Smart Data: Improving intervention in Health, Education and the Economy

Data is the new gold

“Data is the new gold!” Following the North East Digital Summit 2016 on Smart Data, this blog attempts to extract the recurring themes and overarching learnings which reflect the overall topic: smart data.

Data Disrupts

An early message from Keynote speaker Jacqueline de Rojas was the disruptive potential of data in service improvement. Airbnb’s data-driven disruption unlocked $33 trillion of real estate; at the other end of the scale, smart hospital tags can save consultants more than two hours a day wasted searching for patients who have moved or strayed from the ward on their records.
Chris Yiu demonstrated how disruptive Uber makes its decisions based on data which establishes a need. The first disruption took a simple concept and delivered a transport fleet without vehicles. The second uses that fleet to meet the needs of others, interrogating data to find the innovation niche.
The existence and potential of data is starting to disrupt the educational model from primary school onwards. Digital skills are becoming basic survival skills alongside numeracy and literacy, and data is enabling pupils to grasp potential in higher education through applications such as Dom Murphy’s Geek Talent.
Luk Vervenne’s proposals around the ethical industrialisation of smart data were disruptive in themselves. Turning data from an asset to a public good raises huge ethical and transparency issues, however the distinction of ‘data about me’ and ‘data generated by me’ made sense to many – subject to a suitable, trusted civilian infrastructure, and acceptance of new business models where data has no value other than feeding analytical programs: the new code. This may be the future – certainly, being less precious about data unlocks huge potential.

Data is the new gold, data scientists the new oilmen

From start to finish, this was a recurring theme. Jeff Vining spoke of turning digital data into gold across the economy’s public and private sectors. Successful digital government must be agile and flexible, like water, not a mountain, learning from the data-driven success of top disruptors. Uber’s data innovations have certainly struck gold, growing exponentially in delivery of people and now delivery partnerships, with expansion decisions driven purely by data.
Rob Wilson picked up the same analogy, asking how we can use data to turn organisation and information systems base metal into gold. The answer? The alchemy of collaboration. The collaborative future of smart data applications was highlighted by closing speaker Steve Caughey of the Cloud Innovation Centre: there’s a huge amount of potential in them thar hills.
Jacqueline de Rojas spoke of data scientists as the oilmen of the future; data is only useful if you interrogate it to your advantage. Here we see a second theme emerging: asking the right questions.


“Computers are useless” said Jacqueline de Rojas. “They only give you answers.” Dylan Roberts demonstrated how data describes only the bare facts of a patient’s conditions, not the rounded picture of an individual that the circle of care requires. Charles Sellers pointed out that there are 300,000 cybersecurity vacancies in the EU: has training for digital roles answered the wrong question?
Douglas Adams nailed this in 1979, when his galactic Hitchhikers discovered that the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything was 42. Supercomputer Deep Thought explained: “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”
When Dylan Roberts’ team in Leeds asked the right questions, they discovered that innovation was needed in transport for older people. Before creating integrated digital healthcare solutions, you have to know the problem you are trying to solve.
Jeff Vining alluded to the City of Calgary asking their citizens the right questions on digital innovation. Expecting to invest in dry services, the city was surprised that pet adoption was a major interest and that digital innovation could respond quickly to the perceived need. The question they had to answer wasn’t quite the one they expected. What a good thing they hadn’t proceeded directly to forty-two.
Healthcare professionals know that universal digital literacy would be a game changer in data health innovation: what questions do we ask to find the answer to engagement? Mark Dornan alluded to the same challenge, recognising that digital engagement would tackle the culture of isolation, key to developing strong healthcare. Joe MacDonald entertained with tales of using data to keep the circle of care informed around an individual (even if his elderly mother games the system to prompt visits). How do we connect with the community to ensure they understand that digital literacy is something they cannot do without?

The future of data

Data is power. In a world of rhetoric and opinion, asking the right question of data will give you the right answer, whether you like it or not. A week before the US presidential election, artificial intelligence MogIA’s data analysis called Trump as the clear winner, regardless of polls and speculation.
The uncertainty surrounding the evolving Brexit and Trump policies makes clarity on borderless data a priority. Jacqueline de Rojas appealed for the retention of strong data protection standards to enable us to trade effectively, particularly with Europe when their General Data Protection Regulations come into force in 2018. We also have a vested interest in sensible immigration policies, attracting the top talent to the UK to build on the already-impressive 12.6% of GDP which comes from the digital sector – twice the proportion of any other G20 country.
Across all three salons one overwhelming message, articulated well by Roy Sandbach, was that innovation is the key to growth, and to survival. Whether in healthcare, education or the economy, we must innovate to secure our future, and data is the raw material to help identify need and allow innovation to happen. Digital Leaders have a responsibility as role models for the future: let us rise to the challenge.

Thanks to: Summit sponsors Escher Group, Shout Digital, Sharpe Recruitment, Digital Catapult, Newcastle University, & Mincoff’s Solicitors; facilitators Alison Shaw, Alison Freer, Sue Ormerod, & Alastair Irons; our excellent speakers; and the Digital Leaders North East team.

Watch the video here : North East Digital Summit