Cecilia Bouroncle: Exploiting the data opportunity in Scotland

Our society is becoming increasingly dependent on information and communication technologies. Picture: Getty
Our society is becoming increasingly dependent on information and communication technologies. Picture: Getty
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EVERY two days we create as much information as we did from the beginning of time until 2003, with all this data being created by citizens how can Scotland harness the opportunities these present?

By 2020 IBM predicts there will be 44 times more data than what existed in 2009. Everything from the goods we buy, to the way we interact has been transformed by data. 

Data science professionals earn on average £55,000, 31 per cent more than other IT professionals.

Cecilia Bournicle

A new wave of social media, mobile applications, sensor networks and machine-to-machine communications are creating vast amounts of data and this poses a significant challenge for those tasked with managing, securing, processing, and making sense of it all.

But while this trend poses significant challenges, it also creates substantial opportunities. This explosion of data and the growing interest in being able to extract value from it has opened the doors to a whole new industry being born, the data science industry.

Data science is the development and application of computational methods for extracting knowledge and insights from data, and using it to find innovative solutions to

existing problems. It involves varying degrees of statistics, data visualization, computer programming, data mining, machine learning and database engineering to solve

complex problems.

The Centre for Economic and Business Research predicts the opportunity for Scottish Industry from Big Data is £18bn over the next three years. Scotland is fortunate to have some of the best data in the world. A recent EMC survey found 75 per cent of organisations in Scotland, against 57 per cent in the UK as a whole, have the

infrastructure to analyse both internal and external data. 

Few other countries have the opportunity to link high quality, consistent data that has national coverage for public service improvement. We also have some fantastic academic capability in informatics and data science.

Scotland has a disproportionately large academic base in comparison to the size of our country, and it is packed with world-class facilities and researchers undertaking groundbreaking projects.

In order to leverage all the data generated in our interconnected world, the ‘data scientist’ career role has emerged. Data scientists have the ability to turn data into information, knowledge, solutions and innovative products can often separate success from failure in an organisation.

A recent study by The Tech Partnership and SAS UK, reports that the number of data science jobs in the UK rose by 41 per cent from 2012 to 2013, and estimate that by 2020 there will be approximately 56,000 job opportunities a year for data science professionals in the UK alone. However the research highlighted that there are serious skills shortages in data science at the moment. These shortages are driving up salaries, with data science professionals earning on average £55,000, 31 per cent more than other IT professionals.

To fill the growing demand for data scientists The Data Lab funded 40 Msc students in the 2015/16 academic year through The Data Lab MSc programme, which is a collaborative effort between Robert Gordon University, The University of Dundee, The University of Stirling and The Data Lab. We have also partnered with e-placement Scotland to offer industry placements for students at the end of their programme.

Scotland must look to bring the Data Science Community in the country together in order to facilitate interactions and discussion between industry, academia and the public sector; to help them work together and leverage each others strengths and capabilities towards a common goal: generating economic and social value to Scotland through the application of data science.

Cecilia Bouroncle is Marketing and Communication Officer at The Data Lab in Edinburgh. The Data Lab enables industry, public sector and world-class university researchers to innovate and develop new data science capabilities in a collaborative environment. Its core mission is to generate significant economic, social and scientific value from big data.