The age of the data pioneers  - Brian Hills

When England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and his famous Covid slides full of graphs and statistics were regularly beamed into our homes at the height of the pandemic, people became more aware how big decisions affecting everyday lives were based on data.

Every day, we work alongside companies using data to make our lives better, and it’s hugely inspiring.

Take the AICE project, for instance, focussing on developing the widespread adoption of swallowing a tiny camera inside a pill to screen for bowel cancer. Less intrusive and more cost-effective than a colonoscopy, the images can then be remotely reviewed and analysed. This €6 million project is a pioneering collaboration between The Data Lab, Digital Health Innovation Centre, NHS Highland and partners across Europe.

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Another exciting example involves Trade in Space, a Scottish SME we funded with University of Edinburgh to develop an algorithm that identifies coffee plantations. Following this innovation Trade in Space are now working with some of the largest coffee brands in the world to help them make better sustainable supply chain decisions.

Brian Hills, CEO, The Data LabBrian Hills, CEO, The Data Lab
Brian Hills, CEO, The Data Lab

Our Data Summit conference in Edinburgh on 3rd and 4th November will showcase leading innovations in data and AI with over 72 speakers including companies like BrightAct, a Swedish firm formed after its founder Sofie Wahlstrom identified a gap in data about domestic abuse while working in the public sector.

She and her business partner Elinor Samuelsson ran a two-year pilot, gathering and providing data on domestic abuse to relevant organisations. Now nearly complete, 16 countries – including Scotland - are interested in the technology, which could ultimately help prevent these incidents occurring.

We will also be welcoming data pioneers such as NASA’s chief science data officer Kevin Murphy, who will talk about its Earth System Observatory which gathers huge amounts of data about our planet to guide efforts to monitor climate change.

More businesses adopted digital technology during the pandemic – but many still need to understand how to use the data from these technologies to realise the full value of their investments. Recently, for example, I presented to the Scottish Greengrocers Federation – their sector is worth £9bn annually to the Scottish economy. The challenge is to connect them to the wider data ecosystem, where they can forge meaningful relationships and partnerships. Education is key and we will have a dedicated track on skills and talent development at Data Summit

Our free-to-join online data community is also helping improve inclusion and reach. With users from over 50 countries – 40% of whom are women and 19% from a minority ethnic background – September was a record month for engagement; it’s great to witness people helping each other more than ever before.

With a smart and united ecosystem that’s growing daily, I have no doubt Scotland can be the world’s most impactful data community, where companies that will change the world for the better will grow and flourish.

Brian Hills, CEO, The Data Lab



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