The digital age is igniting data-led innovations that are transforming the private sector, the public sector and R&D across Southeast Wales – and in this latest feature in our ‘State-of-CCR-Digital’ campaign, we discover how and where Southeast Wales is taking pioneering steps to harness the power and potential of a data-driven revolution …
‘Data’ has been with us for millennia, in the form of facts, figures and theorems, hieroglyphics, folk stories and even the configuration of ancient standing stones. But the rapid growth of our increasingly data-driven world – where almost incalculable volumes of information are transmitted as ‘quantities’ and ‘characters’ through an electronic signal – simply wouldn’t be possible without ‘Digital’.
In every sense imaginable, the digitalisation of data generation, manipulation and transmission has changed just about every facet of our lives. Our ability to digitally transform dry stats into dynamic real-world solutions was at the heart of our response to the pandemic: from the lightning speed at which researchers, universities and companies mobilised data to pivot manufacturing operations into ventilator production, to businesses being able to map genomic patterns and develop the wireless sensor systems that scan for the virus – right through to the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance being able to appear on our TV screens every evening, showing us the trends that were evidencing government decisions during the height of the crisis.
Digitally enabled data driving modelling, operations, innovation and decision-making on all levels
It’s notable that Kellie Beirne, Director CCR City Deal sits alongside Sir Patrick as a member of the Science and Innovation Advisory Council for Wales. To Kellie, the value of digitally enabled data in driving forward our region can’t be overstated, as it shapes the modelling, directs the operations, inspires the innovation and increasingly drives the decision-making on all levels of most organisations across southeast Wales:
“Data-driven science and innovation is all around us but to date we’ve underfunded it at UK level. We need to be at least equal to other OECD countries; and that’s prompted the CCR and Government commitment to 2.4% of national spend being invested in innovation and research in our region by 2027, and 3% over the medium term.”
With every £1 spent in data-led R&D translating into £7 of economic and social benefits (by helping attract investment, boost productivity and create new jobs) the Chancellor’s recent Comprehensive Spending Review, which acknowledged data-led R&D as a cornerstone of our future economy and wellbeing, will only bring further investment into a CCR that holds the vision to become a pioneer region built around a data powerhouse.
Just imagine the value of the information held by the Office of National Statistics in Newport, the Royal Mint in Llantrisant and (just outside our boundary), the DVLA in Swansea. All that data can tell us a great deal about people, organisations, society – and the probable future, as Pete Burnap, Professor of Data Science & Cybersecurity revealed in our previous article, when he showed how his team at Cardiff University can use data to model the future behaviours of cyber attackers.
That predictive power and ability to identify patterns of behaviour are some of the key positives of the digital drive towards embracing artificial intelligence and machine learning – and CCR has the potential to harness the full potential of this, unlocking breakthroughs to improve our health, create a better environment and boost our economic performance throughout the region.
The always-on Digital Age is the era of on-demand Data
Given the profound impact of this computing and analytics revolution, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that Data is just for the ‘Big Organisations’ or the ‘Big Questions’. In fact, it’s being used by enterprises of all sizes to understand their markets, hone their propositions and shape their businesses – with the Data Innovation Accelerator at Cardiff University working in close partnership with SMEs of all descriptions, to open up many different horizons.
CCR is itself exploring and investing in this data-led transformation. For example, we are investigating the potential for developing the concept of a smart region operations centre for digital data: combining the data sets from local authorities and other key stakeholders to provide a real-time awareness of the data we hold in the region. This data consolidation could inform our future decision-making, help us measure the success of our investments and interventions – and develop the partnerships and relationships that will enable us to continually adapt and improve. To this end, we’ve already agreed partnerships with both Cardiff and Swansea universities to undertake work around behaviour change, so we can understand what motivates businesses and individual citizens to take immediate action that will benefit the green energy and decarbonisation agenda. And as part of signing up to the Carbon Disclosure Programme and Zero Carbon Disclosure Programme, we’re collecting a whole raft of data to report back in 2022. So, we’re evolving a culture of data ourselves, in every area we can.
Digitally powered Data is opening up the potential of new business models, new ways of working and even new types of ‘economy’
The more we invest, the more our digitally driven data will give us the opportunity to really optimise on our capacity to innovate and develop our region. Our philosophy at CCR sees data as an enabler that can mobilise challenges and missions, encouraging our region to take more risk for more reward, actively supporting innovation and the entrepreneurial state. It’s key to the success of our priority clusters and foundational economy, critical to connecting individuals and communities to each other and the world; and crucial for prioritising the investments required to seed, support and strengthen the physical infrastructure and human capital programmes we need for a changing 21st century.
It’s clear that the combined power of Data and Digital is opening up the potential of a new role for both private and public sectors in developing new technologies, new business models, new ways of working and even new types of ‘economy’ – and in our next feature, we’ll be discovering how our public sector is already undergoing a digital transformation in the way it provides services across the CCR.