Bill Buchanan, Edinburgh Napier University Professor

Written by on 23 September 2015 in Feature

For the next 100 days, Connect will be running through our Tech 100 for 2015, profiling the key figures driving the digital agenda in Scotland. Today we hear from Bill Buchanan, lead for The Cyber Academy and Edinburgh Napier professor

Bill Buchanan (@billatnapier)

Job Title/Organisation: Professor, Edinburgh Napier University. Lead, The Cyber Academy.

What does your role involve?

I’m a Professor of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University and lead with the development of The Cyber Academy. My main roles involve teaching, innovation and research. We have a large research team working across many areas, including within cyber security, e-health and education. Our focus has always been to transform and change, and thus create an impact. 

My new professorial role is in public engagement and I have big plans for supporting academics and researchers at Edinburgh Napier University on showcasing their work. As part of this I am involved with a wide range of talks across the UK, with a focus on presenting new viewpoints and stimulating debate on some of the key issues of the day.

What do you consider to be the most imminent challenge in your line of work?

There are three main aspects to my role: teaching, innovation and research. In terms of challenges:

  • Teaching: In academia we are faced with many challenges, including balancing teaching, innovation and research. I could easily buy myself out of teaching and concentrate on innovation and research, but I have a strong belief that one of the main reasons for being involved in research and innovation is to provide our students with the most up-to-date education and show them the possibilities of pushing forward their ideas. Being involved in research and linking with industry also provides an opportunity to understand the types of skills that are required and we always try to develop our teaching to support this.
  • Innovation: There are so many opportunities within this Cyber Age, especially as we are rebuilding our physical spaces in a cyber space. For us, we work with so many Scottish SMEs, so the challenge is to continue to fully engage with them and where there are benefits for all involved. Our work with Bright Red Publishing showcases how well collaborations with academia and SMEs can work as we now have over 27,000 registered users and over half a million questions taken on the Bright Red Digital Zone. 
  • Research: In terms of research, we aim to make an impact, and we have been pushing forward to address health and social issues, along with addressing problems with computer security. An important challenge for us is always to continue the drive and vision, and aim to see into the horizon in how we bring together knowledge from a range of domains in order to sustain the drive. 

Within The Cyber Academy, our challenge is to drive forward collaborations on an international level and bring benefits to all involved. We want to make it a place which supports collaborations across traditional boundaries and we are currently amazed by the demand for our online virtualised training infrastructure. This environment provides a support place for those to learn about cyber security and use state-of-art devices, methods and techniques.

What has been the most rewarding piece of work you've undertaken?

There are so many to pick from, but the Bright Red Digital Zone is one that has brought benefit to all involved and the benefits of the development of children’s education is something that no-one could ever measure. I think we now have the most extensive online environments for the Curriculum of Excellence and have integrated a wide range of innovative things, including support for every learner (and it’s free!). I took a rather different route through education and I’m keen to make sure that every child in Scotland gets the chance to achieve their own potential, no matter their circumstances, and we hope the Bright Red Digital Zone does this.

Also, we have two amazing spin-out companies - ZoneFox and Symphonic Trust - which started as ideas and vision and who are now doing well. ZoneFox, though, is special as it follows on from Dr Jamie Graves' PhD where he has driven the company forward and ZoneFox is seen to be an international leader in cyber security.

Winning at the Edinburgh Napier Student Excellence Awards in both 2014 and 2015 was certainly a nice reward for the hard work that we do in terms of providing our students with the best and most supportive educational infrastructure possible. Creating the online environments for education has been equally rewarding as our spin-outs and innovation work, and they are now recognised as world-leading in their provision. They now engage with many stakeholders across the world and with millions of people using our web material and YouTube clips.

How can Scotland bridge the digital skills gap?

There must be a drive to get more kids involved in coding and get them into technology. The country needs to continue to support innovation in creating digital services and in developing our economy. Every part of our economy needs to take some form of ownership in attracting kids to learn coding and pushing forward a digital agenda, especially for public services.

Which new technology excites you the most?

I love technology and in analysing every aspect of how things work. My current favourites are my wi-fi kettle, health monitoring devices, and Bluetooth bulbs. I also love cryptography and computer security puzzles.

What's your favourite app and why?

It is a bit sad, but I’m a coding geek and I love my Microsoft Visual Studio development environment and creating C#, ASP.NET and Python code. We are a fairly hands-on group and we like to build real things, so we love building websites such as asecuritysite.com.

What, for you, will 2016 be the year of from a technology/digital standpoint?

The next part of the building of the cyber age! Scotland has the opportunity to become a world leader in the cyber age. It has amazing cities and some of the finest graduates around, and it provides an excellent standard of life for those who live here. We need to attract the finest minds to our cities and continue to support innovation at every turn. The opportunities for new products within the cyber age are untapped and we need to support those who can look ahead and provide vision.

Find out who else features in our Tech 100, which is being done in association with Gamma, by visiting the devoted section of our website.

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