Data thoughts

Having recently attended the Data Science Research day at the University of Edinburgh, I wanted to share some initial thinking on what was shared there.

The day began with an insight into the Data Science Centre for Doctoral Training from Charles Sutton, the Deputy Director. It is no surprise to hear about the rapid expansion of their Centre, nor the impact of Data Science as an industry — the lack of professionals to meet the huge market demand is well known. It’s also very clear that realising the value of data is driving business development and growth in the private sector much more explicitly. In the public sector, there is an understanding that this untapped asset needs to be resourced, managed and utilised to deliver insight and inform decisions, as well as support wider engagement with citizens and organisations. The challenge is how to achieve this with limited resources.

The speakers at the seminar, from FT, Walt Disney and BBC News Labs, all offered examples of using data to inform and improve their businesses. Hearing from them, you know there is much more going on than their examples suggest. For their sector, keeping that competitive edge is key, and using every bit of data essential. Keeping up with the technologies to support this work is a challenge they need to address.

For the BBC News Lab, digital media is changing rapidly. Taking advantage of technologies and ensuring they remain a leader in media monitoring and world-wide reporting mean projects and prototypes are a way of life. A current EU project, Summa, is looking to develop a multi-lingual monitoring platform. This is a very ambitious project which if successful will deliver translation across a number of languages improving journalists reporting accuracy, understanding and, in particular, trend prediction.

Whilst some of the projects showcased by speakers and exhibitors have an academic focus, others could be transferred to the public sector to deliver similar benefits. We may not have access to the level of resources discussed here, but we can make this happen by working with partners and taking advantage of funding opportunities.

An astonishing statistic from Disney Research is that 10% of all tweets are about Disney in some way. That’s 100 million messages each day to be processed, and they use a massive range of tools, off the shelf, open source, freeware and developed in house, to carry out their analysis. We may not be dealing with these numbers individually, but combined, local authorities could turn their big data into a powerful knowledge base and exchange to inform service needs and customer delivery, as well as predict changes in service demand. Together it could transform how we deliver our business.