Big data

The UK economy could gain £216bn through the better management.

As the amount of data continues to grow exponentially, compounded by the internet, social media, cloud computing and mobile devices, it poses both a challenge and an opportunity for organisations – how to manage, analyse and make use of the ever-increasing amount of data being generated.

In an economic study on ‘big data’ by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), sponsored by business analytics company SAS UK, we investigated how UK organisations, both public and private, can unlock the economic value of big data through the adoption of analytics.

The results show that ‘Data Equity’ – the economic value of data – has the potential be worth £216bn to the UK economy over the next five years – equivalent to more than the current defence, NHS and education and budgets combined.

The benefits of data equity are expected to manifest themselves in the creation of new jobs – Cebr predict that 58,000 could be created as a result of the entry to markets of new businesses, through which the business creation benefits are derived.

Business creation benefits and could raise employment as the result of new business start-ups and increased demand for data-specific roles. Improvements in market and customer intelligence in every sector will support entrepreneurial activity, allowing for more precise strategising and reduced uncertainty, therefore attracting new business start-ups into these markets.

The main efficiency gain is contributed through improvements to customer intelligence. Data-driven improvements in targeted customer marketing, the more effective meeting of demand and the analytical evaluation of customer behaviour is forecast to produce £74 billion in benefits over the next five years – the majority being driven by UK manufacturing (£45bn) and retail (£32bn).

We expect the manufacturing sector to see the largest innovation gain from the adoption of big data analytics. The utilisation of high-performance analytics could lead to new product development benefits of £8 billion in increased output over the next five years. The retail sector can also experience significant gains through innovation such as new consumer products which are expected to induce a £3 billion rise in output.

There is also much value to be unlocked from supply chain and logistical data. Cebr anticipates £46 billion in gains through using predictive analytics to better forecast demand, replenishment points and optimise stock and resource allocation to reduce costs.

The public sector is another key gainer. Government could save £2 billion in fraud detection and generation £4 billion through better performance management. A further £6 billion in efficiencies could be gained by analysing performance data, with the healthcare system benefiting by £2 billion.

This enhanced information, and ability to react dynamically to changes in the market landscape, will enable smaller businesses to compete more effectively with larger and more established ones, having reduced barriers to entry. Small retailers and manufacturers are anticipated to take significant advantage of this big data opportunity, generating £15 billion of new business.

Job creation is a key aspect of the report and experts agree that data equity has the potential to be as important to organisations as brand equity. As a result there is an increasing demand for ‘data scientists’ – highly skilled statisticians who work with data to derive business insights. We are already seeing the emergence of the Chief Data Officer in the US as organisations look to capitalise on their data equity for a competitive advantage, and it won’t be long until that trend crosses the pond.

But currently demand for data scientists outstrips supply, with the UK facing a particularly acute skills gap when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. This emphasises the need to teach high quality STEM skills at school and university to prepare the next generation of graduates for the big wide world of data.

As the volume of data created exponentially increases and big data’s value is unlocked to greater effect by technological advances, we would expect data to start appearing on the balance sheets of companies that begin to realise its value in financial terms. Furthermore, the efficiency and innovation gains generated from data-driven technologies can play a vital role in ensuring the competitiveness of the UK’s goods and services on the global stage, and thus generate a wider economic benefit beyond the value of the significant asset to its owner.

Tapping into the dizzying amount of big data could be the stimulus the UK economy has been searching for. High performance analytics has the power unlike any other technology to generate growth, reduce debt, create jobs, develop new innovations and deliver greater operational efficiencies. Organisations, large or small, government or commercial, must get to grips with the big data challenge, and use analytics to identify tomorrow’s opportunities.

Big Data: A man inspects a supercomputer in Paris. Credit: Getty

Shehan Mohamed is an economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research and Andy Cutler is the head of high performance analytics at SAS UK. They co-authored the report Data Equity: unlocking the value of big data.

 

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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