The World-Class Data Infrastructure: a fundamental enabler for data-driven innovation

Author: Mark Parsons
Posted: 13 Jul 2018 | 15:28

The University of Edinburgh is set to play a key role in the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, delivering the deal’s Data-Driven Innovation programme. Underpinning new data innovation hubs across the University will be an exciting new facility for the secure and trustworthy hosting and analysis of huge and varied datasets. EPCC’s Director Professor Mark Parsons explains why the World-Class Data Infrastructure will help position the City Region as data capital of Europe.

The unique thing about the World-Class Data Infrastructure (WCDI) is not necessarily huge amounts of computing power. 

For example, we already host a number of the UK’s national supercomputers at EPCC – we’re not short of compute power.

What we’re investing in with the WCDI is combining the computing and data resources to create a facility that will allow organisations to innovate. This involves the storage and services to manage and present data to users.

We’re proposing to host, manage and deliver datasets and services for many different users.

It’s going to be very novel. Certainly in Europe, there aren’t any facilities with as broad a data remit as the WCDI.

It will be a fundamental enabler for many data science projects, be they for industry, purely academic, or a mixture.

Scotland’s very lucky that it already has EPCC, which is known around the world – and is certainly in the top two or three of European supercomputing centres. 

But we believe WCDI will facilitate new products, services, and scientific studies by bringing together regional, national and international datasets.

For example, Festivals Edinburgh want visitors to come to the city and have a better experience during the many festivals. I hope we can help by using data we store in the WCDI on how people move around the city during the Festival.

The data we host will have different governance requirements, from open data up to highly secure data with limited access. Subject to permission from the data owners and following robust governance processes, one of the key things we’ll be able to do is take different datasets and link them together to deliver new insights.

Most banks over recent years have created well-run data warehouses, but they tend to only store retail and trading data. They make decisions based on that, writing models and analysing it to predict trends. 

What many organisations want to do is analyse their data alongside other data to gain new insights about their markets and customers, and to develop better products and services. 

However, it is difficult for a single organisation to do that because it means bringing different datasets together from multiple sources. 

Of course, ethics and governance are vital issues for us. Scotland is a world leader in how it handles access to citizens’ data. For example, we have established a system for using suitably pseudo-anonymised medical records for use in research to improve health outcomes.

In setting up the necessary infrastructure for governance and ethics for healthcare data, we’ve learnt a huge amount – which puts Scotland in a strong position. For the WCDI within the context of the City Region Deal, the idea is to apply these approaches more broadly across all public sector data in Scotland. 

The University of Edinburgh and the City Region Deal

The University of Edinburgh has partnered with Heriot-Watt University to deliver the City Region Deal’s Data-Driven Innovation Programme, to increase the contribution of graduate talent and academic expertise within South East Scotland.

Five DDI ‘hubs’ will be created across the two universities: the Edinburgh Futures Institute, Bayes Centre, Usher Institute, Robotarium, and Easter Bush campus – all of which will be supported by the WCDI facility.

Over 10 years, academic staff will collaborate with 10 industries across the private, public and third sectors to ensure citizens, businesses, and region as a whole benefit from the data economy.

 This article also appears in the summer issue of EPCC News.
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Author

Mark Parsons, EPCC

Image at top of page: Paul Dodds.