The Data Lab: cultivating an ecosystem of collaboration in Scotland

Author: Guest blogger
Posted: 12 Apr 2018 | 14:34

Gina Finch of The Data Lab explains how this Scottish innovation centre creates economic benefit through data innovation.

Unlocking the value from data is the key to creating new opportunities for economic growth. Scotland is making a name for itself on the global stage as a centre for expertise in data science and a leader in the field of data innovation and exploitation. Our unique landscape of leading industry and university institutions has attracted businesses and talent alike, with industry and academia working together to innovate and create new opportunities for economic growth.

Scotland has around 150 companies that are focused on delivering value from data, including big names like Skyscanner and Fanduel. The turnover of these businesses is around £1 billion and they employ an estimated 5,550 people in data-related activity. We have the third-highest density of high value technology start-up firms in the world.

The Data Lab, a Scottish Government-backed data innovation centre, plays a key role in helping industry respond to the global impact of data-driven innovation. Since its inception three and a half years ago, it has been involved in over 65 projects, with a projected £80m uplift to the Scottish economy, and projecting 280 new jobs in Scotland.

We’re creating a pipeline of high level data talent by training over 500 people in the last three years through our skills and talent programme. This includes The Data Lab MSc, which this year is funding 130 places at 11 universities throughout Scotland. We are also contributing towards a vibrant data innovation community through events and meetups, including our internationally recognised DataFest – a festival of data innovation – and DataTalent, which connects top employers with the next generation of digital talent. The idea is to anchor their talent in Scotland through networking and community building.

Above all, we believe that collaboration across sectors is key to supporting Scotland in unlocking the value in data and generating significant economic, social and scientific benefits.

That is why at The Data Lab we do everything in our power to cultivate an ecosystem of collaboration in Scotland. We connect world-leading researchers and data scientists with local industry and public sector organisations, giving them access to experts who can help collaborate on solutions to key problems. By bringing diverse industries, expertise and data together, we enable researchers to innovate and develop new data science capabilities in a collaborative environment, allowing the huge potential of data to be realised.

The power of collaboration

xDesign’s story is an inspiring example of how collaboration between organisations from different sectors can unlock the value of data. xDesign is an Edinburgh-based digital development and mobile application company, winner of the CivTech open procurement programme. Working with The Data Lab, xDesign is benefiting from collaboration with data scientists at EPCC, government body Transport Scotland and commercial partners to help realise the potential of the wealth of data available from our mobile phones.

Road quality is a huge cost to the UK economy. It is shouldered by local authorities with minimal information on the location and state of road defects, and on the variation in effectiveness of interventions. xDesign has set out to build a system that will automatically monitor road quality using mobile phone accelerometers and even build a predictive system of road defect degradation. In short, stopping potholes before they happen.

The critical data science challenge is to annotate incoming data, for example as ‘pot-hole’ or ‘non-pothole’ and the size and shape of pot-holes.

xDesign’s app connects to a Cloud-based system built by EPCC, which integrates different Amazon Web Services (AWS) including a user-account system, data-checking, and data services. Data is held securely and can be integrated with third-party services such as Google Maps, so allowing clients to view information in an accessible format. The system is tailored to xDesign’s current requirements while allowing adaptation for future company growth.

The second phase of the project saw the formation of a new spin-off company, Road Intelligence, and offered the opportunity for an MSc student placement to build predictive models using historical data provided by Transport Scotland via IRIS, applying weather and traffic data and then combining this with the app data to help build the predictive system.

Further to this phase, Road Intelligence will be working with EPCC to make use of its leading-edge supercomputing capability. 

Successful development of the predictive system will be certain to bring significant economic benefits to the Scottish government, plus a positive improvement to the state of our roads. This is just one example of how exchanging and sharing data can open up opportunities to bring economic benefit to Scotland. With the right pipeline of talent, the right understanding of data’s potential and by encouraging different sectors and industries to work together in an ecosystem of collaboration, we can achieve so much.


Gina Finch, The Data Lab


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