Data in­sight to de­liver £20bn eco­nomic boost

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE - KEVIN SCOTT BUSI­NESS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

THE adop­tion of data an­a­lyt­ics and bet­ter use of data across Scot­land could de­liver £20 bil­lion worth of pro­duc­tiv­ity ben­e­fits for the econ­omy over the next five years, it has been claimed.

This comes as it is re­vealed com­pa­nies in the data in­no­va­tion and an­a­lyt­ics sec­tor in Scot­land have gen­er­ated more than £1bn in rev­enue for the first time.

Data an­a­lyt­ics, with com­plex al­go­rithms and per­cep­tions of pri­vacy in­va­sion, has proved a dif­fi­cult in­dus­try to pro­mote, but 2018 is set to see enor­mous for­ward mo­men­tum among Scot­land’s glob­ally com­pet­i­tive in­dus­try.

David Smith, se­nior di­rec­tor of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy at Scot­tish En­ter­prise, said: “We have a range of tech­nol­ogy here in Scot­land which gath­ers data, and the soft­ware and an­a­lyt­ics ca­pa­bil­i­ties that makes sense of that data and drive value from it.”

And Scot­tish En­ter­prise has upped its com­mit­ment to data ac­cord­ingly. The gov­ern­ment agency is work­ing with a spread of part­ners and over­see­ing in­creased for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment (FDI) in the data sec­tor.

Mr Smith said data was in­te­gral to Scot­land’s eco­nomic growth. “Scot­land is tak­ing great strides in build­ing strong global rep­u­ta­tion as a data in­no­va­tion com­mu­nity,” he said.

“This is ex­pected to at­tract sig­nif­i­cant new jobs through in­ward in­vest­ment and data driven in­no­va­tion has the po­ten­tial to de­liver big pro­duc­tiv­ity ben­e­fits over the next five years.”

In ad­di­tion to com­pa­nies de­vel­op­ing data plat­forms, big busi­nesses such as Skyscan­ner – which was sold last year in a £1.6 bil­lion deal – have ef­fec­tively made their name by us­ing com­puter soft­ware to an­a­lyse data, in this case flight in­for­ma­tion, and make it easy for con­sumers to di­gest.

Mr Smith works with busi­ness own­ers and aca­demics to help de­liver tools and ser­vices through data plat­forms, and sup­port busi- nesses in how they can in­te­grate data in their tech­nolo­gies.

“There are a good clus­ter of com­pa­nies, we’ve iden­ti­fied more than 150 op­er­at­ing in the field of data in­no­va­tion and data an­a­lyt­ics, which based on our es­ti­mates now have a com­bined [rev­enue] of more than £1bn,” he said.

“And we es­ti­mate over the next five years in terms of over­all po­ten­tial, the adop­tion of data an­a­lyt­ics and bet­ter use of data across Scot­land could de­liver £20bn worth of pro­duc­tiv­ity ben­e­fits for the econ­omy as a whole.”

Mr Smith said Scot­land’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties in data was one rea­son the coun­try is the most at­trac­tive part of the UK out­side of Lon­don for FDI.

“Last year we iden­ti­fied more than 300 jobs from in­ward in­vest­ment data projects alone and we ex­pect that to in­crease very sub­stan­tially over the next few years,” he said.

Data­lab, one of the Scot­land’s eight in­no­va­tion cen­tres, was cre­ated to drive for­ward the data science in­dus­try.

Much of its work is with Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity’s School of In­for­mat­ics, which has pro­pelled Scot­land onto the data world stage – and the coun­try can now boats the largest pro­por­tion of all data science post-grad­u­ate cour­ses in the UK.

Larger busi­nesses are also be­gin­ning to ap­point chief data of­fi­cers, who re­port di­rectly to the board. Pre­vi­ously data man­agers would re­port to the head of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy. “The pace of change is some­times quite breath-tak­ing,” said Mr Smith.

A ma­jor change to the way data is held and man­aged will be­come law in May when the Euro­pean Union’s Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tions (GDPR) come into force.

This gives peo­ple much more con­trol over how their data is used – and the sec­tor hopes this will help im­prove per­cep­tions of data.

Mr Smith said: “It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand that peo­ple will con­tinue to be ed­u­cated about mak­ing sure they are clear about how to con­trol their data and how much con­trol or ac­cess they want to give in re­turn for the ben­e­fits they are get­ting.”

Data firms in Scot­land gen­er­ated more than £1 bil­lion last year.

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