A new data innovation centre for Newcastle - and the nation

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

Newcastle will be home to a £30 million data innovation centre to help companies and the public sector develop the skills to make the most of the data revolution. The aim of the National Innovation Centre for Data is to assist in the creation of a generation of skilled and educated researchers.

Blueprints have been drawn up and funding allocated for a data innovation centre in the North East of England. Matt Hancock MP, Minister of State for Digital and Culture, has assigned £15 million in funding, which will be matched by a further £15 million from Newcastle University for its construction.

Newcastle UniversityPro vice chancellor of innovation and business at Newcastle University, Nick Wright, said: “Data has been important to our university for a long period of time. We've specialised in it for a long while, so we're particularly delighted that that tradition is being reinforced by the establishment of the new centre.” He emphasised that the innovation centre that will be of practical use for the economy and will sit alongside existing research institutes and translate their work into productivity gains for the economy, “to help us extract economic and social value from data”.

“It’s all about listening to people first and then using the tremendous skill base we’ve got in academia and the technical community to generate real benefits for people in terms of new products and skills. We spent a lot of time talking to industry to understand what its needs are so we can then tailor our solution to its particular requirements and situation,” said Wright. For example, the centre will provide industry with advice on how to develop its data analysis skills to predict when a machine will stop working and so avoid the expense of a breakdown.

"The centre will create economic opportunities and jobs in the region.”

Wright said that part of the innovation centre’s remit will to reach out to people currently in work and help them upskill, as well as evangelising to senior executives about the importance of data. Wright’s ambition for the innovation centre is for it to grow data expertise and support data professionals as they develop their careers. The 9000 sq ft innovation centre will be located next to the Computer Science department of the University and will be completed in 2020.

Wright also stated that he believes Newcastle is the perfect place for a new data innovation centre to be located. He highlighted Newcastle’s “active and vibrant” tech start-up scene and the large number of people employed in the digital industries in the region. “The North East of England is one of the fastest-growing locations for digital technology and so we believe that the centre will create economic opportunities and jobs in the region.” Wright added that this is important in order to rebalance the economy across the UK.

The announcement was made at the Nesta innovation centre in London as it launched its Data Skills for the Future report. Hancock said: “I am here to show our full support from the government in the agenda of driving data skills throughout the nation and we’re hearing increasingly of the impact big data is going to have on our economy and society.”