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by Tom Freeman
12 September 2014
Big data's in the lab

Big data's in the lab

Data and digital innovation is set to benefit from a recently announced £14m capital investment in Scotland’s innovation centres. The Scottish Government added the funding to £110m already committed to the sector from all across the UK. 

The Scottish Funding Council, alongside Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, are supporting the centres as collaborations between universities, businesses and others to enhance innovation across Scotland’s key economic sectors.

One of the innovation centres is the soon-to-be-opened Data Lab, which is dedicated to helping Scotland capitalise on the growing market in analytics and ‘big data’ technology. The centre will transform the nature of collaboration between industry, public sector and academic partners and provide new ways of benefiting from the innovation and expertise from within Scotland’s world-leading university sector. It is predicted it will contribute 300 jobs and £150m to the Scottish economy.

Data Lab’s primary focus will be on the digital technology, energy, financial services, healthcare and public sector markets, with hub locations at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, the University of Edinburgh and Glasgow University. Industry will lead programmes across three central themes of collaboration, building communities and skills and trainings.

The opening of the Data Lab this year marks the end of a journey for the idea of ‘big data’ from IT jargon to what is being labelled as Scotland’s ‘new oil’. Previous attempts to bring the booming industry to Scotland had stalled, for example, in February 2011, Lloyds Banking Group suspended advanced plans for a £250m datafarm investment in Ecclefechan, and it is hoped the new centres will bridge the gap.

Neil Logan, Chairman of the Data Lab, said it would play an important role in Scotland’s future. “This will change the nature of the relationship between industry and academia by helping industry to unlock the value inside our world-leading academic institutions. I’m also excited by the impact that working with organisations in the public and third sectors will have on the everyday lives of Scottish citizens,” he said.

Laurence Howells, Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: “Tablets, kindles, mobile phones, online shopping; we all use and generate massive amounts of data each day.” The Data Lab will help to develop innovative techniques to improve many aspects of life, from efficient energy use to personalised online shopping, he added.

The Scottish Funding Council has committed a total of £124m to the programme of innovation centres over six years, which has so far included the CENtre for Sensors and Imaging Systems, the Digital Health Institute and the Stratified Medicine Centre.

The Digital Health Institute too, will look to how data can drive technology, according to Professor Stuart Anderson of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, one of the founders of the institute. “We’re moving into a situation where we have the capacity to pick up huge amounts of monitoring information, one way or another, and we have the capacity to distribute and coordinate people in a way that we’ve never been able to do before,” he said.

Education Secretary Michael Russell said: “The innovation centre collaborations already in place will help develop the skills that Scottish business needs to succeed in the global marketplace in a range of sectors. By using Scotland’s exceptional research base, we are able to respond nimbly to opportunities for potential growth.

“This is an exciting time for the centres, which are developing practical solutions to challenges faced by industry. The potential of these partnerships is incredible – bringing together the research excellence within our universities and the entrepreneurship within our business sector to deliver real social and economic benefits."

Edinburgh University’s big data commitment has also been boosted with the appointment of the Chief Scientist at the Scottish Government’s Health Directorate, Professor Andrew Morris, as new Vice-Principal of Data Science. He will work closely with Professor Richard Kenway, Vice-Principal for High Performance Computing, to establish a new umbrella body – Edinburgh Data Science.

The Data Lab’s website was scheduled to go live on 15 September, ahead of the Lab’s official launch event on 30 October in Edinburgh.

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