Across governments, corporates and the start-up communities the talk invariably turns to the importance of Data when asked to profer up the next big opportunities for internet related businesses. Big Data, open data, unstructured data, data mining and analysis are repeatedly name checked to demonstrate the importance attached by politicians and business leaders to the topic.
For those who experienced the language of hype since the internet began to fire our imagination this may sound like another false dawn. Not that there aren’t real and tangible opportunities but we may question how many are materializing into game changing products or services. So how can we justify the hype or speculation around data centric start-ups and research institutes.
Of course, in reality it is very early days for the development of the industry. Data mining and analysis have been around for decades but it is the rate at which we now produce data that is accelerating business models worldwide. The oft quoted statistic that we have created twice as much data in the last couple of years than in the history the world is astonishing.
Much of this data is being posted on social media sites, logged on mobile applications and captured by vast systems across health, education, retail and travel sectors. The key is to focus on those innovations that are well informed by experienced industry specialists in tandem with skilled data analysts. Then we can introduce the designers and development teams to realize the opportunities.
We have seen the government in the UK putting research funds into these areas to stimulate and accelerate the commercial opportunities. The Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery is one example of this, focusing research activity in industry verticals. The better start-ups in Health tend to focus on those opportunities within reach, such as Tictrac, that engaged the user with a useful service and have a well defined revenue model alongside.
Possibly the most visible and exciting developments being those at the Open Data Institute (ODI), founded by Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt. The ODI is incubating start-ups that are commercializing open data, like Placr, offering real interactions between academic and commercial communities.
Crucially, they are working on defining worldwide standards for open data, much like Berners-Lee’s work on the worldwide web, to improve the commercial viability of open data. Classifying data in terms of usability will provide more efficient and integrated solutions.
Key to much of this work is the availability of data analysts that developers can partner with across industry verticals. The UK is particularly well placed to commercialise the opportunities through such partnerships. Given not only the talent based and research expertise but also the real world test market we have in this country. We are early adopters of new technologies and applications and areas like health and travel could well prove to be sectors that we will excel in – starting here and taking them to the global market, which is the key to scaling such businesses and building sustainable sectors in nascent industries like Big Data.