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Insights from Data Summit 2021

In his November blog, our Head of Data, David Ferguson, summarises the key takeaway’s from this year’s fascinating Data Summit in Edinburgh.

Having attended the excellent DataFest Summit in Edinburgh on the 24 th November with a fantastic array of speakers and a number of really interesting data topics.

Kevin Fong spoke of his involvement at the front line of the pandemic response working for NHS England. Kevin highlighted the importance of the data being created from numerous sources but also how when faced with the rapidly changing environment data often became historic and, as a result, to best understand developing situations required active involvement of personnel at the front line of the fight.

As part of the further discussions a panel of experts including keynote speakers Nina Schick and Reema Patel alongside Steph Wright from The DataLab and Alex Fassio from UNICEF looked at some for the issues around consent and in particular parental consent. Whilst focus was primarily on parental consent it also raises questions around other areas of consent including age and disability which will face similar issues along with additional specific issues due to the nature of the data subject.

Professor Mike Berners-Lee of Lancaster University gave a fantastic insight into the necessity of mapping all landmass areas to optimise land use and minimise unnecessary additional carbon footprint. Understanding that the earth has the resources to sustain itself was a glimmer of hope around the environmental crisis. It is the responsibility of humanity to ensure that we use the resources as efficiently as possible and whilst this is a huge challenge there is also a great opportunity for data to drive the necessary efficiency improvements. Focussing on areas of greatest impact rather than more visible options will deliver faster identifiable returns.

The discussion around resource management and carbon footprint, and particularly in relation to the world of data, resonated nicely with an event during COP26. With the topic of sustainability being particularly current I was delighted to attend the first demonstration of a new heat extraction process from Katrick Technologies which took place at the Iomart datacentre in Glasgow. The technology provides a heat extraction process which requires no energy input. As datacentres currently consume 2% of the worlds electricity, the energy consumption and environmental issues will become an area of increasing interest as datacentre users look to demonstrate their environmental credentials. The opportunity to reduce overall energy consumption within datacentres through a zero impact process was fascinating.

The final keynote speaker at the DataFest Summit was Chris Moon and spoke about his work clearing mines in countries post conflict where legacy minefields were killing and maiming the resident populations. Chris gave an outstanding motivational speech around how he has overcome extreme adversity resulting from injuries sustained having been blown up by a landmine. His focus and drive to subsequently complete the London Marathon within a year of leaving hospital was truly inspirational.

A critical point of discussion throughout the summit was around the importance of trust. Without confidence in data privacy and transparency in the application, any engagement with partners will fail to achieve its potential and delay the data journey. Ultimately the creation of trust should be one of the critical components in the design of applications. When speaking at the Futurescot Digital Scotland 2021 conference, Albert King, Chief Data Officer at The Scottish Government summarised by saying that “The foundation of trust is good data.”

The challenge lies in implementing the processes which demonstrate data privacy and provide insight into the data applications.

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