New national innovation centre to put UK at forefront of big data

A new £30m National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) aims to see the next Google or Facebook started in the UK and help the country capitalise on a potential £40bn a year boost to the economy.  The centre, whose funding has today been confirmed by Minister for Digital Matt Hancock, aims to link up leading academic talent in universities with industry and the public sector to help them develop the skills they need to solve real world problems using advances in data science.

This forms part of the Government’s Digital Strategy which set out plans to boost the nation’s digital skills, infrastructure and innovation, including measures to support Britain’s world-leading artificial intelligence (AI) sector with an industry-led review.

The NICD will create a pipeline of talent to power the ground-breaking businesses of tomorrow and is further progress in the Government’s Industrial Strategy which aims to create an economy that helps Britain secure a future as a competitive, global nation.  Based in Newcastle, the centre builds on the strengths of great institutions in the Northern Powerhouse and forms an integral part of the Government’s approach.

Data science benefits lives

Speaking at Nesta’s Data Skills For The Future conference today, Minister for Digital Matt Hancock said: “We’re determined to unlock the huge potential of big data which could add billions of pounds to our economy – from powering price comparison sites to improving the flow of transport around cities.

“Our new National Innovation Centre for Data will help us achieve this aim by making sure the skills and talent in our universities is being transferred into industry and the public sector.

“It will not only spark innovation among the next generation of tech experts but also help businesses across the whole country capitalise on the immense value of data.“

Data science provides real benefits to everyday life. For example, it powers internet searches and apps, can predict and help treat health issues, and is behind new technology for maintaining cars and other machinery, allowing people to benefit from intelligent household appliances.

According to independent research, companies using data science are 10 per cent more productive on average than those that do not, and companies that exploit data can reduce costs, innovate and develop new goods and services faster than those that do not and make faster and better decisions.

Studies by Nesta, the innovation foundation, show UK firms who use data most effectively are 40 per cent more likely to launch new products and services ahead of their competitors.

The centre will have a programme of projects where academics and industry can share and develop their data skills to solve challenges – for example, industry wanting advice on how to develop the data analysis skills to predict when a machine may stop working to prevent costly breakdowns.

Government Funding

The £15m funding from Government, which is managed through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will be matched by £15m from Newcastle University and will also help supply the next generation of skilled and educated researchers.

The North East has one of the largest and fastest growing digital clusters in the country with multi-national companies including Sage – the UK’s largest software company – Hewlett Packard and Accenture, as well as significant public sector IT facilities, including the HMRC Digital Delivery Centre, and major commercial data centres.

Newcastle University has a core group of specialists who have expertise in working closely with a wide range of industrial organisations through its Cloud Innovation Centre, and it also hosts the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Cloud Computing for Big Data Analytics at Newcastle University.

Professor Nick Wright, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Innovation and Business, Newcastle University, said: “NICD will help to address the data skills gap by taking a practical hands-on approach. We will work with organisations on their domain related problems, transferring the skills into the organisation that will enable them to innovate through data.”

Nesta’s Data Skills For The Future conference will also see a new briefing by the Data Skills Taskforce setting out the benefits of using data and plans to boost the nation’s data skills.

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