Grasp the possibilities of data says government guru

Nigel Shadbolt explains how we should learn to love data but there's a need for better training

Companies should become more data aware and not get too hung up on terminology. There should be more actively looking to exploit the technology that already exists.

That's according to one of the leading lights in open data, Nigel Shadbolt, professor at Southampton University and director of the Open Data Institute.

He said that companies who were looking to get ahead with extensive gathering of large amounts of data were missing the bigger picture "Some people think if we have a huge amounts of data then you can know everything, but that doesn't have to be the case," said Shadbolt. "For example," he added, " You can take that data and mix it with data from areas (figures such as deprivation, crime data)."  he pointed out that one industry that was heavily into doing this was the insurance industry where there were taking government crime figures to produce differentiated products.

Shadbolt, who was speaking ahead of the Digital London conference next month, was one of the progenitors of the open government movement, set up by Gordon Brown's government in 2009, whose work subsequently led to the launch of the recent gov.uk portal. "You can tell that it was good work," said Shadbolt, "it carried on after the change of government."

But he warned that there was a need for businesses to become more educated about the possibilities for data analytics. "We need more data literacy out there," he said. He pointed out that people continue to misuse data. "For example, there was a story a few months back that stated that the UK was the most densely occupied country in Europe, something that was only true if you ignored boundries and only considered the parts of Holland that were not under water."

Like many industry observers, he heightened the need for better education in data analysis and the need for more skilled specialists. "We need to build up the skill set, carry on training individuals: we need more people who are adept at using languages like Python but there's more to it than that, they'll all need some skills to apply. There's no single course that teaches this at the moment," he said.

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