Data-Driven Innovation at the heart of Edinburgh’s quest to become European Data Capital

The ways in which digital data is handled and used are changing. Data Driven Innovation means data is fast becoming one of the most important resources available in today’s tech driven world.

However, analogies defining data as the “new gold” for cities and citizens are misplaced since, while there are many commercial benefits that may be delivered from a data ‘goldrush’, the real benefit of data-driven innovation is surely for social good.

Data-driven innovations are transforming the way we live our lives, from improving traffic signals for easing congestion on the work commute, to saving lives with cutting-edge advancements in the healthcare sector. Improvements in data analysis and management has the potential to affect every corner of modern life and the possibilities are endless.

The Scottish capital of Edinburgh is a city with serious data ambitions and one which is well on the way to being at the forefront of the burgeoning data innovation industry.

Edinburgh has long thrived on a bustling tourist economy, thanks in part to its rich history and calendar of world-renowned festivals but it now has designs on becoming the ‘Data Capital of Europe‘.

The City Region is to receive £791m in funding and investment as part of a £1.3bn Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, which aims to turn these soaring data dreams into a reality.

The Data Driven Innovation Programme

Dubbed the “Data Driven Innovation Programme” (DDI), the project intends to utilise gathered data to improve the physical barriers to growth within the city, from lack of housing to transport problems. A report by the Edinburgh & SE Scotland Science & Innovation Audit detailed how the collection, storing, and analysing of data would become increasingly important in driving economic growth, social change and public service improvements in the City Region and beyond.

“The most important part of the Deal is our commitment to ensure people in the region can build the skills to flourish in the data-driven economy…we know that data-driven innovation will bring economy growth – we want that growth to be inclusive”

– Prof. Charlie Jeffrey, Senior Vice Principal, University of Edinburgh

With those ambitions in mind, the hefty monetary investment intends to develop five world-class data centres within the Edinburgh region, and in turn attract the biggest companies and brightest global and local talents to the area. The DDI programme intends to enhance the region’s reputation and capabilities across five key sectors:

  • Talent – To meet the current and future demands for data skills through a range of new undergraduate, post-graduate and professional development programmes.
  • Research – Expansion of the City Region’s data research activities to meet the demands of industry and other sectors’ future needs.
  • Adoption – Increasing the amount data is used by businesses and the general public to improve lives and increase efficiency.
  • Data – Providing secure data storage, analytical capacity and data accessibility to underpin the whole programme.
  • Entrepreneurship – Enabling and supporting independent business and entrepreneurs in developing and improving DDI-based businesses.

“It will drive inward investment through big companies into Scotland and Edinburgh and, as the city is gong to be a lab for many of these ideas…Scotland will be the first to benefit from many of these innovations”

Sethu Vijayakumar, Director of Edinburgh Centre for Robotics (interview with Spotlight)

The focal point of the ambitious deal will be at the University of Edinburgh’s Bayes Centre. Already the home to world-renowned data science and AI research teams, the new investment will see a 600-strong staff utilising ‘living labs’ to design and test the next stages of robotics developments. Edinburgh’s Data Lab already call the Bayes Centre home and are driving data science collaborations between the university and industry.

A meeting at the Data Lab MSc Innovation Week 2017 with postgraduate students.

Housed within Bayes and a joint venture with Heriot-Watt University, the National Robotarium will establish the region, and the wider UK, as a leading international centre for smart robotics companies.

The three other data centres are also centred around the University campus, including the Usher Institute, Easter Bush Campus, and Edinburgh Futures Institute. The Usher Institute will look to use data science to improve health and social care models, with another 600-strong team collaborating across industries to deliver data-driven advances that will actually improve lives.

Elsewhere, Easter bush will adopt similar data science innovations to push boundaries in the Agri-tech sector, hoping to answer questions around feeding a growing global population by improving agricultural practices, efficiencies and production levels with data information.

Lastly, Edinburgh Futures Institute will stand as a global centre for multi-disciplinary research into the potential societal impacts of data usage, from devising new solutions to widespread political discontent, to climate volatility and economic upheaval across the globe. Each hub will operate with world-class facilities in data storage, analytics and computing capability.

Edinburgh’s Data Driven Innovation to take Smart Tourism to the next level

As a tourism hub, the City Region is well-placed to take advantage of such data insights, especially with regard to council services and marketing. From managing tram routes to analysing footfall along the Royal Mile during festival season, the availability of such data could be a game changer in managing and marketing the region on a global level.

Through collaboration, making available open data sets will provide local stakeholders with improved insights and information to enable better decision-making. When these insights are combined with the power of predictive analysis, AI, and machine learning, they offer great opportunities to enhance public services and provide a world-class visitor experience.

Taking even more of a data-driven approach to tourism enables groups like Marketing Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group not only see who is visiting and where from, but also provide better ways of forecasting and planning to optimise the many cultural assets Edinburgh and the South East Scotland City Region has to offer. Elsewhere, data driven innovation will benefit local SMEs, as part of Edinburgh’s Business Improvement Districts, by driving increased footfall, helping more people discover the “hidden gems” that the Capital has to offer, and providing a better understanding of customers’ shopping habits.

Gathering such data in public areas wouldn’t be possible without a secure, public digital connection available to all. IntechnologyWiFi’s installation of free, publicly available WiFi across the entire city centre area has helped provide a foundation of connectivity and contribute to the data-driven innovations happening in Edinburgh’s City Region.

Such investment will only likely grow Edinburgh’s already strong position as a world-leader in the digital data industry. The Scottish capital’s importance to the data sphere is well-recognised, playing host to one of the UK’s largest data innovation festivals. DataFest is a celebration and showcase of Scotland’s leading role in data science development and artificial intelligence. Entering its third year in 2019, the springtime festival (running from March 11 – March 22 2019) draws innovators from across the globe together to look at how data can be used to improve and enhance the modern world; from transport to energy efficiency in both the public and private sectors. The highlight of the festival is the closing two-day conference Data Summit, held at Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms.

The Future of Edinburgh

The desire for Edinburgh in becoming a magnet for the best and brightest in data companies and talent is already taking place and is represented by the quality of people joining the Edinburgh and the South East Scotland City Region Deal Team. Retaining and attracting talent and big business within the city has been mentioned by many of those involved in This is Edinburgh’s 2050 Edinburgh City Vision as a permanent feature they’d like to see within the city over the coming years.

Digital data is a resource that has the potential to truly enhance the modern world; from innovations on a local level to vast improvements to some of the largest issues facing the world at the moment. The age of data driven innovation is already here and Edinburgh is well positioned to be a leading player on a world stage. Watch this space.

Find out more on how IntechnologyWiFi delivered blanket public WiFi across Edinburgh city centre here.

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Whether you’re a local authority looking to provide public WiFi or seeking a connectivity solution for Smart Cities, the IoT or 5G / Small Cells in your town or city, or if you are interested in partnering with us around the Connected City Platform in any of our forthcoming town and city roll-outs, we’d love to explain more about who we are and what we do.

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