analysis and projections are based on incomplete data, Khoza explains.
“Big data sets and unstructured data have disrupted how we deal with more complex organisational processes in dynamic environments. This is why cutting-edge research is needed that advances operational frontiers in organisations, primarily by improving information flows,” he says.
Founded in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, the Scilinx research laboratory and its commercialisation arm, Scilinx Studio, is a cross-disciplinary research unit conducting operations research.
The lab and studio develop bespoke business solutions and help clients rethink how big data and advanced analytics impact on operational processes in their organisations.
Operational systems are constantly subjected to evolution and change owing to human factors, such as the behaviour of business operators and clients. To extract operational insights from unstructured data can be a time-consuming and costly endeavour.
“Therefore, Scilinx is using the iterative bottom-up approach from design thinking, where the basic question is how to experiment and learn. This means allowing the system to operate as a natural system and evolve. As the data gets messy and tangled, you grow technologies that are able to keep up with the messiness of the data.”
The Scilinx Studio is an example of an organisational network where academic researchers and industry partners can come together to form collaborative links to accelerate experimentation in process and technological innovations.
The areas of focus are risk management, computational finance, and operational complexity as a general framework to enhance operational effectiveness. Current research initiatives cover the mining sector, financial markets and the development of advanced insight-generating operational technologies.Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online