Data Skills Drive To Fuel Business Growth In The Digital Age

9 February 2021

Recently, the West of England Institute of Technology (WEIoT), took part in Business Insider South West’s ‘Data and Tech of Tomorrow’ event.

The event looked closely at the issues around the future impact of big data in our lives and businesses. The digital panel and audience debate, brought together a range of experts to discuss how we can best tackle data in the coming years, to ask what skills need to be developed in the workforce of tomorrow, and to examine how and why the South West is emerging as a cluster of data science expertise.

It was discussed how more than half of business leaders (58 per cent) felt they had trouble with finding people with the right skillsets in specialist technology jobs.

Claire Arbery, Director of the WEIoT, explained to the audience what the WEIoT’s purpose is and that the new collaboration, is a response to a requirement from the government and the Department for Education to look at how skills can be supported in the space between A Levels and degrees.

The WEIoT will play a key part in closing the skills gap being reported by businesses. Tech and data science will be one of the Institution’s key areas of focus, reflecting the growing cluster of data analysis specialists in the region.

Claire said: “Data is very important to us. We built digital and data into our training and qualification offer – so we have carried out lots of work around data analysis and data scientists and how we build those skills from students coming through, from A Levels and T Levels to be able to support businesses of the future.”

Claire added: “There are so many layers to digital jobs and data, but I think finding the right skills level is the next issue.”

Helen Tanner, chief executive of Bristol-based Data3, agreed that data proficiency will be critical to businesses success in the coming years. She said there are certain types of SMEs that are ahead of the curve in terms of tackling their data use.

“They tend to be high-growth businesses that have grown quickly,” she said, “secondly they’ve got a leader who believes that data is going to be valuable for them, and thirdly they’ve got ambitious plans to grow further. In order to grow and scale profitably, you need to be driving efficiencies, and to do that you need automation, and in order to drive automation you need data.

“SME business leaders are becoming increasingly aware of their data being a problem and being a blocker – they’re very aware often that they have disconnected data sources across their finance systems, their customer database and their marketing. And in terms of how much of an impact it can have on the bottom line, being able to tackle your data can increase your profit margin by about 10 per cent on average.”

Ian Risk, chief technology officer at the Centre for Modelling and Simulation (CFMS), agreed the potential impact of good data science on business success was enormous, adding that modelling and simulation and the world of big data are inherently linked.

“Our founders wanted to understand how the world of high performance computing could be used individually in their own organisations or collectively as a consortium, to model future products virtually, without the need for building large expensive physical testbeds or prototypes. In an area where technology is moving so very fast, engineers need somewhere to experiment. Effectively that’s what CFMS does – we were created to provide a neutral testbed. Our aim is to improve the productivity of the companies we work with through digital technology.

“If you want to automate a process, and use something like an artificial intelligence system to allow you to do that, what you need is lots of data in order to train that system. In industry we need to generate that data and make sure that data isn’t biased by the people developing the system.”

Zara Nanu, chief executive of Gapsquare, which generates data to inform businesses’ awareness of the gender pay gap, believes good data analytics is key to driving positive societal change beyond simply the bottom line.

“People want more than data – they want to understand how that data translates into the future,” she said. “They want to know what it will mean for them five years down the line, ten years down the line, what does it mean for talent retention and sustainability? So we are starting to look increasingly at more predictive and prescriptive models, that allow businesses to understand how specific decisions are going to have an impact on where they’re going.”

You can watch back the full discussion on Insider’s website, here.