With organisations such as the ONS, the Met Office, Airbus and Oracle on our doorstep, coupled with world-leading in-house expertise at universities across the region, the time is ripe for a Great West network in data science and innovation, argues Professor Stephen Fairhurst
Developing capacity for research and development in data science is now a major national priority. This much was clear when, in November 2015, the national Alan Turing Institute (ATI) officially launched– a flagship investment that catalysed a wave of data science initiatives UK-wide.
Alongside the national focus on data science and innovation, there has been a strident call from the previous Government to develop local growth potential in key research and industry strengths. The Industrial Strategy Green Paper, which set the Government’s stall for addressing the productivity challenge, pledged to “back local innovation” and the then-Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, called for “locally-directed, collaborative working”.
Bolstering the Industrial Strategy were tranches of Science and Innovation Audits which outlined definitive research and industry expertise in UK regions. For South West England and South East Wales, digital innovation was in the spotlight – specifically recognising the region’s underpinning strength in data analytics.
The potential of the region to become a data science and innovation powerhouse is clear, and its supporters are making their voices heard. A recent talk at Cardiff University from Stian Westlake, then-Policy Advisor to Jo Johnson (Minister for Universities and Science), focused on the rich data science ecosystem of South Wales, highlighting that the region is home to national government bodies such as the ONS, Companies House and the Intellectual Property Office, alongside major commercial businesses with expertise in data science such as Admiral.
Over the Severn Bridge the data science and innovation industry landscape is just as vibrant, featuring global organisations from Airbus to Oracle alongside thriving SMEs and start-ups. The Met Office, based in Exeter, is an unparalleled leader in climate and environmental data analytics.
Expertise in data analytics is, of course, cultivated from seed in our universities and research labs. For example, the University of Bristol has recently set up the Jean Golding Institute for Data Intensive Research; Cardiff University has the Data Innovation Research Institute, Exeter is developing the Data Science Institute and Bath is home to the well-established Institute for Mathematical Innovation.
So how do we all work together to make the most of our regional expertise in data science and innovation? The consortium responsible for the Science and Innovation Audit – a collection of 36 higher education institutions, businesses, LEPs and Welsh Government – has now matured into the Great West Taskforce, whose mission is to raise the profile of science and innovation in our region. We can build upon the relationships forged by this group, and use this as a mechanism to further catalyse data science collaboration across the region.
We are also holding a series of ‘Data Intensive Research’ workshops across our four universities, focusing on thematic areas such as the creative industries, government, medicine and the environment. These free workshops will act as an opportunity to bring together researchers and industry representatives to develop new ideas and partnerships in data science and innovation. The time is ripe for a data science and innovation network in the Great West, and we hope you will join us in building it.
Professor Stephen Fairhurst is Director of the Data Innovation Research Institute at Cardiff University, and one of the GW4 lead academics in the Data Intensive Research community.