(Data) Sets and the City

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

Manchester’s Inward Investment Agency has commissioned The Data City, a new company launched after a longstanding collaboration between the Open Data Institute Leeds and Bloom Media, to map Manchester’s emerging technologies. The mapping project, which has been welcomed by Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, is set to highlight the strengths and assets of the region, and use evidence based on data to attract potential investment and new businesses.

"The market clearly needs this data - it doesn't exist elsewhere."

Alex Craven, co-founder, The Data CityAlex Craven, co-founder of the company said that, before it became a company, The Data City was a space where corporations such as Leeds City Council, Bloom Media, the ODI Leeds, KPMG and Arup could come together and share knowledge. In addition. they would host events and pitch for projects.

Craven said: “We won every bid we pitched for and that led to Paul Connell [founder of ODI Leeds] and I thinking. ‘we’re on to something here. The market clearly needs this data and it doesn’t exist elsewhere’.”

"We used AI and ML to process that into something a human can consume."

One of those projects was to map the Leeds digital sector for Leeds City Council. “We’re allowing those organisations to describe themselves, and then we’re using artificial intelligence and machine learning to process all that information into something that a human can consume.”

That information was provided to the Tech Nation Report and turned out to be more precise than the data gathered by Tech Nation UK the previous year. “The first report said there were 460 digital businesses and we showed them there were 3,500.”

Craven explained that the problem of misclassifying digital businesses stemmed from a reliance on the standard industry classification (SIC) system. That system is flawed because it means that businesses are categorised by the industry they were in when they were incorporated.

“No one ever goes back and changes their SIC code classification. In Leeds. some of our oldest digital businesses were incorporated in the 1800s.” Fortunately, Craven has been able to train an artificial intelligence to perceive nuance and look for organisations that are definitely digital businesses.

"We've done a lot of sector and cluster mapping. Now we have an index."

With business models changing all the time, Craven and Connell decided to create a database of businesses that is refreshed monthly, rather than a single snapshot of a company or sector. “We can start seeing trends like the explosion of artificial intelligence as a thing in itself, so we've done a lot of cluster and sector mapping and we now have index,” said Craven.

He added that an open dataset had been created of 4.2 million sole traders, public institutions, charities and companies for which The Data City has tried to find the digital footprint. It then used artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand what they do, how they describe themselves and classify them accordingly.

Two years ago, Craven sold his business Bloom Media to Jaywing - it is now known as Jaywing Intelligence. With more time to take on a new project, earlier this year he and Connell decided to do something more substantial with The Data City. The new strategy is to get all the data on UK organisations in one place to speed up the time it takes to do the analysis, rather than doing projects on a brief-by-brief basis.

Manchester manhole coverIn addition to the commissioned MIDAS project, Craven and co are also working on using AI to identify 25 sectors in the UK that may be different to the 25 traditionally citied in industrial strategies and policies. “It could be an interesting story,” he said.

Of the Manchester project, Tim Newns, CEO of MIDAS, said: “Greater Manchester is already established as a leading UK tech region, with a host of cutting-edge technology firms located in the area, and a strong performance across all areas from the IoT to virtual reality and artificial intelligence.”