Running the race to contact trace

DBS’ data heroes leveraged their skills and worked behind the scenes for the sake of their colleagues, stepping up with a contact-tracing solution even before our first confirmed case.

Do you remember what time you arrived at work the past Monday? Who did you meet all day and for how long? How about what floors you visited and whether you bumped into anyone at the doors you passed through?

Chances are you don’t. Most of us and our short-lived memories are troublesome when it comes to answering such questions even when it’s for something as critical as contact-tracing during these times.

So when news about Covid-19 was rampant, and ‘contact-tracing’ became a familiar phrase, the DataFirst team at DBS knew they had to pivot from their usual work to build an internal solution just in case.

Wu Wei, Team Lead, and Joanne Tan, on a video conference call with other data scientists from the DataFirst team.

“I got a message from my manager on a Sunday telling me that he would like me to work on a contact-tracing project from Monday morning,” recalled Wu Wei, Data Scientist from DBS Transformation Group, who led the project.

At that time, there were no confirmed cases from within the bank, but Wu remembered, “I was under a lot of pressure because I was afraid one day a case would come in.”

He made sure his team understood the urgency and prioritised the contact-tracing solution above their usual duties of analysing data to solve business problems for the bank. This ranged from creating better engagement for customers, to tightening anti-money laundering solutions.

The team deftly identified the existing data that could be leveraged for contact-tracing, then started pulling them together from various sources.

To start, meeting data, which showed meeting locations and attendees, was extracted. Next, staff pass data, which showed where employees had tapped in and out of, and HR data were gathered and calibrated to create a robust analytics model.

With their extensive experience building network models, Wu and his team were able to roll out a workable version of the contact-tracing solution within two days.

Staff pass data was calibrated with meeting and HR data for the contact-tracing solution.

And it was just in time.

On 12 February 2020, a DBS employee was confirmed to have tested positive for the coronavirus on level 43 at DBS Asia Central at Marina Bay Financial Centre.

Even as measures were rolled out to support the employee and their family, the bank also had to kick its business continuity plans into high gear.

HR quickly reached out to those in the bank who might have been impacted, up to three degrees from the infected colleague, based on the output of the analytics model.

Close contacts of the infected colleague were put under quarantine and monitored closely, while others were alerted to be more vigilant in monitoring their health.

Since the contract-tracing process didn’t have to rely solely on interviews and people’s recall, the identification process was quick, and the bank was able to ring-fence the potential spread.

Wu attributes the quick solution to immense teamwork. “We managed to implement the first solution in two days because of clear project objective and all kinds of support we got from various teams,” he said.

A total of eight departments across the bank came together to develop and execute this solution.

The solution is now available to DBS’ offices in Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Indonesia and India DAH2.  It will be made available, as required, in all markets where DBS has a presence.

Work continues to ensure the bank is ready for any further developments in this rapidly changing landscape, and DBS isn’t letting its guard down.

Wu’s team is now working on fully automating the solution. “The solution works but we are always looking at ways to push the boundaries.,” he said.

The DataFirst team at DBS Data Day 2019

As a bank, we’d like to take a moment to applaud the teams who came together to keep us as safe as possible. A huge shout-out to: DataFirst Analytics Centre of Excellence, Human Resources, Corporate Real Estate Strategy & Administration, Legal, Compliance and Secretariat, Technology Services, Financial Crime and Security Services, Tech and Data platforms.

While data remains a cold and distant concept to some, they have shown exactly how it can be used for real human impact.