Comment: Scotland’s drive to harness the true value of data

Theresa May, Adam McVey and Nicola Sturgeon at the signing of the �1.3bn city deal. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Theresa May, Adam McVey and Nicola Sturgeon at the signing of the �1.3bn city deal. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
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Rachel Aldighieri, MD of the DMA, discusses how the marketing and data industries are spearheading initiatives to support data-driven Scottish innovation.

The political and economic landscape will likely remain uncertain for the foreseeable future. As such the Scottish Government needs to invest in something that will not only add some stability, but will reach all areas of the economy, support guaranteed long-term growth potential, and have a strong degree of imperviousness to changes in constitutional makeup.

It sounds as if no such thing could exist, yet if you’re reading this from a screen then your very opening of this article has just built a little more of it: data.

Data is easy to overlook because of its apparent intangibility. Yet, it is data which is the underpinning entity in economies today. Be it general business administration, market research, trading, the use of new technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) systems in business operations (including crucial fintech development and the handling of personal information); data is the underlying facilitator of these functions and many more.

Over recent years, the Scottish Government has regularly issued support for the tech, data and marketing industries, identifying the Central Belt as a key area for growth. The value of the digital economy in Scotland was estimated to be £4.45 billion in 2014. Data-driven innovation alone has the potential to deliver £20bn of productivity benefits for the economy over the next five years.

Scotland’s data-driven tech, fintech, AI and marketing sectors are attracting huge amounts of investment and the potential for Scotland to become a global leader in these fields is very real.

Back in August, Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon signed the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. The agreement recognised the tremendous amounts of value and skill in Scotland’s data and marketing industry, investing more than £300 million for data-driven initiatives.

No matter what form of Brexit deal is or is not struck, the UK government has committed to having a robust data protection framework that balances privacy and innovation. The government has already implemented the Data Protection Act 2018, which should create adequacy with the EU based on the essential framework of GDPR. In the event of a no-deal, the Data Protection Act will remain part of UK law.

In short, a no-deal Brexit – or a Brexit deal that doesn’t maintain the free flow of data – opposes the interests of the data and marketing industry as a whole. A no-deal on data would cause immediate and complete ceasing of large portions of UK dataflows with EU countries, a practice through which enormous amounts of business is conducted. Indeed, 75 per cent of the UK’s cross-border data flows are with the EU.

Having lobbied this position for months, we know that the government understands the ramifications of this. We shall continue to push the importance of getting a deal on data to government and our EU partners.

To really reap the benefits of data and provide a strong foundation for the future economy, continued investment will be required. This is why DMA Scotland, the authority for one-to-one marketing, is working on several exciting initiatives to research and establish the value of data to the Scottish economy. It is pioneering work that we hope will allow businesses to use data in a way that benefits themselves and their customers.

The DMA continues to work with government, Scottish businesses and educational institutions to help grow the data and marketing industry. DMA Scotland, led by chair Firas Khnaisser, of Standard Life, and vice-chair Derek Lennox, of Sainsbury’s Bank, is already assisting businesses to develop their data skills and deliver more value to customers by helping them navigate the challenging ethical and legal landscape.

Used in the right way, data offers a huge opportunity for businesses. Understanding its true worth will empower customers and brands alike to create better experiences. DMA Scotland’s new initiative, the Value of Data, aims to reshape the true value of information from an ethical, customer-focused and economic perspective.

By working with our members, academia and the broader industry, we will lead discussions on the practical applications of these recent investments in the marketing and data industries, to the benefit of the Scottish economy.

The availability and scope of data will continue to increase in the future and so the marketing and data industries must develop an ethical framework to operate within. Therefore, ethics will sit at the heart of the Value of Data campaign, and DMA Scotland is working to develop such a framework around data use.

We want to build trust and champion how we think things should be done – responsibly, sustainably and always led by our customer-first principles. We want to show the value of values.