Ireland is paving its way to a thriving data-driven economy

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Did you know that 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years alone? Ireland is no exception to this onset of data-driven economies and whether you realise it or not, you’re playing your own part in this movement too.

Whether it’s buying your morning coffee with Apple Pay, booking your appointments online or just browsing the internet, all of your behaviours and actions are creating data.

This large volume of data is referred to as ‘Big Data’ and it’s not really the amount that’s important. What really matters is what the companies who collect this information are doing with it.

A 2016 report produced by William Fry in association with Forbes Insights recently found that 96% of leading companies around the world see Ireland as a favourable investment location when it comes to Big Data investments.

We spoke to Laura Kennedy, Head of Data Science & Digital Consulting at Next Generation Recruitment, about Ireland’s position in the world of data science and the upcoming DatSci Awards.

Laura is a respected & proven consultant in the data science industry providing executive level advice & talent solutions across broad industries & disciplines. With 5 years‘ experience in the recruitment industry & a previous finance career, Laura is a technical expert consultant & guide to how to implement advanced analytics in your organisation.

Do you see this onset of a data-driven economy as something Ireland and Irish businesses have embraced to the full?

Whilst becoming a fully data driven economy is still a goal, it’s one that is getting closer every day. More and more companies are investing heavily in their data analytics infrastructure and teams globally and Ireland is seen as a leader and hub in this field.

Dublin is the site of numerous global analytics hubs for major multinationals like Deutsche Bank, our indigenous startups have been on the cusp of this too.

Eir has built a remarkable Centre of Excellence in Analytics and we have a vibrant data driven startup scene with companies like Kinesis working on futuristic data analytics without the weight of old legacy data systems and practices on them.

Data scientist has been labelled the sexiest job title of the 21st century, what do you think is the biggest attraction to the job?

A true data scientist takes massive amounts of raw data and uses it to create actionable business insights. This means a data scientist can actually directly influence the decisions made by their CEO and other executives.

It’s this ability to drive change and influence organisations to behave as the data recommends that is a major priority to the majority of the data scientists I know. 

Forfás and the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) released a report last year that addressed a number of measures Ireland needs to take in order to expand our data and analytics talent pool by 2020 when it’s expected Ireland will have the demand for over 20,000 jobs in data analytics alone. Do you think that schools are equipping students correctly in STEM subjects in order to be able for the relevant courses at University and ultimately the jobs?

Education is certainly playing catch up with data analytics and maths, stats and management are key skills to the data scientist.

We are seeing lots of excellent new university courses emerging to cope with the demand however secondary education needs to catch up. Students often have to choose between STEM subjects at secondary level due to restrictions around lab space or teacher numbers.

Additionally whilst a student at secondary school can still study and sit Leaving Certificate examinations in the classical subjects like Latin or Ancient Greek, there is still no leaving cert curriculum for Statistics, I.T. or Programming.

Immersion in these more modern subjects from an earlier age can only serve to make our workforce even stronger.

If I had a startup right now or a legacy company looking to move forward, why should I invest my money in hiring data experts?

Data Scientists help to de-risk decision-making to an extent. They can also harness technology to complete mammoth data related tasks that could never be done manually.

Take Insurance Fraud for example. If an insurance provider invests in a data science team, then the data scientists can build predictive models which will identify the claims that are most likely to be fraudulent and direct the investigators to those or flag them to the claims assessor at the claims payment decision point.

The effect for this Insurance provider is a decrease in the payment of fraudulent claims, an increase in the percentage of fraudulent claims that they identify and of course massive cost savings.

And what can companies in Ireland do to attract more data scientists since they are clearly worth the investment?

Companies in Ireland are working hard to attract data scientists here in addition to retaining our home grown talent.

If companies here want to really attract the best data scientists, they need to be open to new technology – both paid and open source, be open-minded to new and innovative ways of looking at their business and be willing to actually implement the actions coming out of the data scientists’ insights.

Ireland is famous for its entrepreneurial spirit so this is a great environment for a Data Scientist to have an impact.

Ireland was named by Akamai recently as having the fastest average broadband speed in Europe and 2nd fastest globally. Given the ongoing National Broadband Plan, do you think we run the risk of becoming complacent with stats like this?

We rank 8th out of 28 countries in the EU in the 2016 Digital Economy and Societies Index and whilst we perform better than the EU average we are improving more slowly which puts us in danger of slipping backwards as other countries improve at a faster pace.

Some of the successes of the NBP have been really excellent – all of our post-primary schools have now got access to 100Mbps broadband. Whilst there is still a lack of fixed broadband access to 4% of households in rural areas, the State Intervention programme is working to remedy this.

Other programmes like the “Getting Citizens Online” programme under the National Digital Strategy are doing sterling work to encourage demographics who might not normally have embraced the idea of becoming connected citizens to get online.

More work needs to be done if we are to maintain or improve our European ranking and subsequently our attractiveness as a data science hub for Europe.

How much of an impact has the fact that companies like IBM are using Irish based developers and data scientists had on the industry? Is it helping to attract workers from abroad and highlighting Ireland’s place on the map as a tech hub?

Absolutely. The fact that globally known data-driven organisations like IBM have endorsed Ireland as a data science centre of excellence by setting up shop here does not go unnoticed in the global analytics community.

The Irish data science community is already incredibly diverse as these are critical skills for Ireland and so international talent coming here qualifies for the Critical Skills work permit.

Ireland’s positive brand internationally as a destination, along with these endorsements from globally respected organisations really do help to make Ireland an attractive place for data scientists to come to grow their careers. 

And finally, can you tell me about the DatSci Awards and what people can expect?

The DatSci Awards are Ireland’s first ever awards for data science. We wanted to create a platform to identify and reward the best and brightest in the data science community both through the competition categories and through the scholarship the Awards fund for a student to attend UCD to study a Level 9 Masters in Business Analytics.

We feel very strongly that if you’re the best at something then you should be recognised as such and the data science community was right there with us.

Our first event last year boasted 6 award categories that recognised individual professionals, academic teams and organisations of all sizes. This year we have expanded to include the Public Sector who are doing great things through Revenue, Central Bank of Ireland, An Garda Siochana and others and we also have created a new category open to one and all to recognise the best use of data analytics to achieve Social Impact.

The DatSci Awards is an amazing way to promote work of our talent here both in Ireland and internationally and I’m really excited to see all of the entries coming in.

There are two weeks left to enter before the competition window closes and our panel of judges start the scoring so if you want a DatSci Award for your mantelpiece this September then go to www.datsciawards.ie and make your entry now!

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