Student's big data project shines at SUNZ


Master of Analytics student Alpha Woolrich, the inaugural recipient of a scholarship from SAS Users of New Zealand.


Master of Analytics student Alpha Woolrich is the first recipient of a new scholarship from SAS Users of New Zealand (SUNZ), a community supported by leading analytics software company SAS.

Along with a contribution to her course costs, the executive officer at the Veterinary Professional Insurance Society won an experience that money can’t buy: she was invited to present her applied Master of Analytics project at SUNZ’s annual conference. 

“It was really overwhelming, not only talking to 300 people for the first time, but on a topic that they have so much more experience in,” Alpha says. “Fortunately, the SUNZ committee provided an enormous amount of support in the lead up and on the day. 

“My pitch to the audience was that I was taking a fairly practical approach to a common problem, and that Master of Analytics students are available to help them with their own business problems – so it’s win, win.”

Using big data to reduce fraud, waste and abuse

Alpha’s applied project, which she is currently completing, uses big data to identify potential fraud, waste or abuse by companies that provide services to groups of clients.

“When it comes to fraud, waste or abuse, most organisations view each transaction in isolation, based on assumptions and past cases, but this provides a limited view of any situation,” she says.

“For example, if an insurance company received 100 individual car claims that were all legitimate on their own, would it make a difference to them if 20 of those claims were found to have been repaired by the same place? Or if 10 of those claims were found to have the same witnesses, or driver?

“I’m using a data mining approach to identify relationships between people or entities to develop a profile of their behaviour and implement alerts when behaviour falls outside what is expected, which may indicate fraud, waste or abuse.”

It's about asking the right questions

It was on the strength of her applied analytics project that Alpha was chosen for the SUNZ scholarship. The insights from the project, and her data analytics skills more generally, have also been useful in her own workplace. 

“I’m working on using my new skills to develop an integrated risk management system that uses data and business rules to develop thresholds and alerts for operational risks,” she says. “The analytics skills I’ve gained through studying for my master’s have also allowed me to review and adjust our risk profile as an insurer.”

She says, in the bigger picture, the main thing she’s learned is to not take information at face value. “It’s about knowing the right questions to ask, of others and of the data, and how to then deliver analytics information effectively.”

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