Health in the clouds

Farookh Hussain and Dianshuang Wu. Photo by Shane Lo.

Farookh Hussain and Dianshuang Wu. Photo by Shane Lo.

In summary: 
  • Workforce Health Assessors has enlisted UTS researchers Farookh Hussain and Dianshuang Wu to clean up and make better use of 10 years of digital data
  • This project will enable access to specific workforce statistics that better inform decisions about insurance premiums and the health of workers 

Jason Unwin is the Managing Director of Workforce Health Assessors (WHA), a leading provider of work-related health services including pre-employment assessments. The information WHA collects assists employers to keep their workforce safe and reduce workers’ compensation premiums. When WHA saw an opportunity to use the data more effectively, they enlisted the School of Software’s Senior Lecturer Farookh Hussain and Postdoctoral Research Associate Dianshuang Wu to help them realise their vision.

Jason Unwin. Image supplied. Jason Unwin. Image supplied.

Jason Unwin:

Essentially our project involves cleaning up 10 years’ worth of data, getting it into the cloud space and ensuring we can present information that’s readily understood by our clients. Currently employers and government only have access to population statistics, which have no direct correlation to the health of the actual workers. So they don’t have a clear picture of where to spend money to improve the physical profile of their employees or keep people in the workforce longer. Similarly, when insurers are writing premiums for workers’ compensation they’re doing that on the back of the employer’s injury history and what types of processes and practices they have in place. This project will enable access to specific workforce statistics to better inform all of those decisions.

Collecting this digital data, we knew that one day we had another job of work we’d like to do in analysing it and being able to provide statistical reports to a range of people including employers, industry bodies and government. So we were on the lookout for a partner to collaborate on that project. We interviewed and looked at a few different universities for which one we were going to partner with and we felt that in the technology space where we were, the best fit for us was UTS.

When we first met with Farookh and Dianshuang, we spoke about what the university as a whole had to offer, and got a good understanding of how the collaboration would work. We were also pretty keen to know what key relationships the university had with different technology bodies. This project is definitely in the big data space, so we needed to make sure we partnered ourselves with a university that is thinking along the same lines.

The ability to understand data in a meaningful way is changing in front of us. We did a tour of the UTS Data Arena, which is one of only two or three data arenas of that type in the world. Being able to see data presented that way shows you analysing data isn’t simply standing over a spreadsheet looking at numbers; you can pull it out and actually look at its movement and how it changes when you change something in the data set.

You certainly bring two very powerful things together on a project like this. Rather than having a multitude of layers of different people who have been brought to the table you’ve got us as an organisation that lives and breathes it in the industry, and you’ve got the university that has access to all that emerging technology, equipment and breadth of expertise. It really does make all the difference.

Farookh Hussain. Photo by Shane Lo. Farookh Hussain. Photo by Shane Lo.

Farookh Hussain:

My expertise is around cloud-based intelligent data analytics, and this project is in the same direction. In the initial phase, this project is about data cleaning and data cleansing, but as an end goal they want to be able to get to cloud-based data analytics. WHA has a large information base at their disposal. They can use it for intelligent analytics and mining so they can feed this back to their clients to help inform business and policy decisions.

To me it is a very rewarding experience working with WHA, especially as they work in the health sector. The health sector is vital to the general well-being of any country. We have had a good collaborative partnership with them for the past 16 months on the first phase of this project. And we have been talking about embarking on other projects as well, such as an ARC Linkage project. So there are possibilities for ongoing collaborations.

Given the focus on industry engagement these days, a collaborative research project is a good way to find out how industry engagement actually works and build on that collaborative approach. And what's even more useful is when you see the outcomes of the relationship coming good at the end of the day. It's very rewarding.

Dianshuang Wu. Photo by Shane Lo. Dianshuang Wu. Photo by Shane Lo.

Dianshuang Wu:

My research area is recommender systems, data mining and data analysis. So in this project, I used my knowledge to help WHA clean their data, analyse their data and to develop software to generate reports based on the data.

Farookh is my supervisor and we worked together to secure the contract with WHA. Farookh is an expert in information systems and cloud computing, so I learned many things about cloud computing working with him. In this project, because we have a lot of data, we need to use a cloud database. Farookh discussed the structure of the software with me. He also introduced me to his students who work with Amazon. Amazon provide a cloud platform and I learned the industry cloud platform to understand how it works. So this helped develop the software in this project.

Farookh also helped me to communicate with business people. He has many partners in industry projects, so working with him on this project I learned how to communicate with the industry people. I think that's very important.

Collaborating with WHA on this project has given me a great sense of achievement. Because I can apply my research into the real world and help the company to solve their real problem. That motivates me to do the project. I'm very happy to work with WHA; I've found Jason and their other directors are very interested in the new technologies and believe the technologies can help them to become a leader in their field. Also their IT manager is very kind; when I ask him anything about their current database and current software, he takes the time to tell me everything. It feels very good to work with them.

I think doing the project benefits both the industry and the university. WHA have accumulated a lot of data and they believe the data can bring greater value. They want to transform the raw data into valuable information like reports. By doing this project, we can better understand the real-world problems and identify the research questions that benefit our research.