A NEW venture aims to make Edinburgh the data capital of Europe and train 100,000 people in the necessary skills over the next decade.
The £661m Data-Driven Innovation initiative (DDI), funded by the Edinburgh City Deal, will also invest in a data analysis facility, which will help 1000 organisations use data to innovate their sectors.
And it will boost the economy, launching spin-out companies, attracting start-ups, as well as established businesses, and bringing investment.
The initiative is being run by the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University and includes plans to support schools and colleges across the south-east of Scotland to provide digital skills teaching and training.
It will help provide the 13,000 extra workers with data skills Scotland is estimated to need every year as workplaces undergo the latest industrial revolution.
Jarmo Eskelinen, who has been appointed to lead the project, said: “Edinburgh already punches way above its weight when it comes to knowledge and opportunities in this sector. This is a dynamic, compact capital city – that’s what draws me here – the unique combination of a compact city, which can be more agile than global metropolises, and a very strong talent base.
“This is a new programme but there is a very credible legacy in being top of the class.”
Edinburgh is already home to technology hothouse CodeBase, travel website Skyscanner and has a growing fintech sector.
US fantasy sports firm FanDuel, which has now merged with Paddy Power’s US business, was founded in Edinburgh.
Mr Eskelinen said data was already playing a key part in everyday life but was set to become even more central in the future.
“Without much thinking we navigate a foreign city using GPS data; we come to a new place and we search for a nice restaurant using data from other users of those restaurants. It’s part of our daily fabric. It’s clear it’s going to be increasingly so.”
He said people were often worried about the loss of jobs which accompanied the latest advances in technology, but he insisted there would be new jobs created as well.
“We want to build new internationally successful businesses. The goal is to use the skills and talent base that we have to boost business and come up with new companies which will grow out of Edinburgh and conquer the world so to speak.
“Skyscanner is a good example of a home-grown highly successful company that’s come out of this expertise in Edinburgh and there is certainly room for more.”
The DDI initiative will include a regional Internet of Things network – a series of devices embedded with sensors and software and connected to each other, allowing them to collect and share data.
Up to 100 sensor hubs across the region will be added to an existing network of 15. Most will be installed at secondary schools and colleges. They will collect environmental data such as bio-diversity, weather and pollution, which will be available for students to use when studying biology and geography.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell hailed the DDI initiative. He said: “This exciting project – backed by £270m of UK government investment – will ensure that the UK leads the world in technologies of the future and benefits from the economic growth opportunities this brings.”
Professor Charlie Jeffery, senior vice principal at Edinburgh University, said the university’s strengths in data science had been driving innovation for the past decade and more.
“The City Region Deal will now give us the capacity to do much more across a wider range of sectors, including healthcare, robotics and fintech.
“But perhaps the most important part of the Deal is our commitment to ensure people can build the skills to flourish in the data-driven economy. This could include young people about to enter the workforce, women returning after career breaks, or people looking to reskill in mid-career.”
And Heriot-Watt principal Professor Richard A Williams said: “By working in partnership we can ensure our city community can prosper and achieve its obvious potential as the leading international research hub for digital innovation.”