DCMS blog

Investing in data skills to unlock the value of data

Barry Hodgson


Barry Hodgson

Director of Strategy, National Innovation Centre for Data

National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) and the National Data Strategy Forum

The launch of the National Data Strategy Forum last year has led to a great deal of activity and has certainly initiated ‘a conversation about the way that we support the responsible and trusted use of data in the UK’. The National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) has a key role to play in supporting organisations of all sizes, across all market sectors, to learn new data skills in order to become more productive and innovative. 

At NICD we are particularly passionate about the work the National Data Strategy Forum is doing to unlock the power of data for everyone across the UK. NICD has a project funded directly by North of Tyne Combined Authority that is focussing on upskilling businesses that are based in the North of Tyne area.

The model builds an ecosystem of collaborating organisations and creates a critical mass of activity (around data) in the region, and this helps attract inward investment through talent and clusters. Newcastle has various examples of inward investment by organisations attracted by the talent surrounding NICD’s activities and support from regional bodies. This is an exemplar of what we want to be seeing more of as part of the unlocking the power of data National Data Strategy Forum workstream.

Investing in data and AI and challenges

Significant investments by the government and the private sector in data and AI over the last few years reflect the demand for data science talent. The government has invested over £2.3 billion in Artificial Intelligence since 2014. The demand for data science and AI skills will only increase. Research from DCMS predicts that data analysis will become the fastest growing digital skills cluster in the UK, increasing by an estimated 33% in the next five years.

However, recruiting without a sound knowledge of the actual data skill set your business needs is a sure way to blow your budget and increase the risk of hiring the wrong people – which will almost certainly lead to project failure! And many organisations and whole sectors are being left behind as talented data scientists are being attracted by the ‘cash-rich’ technology firms, finance houses and market sector leaders.

These challenges have provided the context for a new engagement model that seeks to address the data skills gap whilst focussing firmly on critical business questions that will help organisations drive innovation and increase productivity.

NICD engagement model

The NICD engagement model delivers a team of PhD qualified Data Scientists to upskill an organisation’s existing workforce, so that they can better understand their own data. The team brings skills ranging over data wrangling, analytics, scalable compute, machine learning, visualisation and more. Upskilling is achieved through collaborative projects, where organisations use current business problems (addressed by using their own data) as the test bed to build relevant skills. This engagement method also removes the need to free employees from the ‘day job’ to undertake external training and allows the organisation to understand the relevant data skills required to address their own business problems.

Organisations of all sizes, in all sectors, can benefit from this new engagement model and we have already built a portfolio of interesting case studies including start-up, SME, charitable and global organisations in disparate market sectors.

Given the National Data Strategy focus on using data “to harness the potential of regions right across the country”, we believe that this intervention model – increasing productivity and innovation through data – can make a major contribution to regional economic growth. It generates real working partnerships between academia, private and public sectors and the regional authority around an in-demand tangible skill set.

Get involved

The work of the National Data Strategy is important to increase visibility and access for all to the potential of data. Access to data science skills goes hand in hand with these aims. We are keen to work with other organisations across the regions to extend the benefits of our engagement model and to support the ambitions of the National Data Strategy to unlock the value of data across the UK. If you’re planning to host an event to showcase the value of data and local best practice then get in touch with the NICD.

Find out more about NICD at: nicd.org.uk

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