National Innovation Centre for Data Announces £1.63m Funding

Posted on the 9 December 2020

National Innovation Centre for Data Announces £1.63m Funding

The National Innovation Centre for Data has announced it has been awarded £1.63m in funding from the North of Tyne Combined Authority to help North East businesses capitalise on the data revolution.

The £30m centre, launched by the Government and Newcastle University in 2019, helps organisations introduce the skills they need to gain insight from their data.

The new funding will allow the Centre to recruit highly skilled new staff increasing the Centre’s capacity to help regional businesses become more productive by innovating through data.

Steve Caughey, Director of the Centre, commented that this initiative is vital for the North East as he is seeing both public and private sector organisations ‘drowning in data’. It will ensure that the North East is able to seize the opportunity to lead in data driven economic growth.

He said: “While we are already engaged with many organisations, it tends to be the larger, national companies that are initially seeking assistance. Increasingly over time, this means that we’ll have less bandwidth for regional businesses. We therefore worked with the North of Tyne Combined Authority to provide a mechanism to let us focus on businesses here.”

He added: “Organisations can now collect huge amounts of data from customer and product related software systems, sensors and social media. Organisations know there is value in all of that data, but just can’t get their hands on it. With our assistance they can gain the skills they need to obtain insight from their data, enabling them to innovate, creating cost efficiencies or new products and services, thereby increasing wealth and generating jobs for the region.”

Caughey pointed to the talent gap that needs to be addressed urgently in the UK.

He said: “The UK’s data skills gap is already costing the UK due to the inability of organisations to fill key data skills roles.

“It used to be that you could take your organisation’s data, drop it into a spreadsheet, and produce a chart or graph and anybody would be able to make sense of it. Today, the volume of data coming into an organisation is so immense that you need to have a new set of skills.

“You need mathematics and statistics to be able to sample the data and scalable computing to let you crunch through enough data to make sense of it. That combination of skills is really hard to obtain.”

He added that education institutions are struggling to produce people fast enough to keep up with the growing demand for data skills talent.

“Hiring the right people is tough because those with the desired skillset are in high demand and are being hired by the finance houses in London and big vendors in the US.

“We are there to help organisations get those missing skills in a very practical way, working with them on their own real-world projects, delivering value but more importantly, as we work with them, transferring new skills into the organisation so they can then do it for themselves,” said Caughey.

Caughey commented that Covid-19 has demonstrated the true value of data.

“Due to the urgent need for insight within the public sector, the NHS and local Government have started to open up their data because they need to analyse it in order to make evidence-based decisions. That has made them realise the potential value of accurate data for post-Covid economic recovery.

We have worked closely with the North of Tyne authorities, the NHS and other regional bodies to help them with a better understanding of data. And we are here to help any North of Tyne organisation that is drowning in data and not getting full value from what they are collecting.”

He noted that: “The North East is leading the way in the utilisation of data. We have the National Innovation Centre for Data, the Urban Observatory and the ‘Newcastle Data’ team at Newcastle University, which is world-leading in its research and teaching, and which works closely with a Computing Science department ranked number one in the UK for the impact of its research on the public and private sector."

The North of Tyne Combined Authority is also building an Office for Data Analytics with our assistance. So, there is a real emphasis on the importance of data across the region and we’re acting as an exemplar for other regions on how to utilise data effectively.”

Caughey advised that “all organisations based in the North of Tyne region that are interested in utilising their own data more effectively should get in touch”. The first step in assisting an organisation is to host a ‘discovery workshop’ to explore the business problem in more detail, and for the Centre to provide advice and guidance.  This initial engagement is a free service. After the workshop, the organisation can work with the Centre to scope out a project that will enable them to deliver on their data driven problem and build their data analytics capability.