The big data revolution is changing everything. Along with increasing computing power, data is the engine of data science and artificial intelligence (AI). It is having an impact across social and economic life, whether that’s through social media, new forms of public service delivery or the transformation of industries and, especially, employment.
The UK government’s Digital Strategy sets out an ambitious agenda for the UK’s fast-growing digital economy. In particular, having the right digital skills in place is essential. Figures from Nesta show that data-driven companies are more than 10 percent more productive than their non-data driven peers. The economic case for investing in and developing analytical skills is clear. That means developing core knowledge in mathematics, statistics and computer science. But the social sciences, too, will be essential to understand and shape human-computer interaction and investigate the broader questions of how we will all live and work in this new era. These skills combine in machine learning and AI, creating new interdisciplinary coalitions, and, indeed, even new disciplines.
The Data Skills Taskforce was set up with the help of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Tech Partnership and Accenture in response to a report written by Analytics Britain, which identified a gap for a single body to address the system-wide challenges of convening, supporting and developing a thriving data science ecosystem from which to build an analytically-skilled UK workforce. In 2016 Nesta published the follow-up report: Data Skills for the Future: Positioning the UK for success in a Data Driven world. The Data Skills Taskforce also published a progress report in September 2017 and The Alan Turing Institute has become a leading supporter of the Data Skills Taskforce.
Building on our work from the last two years, the Data Skills Taskforce aims to serve as a forum for coordinating the many encouraging initiatives being undertaken by a wide range of bodies to further data skills. The Data Skills Taskforce will convene periodic meetings to exchange ideas and we plan to establish a web portal that will showcase reports and activities and connect different groups. This will be particularly useful to small and medium-sized enterprises for which the digital skills gap is an even greater challenge than it is for larger businesses (see NESTA report on the State of Small Business). It’s an area of particular focus for the Data Skills Taskforce today, with a project to explore ways to help small and medium-sized enterprises develop their data science capabilities.
The Data Skills Taskforce is looking for pioneering projects that it can support to demonstrate best practice. We will seek to advise government and interact with all the participants in the skills pipeline—schools, colleges, universities and the providers of continuous professional development.
If you’re a business, charity or public-sector leader looking to build your organisation’s data skills base, we’d love to hear about your experience. Do you lead an initiative that aims to drive greater awareness and uptake of data skills? If so, please get in touch if you would like to showcase your projects and share what you have learned with Data Skills Taskforce members.
Ray Eitel-Porter is Chair of the Data Skills Taskforce and Managing Director, Accenture Digital and Head of Applied Intelligence UK & Ireland. Sir Alan Wilson is CEO of The Alan Turing Institute and Professor of Urban and Regional Systems in the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London.