Thomas Blyth: Sowing the CeeD of opportunity for the Capital

Thomas Blyth, Business Development Manager, EPCC, University of Edinburgh
Thomas Blyth, Business Development Manager, EPCC, University of Edinburgh
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Companies across the world are adopting high ­performance computing (HPC) and high performance data analytics to gain a competitive edge. There is a lot of hype around big data and big computing, but it is undeniable that data-driven innovation will have a profound influence on the business community in the coming years.

The expertise and support already available in Scotland will create a massive opportunity for our engineering and manufacturing sectors and the £500m Data-Driven Innovation strand of the Edinburgh and South-East Scotland City Region Deal means this is an exciting time for exploring how technology can benefit business.

Industry can therefore gain huge benefits from the combination of data science expertise, HPC hardware, and readily-available software and data analytics tools.

HPC enables data scientists to ­manage, process and work with extremely large and complex datasets, which allows businesses to develop new products and generate new revenue streams.

EPCC is a world-leading HPC centre within the University of Edinburgh. It collaborates with companies of all sizes to tackle real-life problems or enhance business processes, and the direct results can include ­gaining a competitive advantage, reducing costs, or improving operational or research and development processes.

To understand just how much impact data-driven innovation can have, consider the case of a manufacturing production line which is ­running 24 hours a day – an ­unexpected breakdown could turn out to be extremely costly.

A modern production line will ­generate a huge amount of data from sensors that detect faults. However, if machine learning could be used to predict faults before they occur, the number of times the line breaks down could be dramatically reduced, ­leading to massive ­savings.

This kind of application, in which powerful computers are needed to search for meaningful patterns in data sets in order to make predictions, will increase in importance as the amount of data grows.

The newly opened Bayes ­Centre in Edinburgh is home to a new ­community of world-leading data science and artificial intelligence teams, including EPCC, and it is set to play a key role in delivering the £500m Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) strand of the Edinburgh and South-East Scotland City Region Deal.

Central to the DDI programme is an exciting new facility for the secure and trustworthy hosting and analysis of huge and varied datasets.

This £70 million investment in the World-Class Data Infrastructure (WCDI) will be fundamental in positioning the City Region as the data capital of Europe.

It will act as an ­enabler for many data ­science projects for industry, academia or both, and – by bringing together regional, national and international datasets – will facilitate new products, services, and scientific studies.

The WCDI’s high-resiliency data and computing facilities will ­support work with complex, high ­volume, real-time datasets from across the City Region and beyond.

We are already seeing demand from a wide range of sectors including ­fintech and other financial ­services, space and satellite, data analytics, and tech start-ups. The establishment of this data hub and the ­production of new applications will in turn lead to new companies.

Here at EPCC, we see the WCDI as a unique opportunity for companies to adopt data-driven innovation. It will offer state-of-the-art data and ­computer infrastructure, supported by data analytics and modelling skills from across the University of ­Edinburgh and the wider region.

This begs the question – how can companies with no experience of data technologies take advantage of this?

Certainly, a collaborative approach is required, with the ­creation of new partnerships and bodies like CeeD – the Centre for Engineering Education and Development – hosting regular events that offer the opportunity to form new connections between business and academic researchers.

CeeD brings together large companies and their smaller supply chain partners, mixes in some world class academic expertise, such as EPCC, and combines the collective knowledge to improve operational efficiency and effectiveness for all. Fundamentally, CeeD helps to improve the effectiveness and ­competitiveness of business and organisations by helping to solve the day-to-day challenges, encouraging them to develop an aptitude for being increasingly forward thinking and enterprising.

Thomas Blyth is business development manager, EPCC, a member of CeeD,