DATA drives everything in our modern world, from the products that we buy to the way we interact – and Scotland has some of the best in the world.

The Data Lab (TDL), which is hosted by the University of Edinburgh but covers the whole country, is the innovation centre (IC) tasked with capturing new markets, boosting productivity and connecting experts in the field – acting as a catalyst for data science in Scotland.

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As with the country’s other ICs, its mission is to drive economic and social improvements in Scotland, although all the centres work in different ways.

CEO Gillian Docherty sees it as being based on three pillars of activity – collaborative innovation, skills and training, and community building.

Docherty told The National: “Collaborative innovation projects are where we work with organisations both commercial and public sector where there is an opportunity to innovate through the use of new data science methods or data techniques.

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“We work with the organisations and introduce them to relevant academics where we can co-fund, along with the industry partner, academic time to work on the particular problem or challenge or help develop this ability for new products or services where there is a use of data science.”

Docherty also has an in-house data science team working on various projects, of which the Albyn Housing Society is one, but she says they work in most industry sectors: “We work across financial services and fintech, through to oil and gas, public services, NHS and tourism, and food and drink. We have project examples in almost every sector.

“We’ve funded 66 projects to date and the companies we’re working with are predicting an increase in their revenue of £82 million and predicting an increase of around 280 new jobs.

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“It’s very exciting – the projects vary a lot, from subsea pipeline inspections using computers with Strathclyde University to annotating video feeds from HD cameras from RVs [remote vehicles].

“There’s one with the NHS building algorithms to try to predict patients who would bed-block and become delayed discharges from hospital – can we predict what’s likely to happen to patients from their point of entry into hospital to the end of their clinical treatment?

“The algorithm has proved to be 97 per cent accurate based on historical data sets.

“It is really valuable because if you can predict which patients are likely to bed-block you can try to intervene while they are still getting their clinical treatment and try to put care packages into place, or other things that will allow them to be discharged when they are medically able to do so.”

Docherty says Scotland is fortunate to have some of the best data in the world, with few other countries being able to link national, consistent and quality data for public service improvement, economic growth and research.

And she says being able to operate across any industrial sector brings distinct advantages, not least the cross-fertilisation of ideas. But that, she adds, requires skills and talent.

“It’s great getting people excited by the opportunity of data but if they can’t get the skills that they need and the talent they’ll fail almost before they start.”

TDL runs a sponsored MSc course as part of its expanding skills and talent work, with 130 students at 11 universities who are likely to go on to project internships and then into work in a similar field.

More than 50 students of last year’s intake of 90 found work in industry – most in the companies with which they had completed their internships.

TDL also seed funds online learning courses focused on the application of data science with relevance in Scotland – medicine, gaming analytics and more to follow.

Docherty says she is keen to keep these skills in Scotland: “These skills are in demand globally and we don’t want the talent to disperse; we want to anchor them here in Scotland and get them placements and get them working here.”

Community building – TDL’s third pillar – sees it jointly run a data science meet-up with 2500 members and the second annual DataFest, a week-long festival of data innovation across Scotland which starts on March 19.

“We feel it’s really important we get the whole country involved because data is everywhere,” says Docherty. Every organisation can benefit from using their data in better ways so it’s important it is spread beyond Edinburgh.

“Last year at the inaugural DataFest we had 2500 people at 26 events, but we might hit 50 events this year and we’re hoping for some diverse groups to get involved.”