Collecting data to map the tech of the nation

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

“There's no one single data source that can act as a silver bullet for our understanding of the tech eco-system in the UK, so necessarily we have to use a portfolio of data sources,” said George Windsor, head of insights at Tech Nation UK.

The Tech Nation Report is the flagship report of the UK’s data industry and has been produced annually since 2014. To collate the data for the report, the insights team worked with several data partners the Office for National Statistics, Adzuna, Beauhurst, PitchBook, Startup Genome, as well as official partners Barclays, EY and JLL. By way of comparison, in 2014 the report was produced in collaboration with DueDil.

"Startup Genome provided commensurable data across different international eco-systems."

George Windsor, head of insights at Tech Nation UK

Windsor explained that data from Startup Genome was used to put the UK technology scene in the context of other international technology hubs. “It’s one of the only data sources that we were able to find that provided commensurable data across different eco-systems on a truly international basis,” he said.

This enabled the team to compare the UK to hubs in Asia, the US as well as Europe, though he did highlight the downside of Startup Genome being focused on London. “Of course it is not just about London,” Windsor countered. “But it is our capital city and a global city, so many clusters across the UK can utilise the infrastructure that London has. But that is not to say that other places across the UK aren’t important in their own right on the global stage.”

"We supplemented official data and open data with web data."

When asked why Tech Nation chose to gather data from such disparate sources, Windsor responded that by supplementing official data and open data with web data, he and his team wanted to understand the front end of the tech economy as well as the hidden underwiring of tech in the UK.

Part of that involved looking at where communities got together at formal and informal events. To understand this, it used data from Meetup, an online platform where people can find and arrange to meet face-to-face others with similar interests.

One issue of data quality that Windsor had to contend with was that some of the data he and his team relied on was updated at long intervals, and so was somewhat out of date. Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes classify companies by industry and company owners have to declare which SIC best describes their business when it is incorporated.

SIC codes are only updated every ten years.

“The SIC codes are updated regularly, but not often - only around every ten years. The economy of course is changing far more rapidly than that.” He added that classification systems of PitchBook and Beauhurst are “far more dynamic.”

I also wondered if there was an issue of tech companies self-selecting and being proactive to be included in the report, and if there was enough of a counter-balance from official, and in comparison passive, data.

London Old Street RoundaboutWindsor responded: “It is something that we are very much aware of and part of the Tech Nation report it is all about those communities themselves that are driving the eco-system forward. No doubt there is some selection bias in terms of those people that respond to the survey.”

He added that though official data is used to map the whole economy and establish a sense of context, case studies are also included that provide a qualitative aspect to the report’s findings.

"Our perception of the tech sector is being driven by a very small number of companies based in east London.”

“We definitely do want to have a balance between those different data sources, but in having lots of different types of data source within the Tech Nation Report, it actually gives us that multi-faceted view of the eco-system. Any data source in its own right would not provide the comprehensive view that we would like to achieve so we have to use them alongside one another.”

One surprising finding from the results of the data gathering that he and his team did was that the age demographic of the technology workforce is not young and hip(ster) as some would believe. He said that the only region of the UK where the majority of people working in tech are under 35 years is east London. “That’s the Silicon Roundabout. We suspect that much of our perception of the tech sector in the UK is being driven by a very small number of companies based in east London.”

Woman leading team meeting with scrum of post-itsAs well disovering that tech workers are more likely to be mature, the data gathered also revealed that there was a greater degree of diversity among people working in tech in other parts of the country and other parts of the capital. Windsor hopes that this revelation will change the perception of the tech sector and thus make it a more appealing industry to work in for a wider range of people.

He said: "The common mantra is, 'you can't be what you can't see'. For many people, if what they see is a simply a group of young, white men, they might feel that they are not able to operate in the tech sector in a way that they should feel that they are, because it is a very open eco-system.

And what do the findings suggest will be trends for the future? AI is an area to watch, Windsor said.