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How upskilling can help your business benefit from your own data

Steve Caughey, newly appointed Director of the National Innovation Centre for Data, explains how they are working to help organisations gain the skills they need to obtain insight from their data.

After a very long gestation, the National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) is slowly taking shape, both in the form of the building which seems to have leapt up in the last three months (the steel structure on Newcastle Helix is now complete), and with the first steps in recruiting the team who will animate the Centre.

As the newly appointed Director for NICD, I’ve been in full-time post for just two weeks and want to share our plans and keep you abreast of developments, as well as let you know about an opportunity to get involved at DataJam North East next month. I’ll start out by trying to clarify the aims of NICD and how we’ll set about achieving them.

NICD was born from ten years of research excellence in data analytics at Newcastle University, led by Professor Paul Watson, and the work of the Cloud Innovation Centre (effectively a pilot for NICD) which identified a huge demand from businesses and public sector organisations, large and small, for assistance in obtaining insight from the increasing amounts of data being collected.

NICD is intended not to provide the insight, but to deliver new data skills to its clients so that they can obtain the insight themselves. As we like to put it, we’re in the business of selling fishing rods, not fish.

'Fire-hose of data'

Our unique take on up-skilling is that we do it by working together with the client on practical hands-on projects that deliver immediate value.

The people whose skills we are trying to enhance are already vital members of their organisation, working to make sense of the fire-hose of data coming from web portals, apps, social media, and sensors. Organisations can’t afford to take these people away from their day jobs and put them on long training courses, for which only some portion of the content will be relevant. So they often have to cope with trying to make sense of all this data using out-of-date tools and techniques appropriate for quantities of data orders of magnitude less. It’s come as a surprise to us how many large organisations are running on the back of an Access database and a huge spreadsheet.

Our approach is to scope out projects, typically running for between a few weeks and six months, that deliver actionable insight back to the organisation in a series of short sprints. This provides immediate return on investment and encourages the management team to drive the next steps. Our team (often with PhDs) sit alongside the clients’ staff who are actually delivering the project, providing advice and practical assistance on statistical methods, handling the processing of huge amounts of data, tooling for data management and visualisation, and so on. We’ve already run two very successful projects on this pattern which I’ll blog about shortly.

The first chance to put to the test what can be achieved by collaborating to bring data and service design together will be at DataJam North East on 17–18 September. It’s a two-day event which aims to look at issues affecting the North East region through the lens of data and service design, to see what answers to real problems we can come up with. Find out more on DWP Digital's blog.

Get in touch with us to chat about what NICD can offer your organisation.

About the author

Steve Caughey was a co-founder and CEO of Arjuna Solutions, a Newcastle University spin-out acquired by Hewlett-Packard, and then CEO of Arjuna Technologies whose technology was purchased by RedHat. Today he is Director of the National Innovation Centre for Data, working to help organisations gain the skills they need to obtain insight from their data.

National Innovation Centre for Data

published on: 22 August 2018