2017: data science comes of age

As traditional at the start of the new year, many are taking the opportunity to propose some predictions for how 2017 might unfold. The independent innovation charity Nesta has boldly published ten predictions for trends, social movements and technological breakthroughs that it believes will dominate the year ahead. Although focused on the UK, these imaginative possible futures are just as applicable to many other regions of the world. Underpinning all of these predictions is a reliance on data and, more specifically, a dependency on greater data skills from all sectors of the economy.

The Nesta predictions are fascinating as they range from the purely technical such as blockchain (which will grow) and the internet (which will fragment), to much broader social movements and transformations such as social engagement – between people, and institutions – and also diverse creative practices. What cuts across all of these, and is indeed a prediction in its own right, is the need for individuals at all stages in their lives and careers to acquire the new skills necessary to enable all of this to materialise.

What is also clear when we examine the future is that the organisations and practices that exist today are changing. This transformation is happening as a result of the impact of digital technologies and the ensuing shift in business models and revenue streams. We can see it in all sectors, from aerospace to food and from manufacturing to entertainment. We have already seen the shape of new organisational structures in the form of the digital start-ups that have flourished in recent years. These start-ups have grown and evolved into thriving enterprises that have maintained their lean startup philosophy but adapted to the challenges of growth and maturity.

The EU-funded EDISON project has been looking into the data-related skills and competences individuals need in this new era, and how best to address the growing demand from organisations for individuals at all levels to be suitably equipped to thrive in the digitised economy. The challenge is that both work and the research environment are transforming into interdisciplinary environments, so data-related skillsets have to be harmonised in order to foster collaboration. The EDISON project has collected these skills and competences under the umbrella of Data Science partly as a term for the experts who will acquire a broad range of Data Science specialisms, but also to recognise the needs of the many who will focus their careers on traditional roles, as well as those embracing new, as yet undefined, roles, all of which will require varying degrees of specialism in data-related skills.

Data Science therefore becomes, to some extent, the common language of the information-led economy with all of us benefiting from a greater awareness and confidence in communicating in a data-centric world. The EDISON project has created a framework, EDISON Data Science Framework (EDSF), which presents the skills and competences, job profiles, knowledge and even a model curriculum for Data Science. The project team are now refining this framework and expanding the support resources to enable more sectors and fields to benefit. In order to achieve this, the team would welcome involvement from those with interests in teaching, training, learning and operating in the data science profession. One way of doing this would be to donate some of your valuable time to complete a survey that will enable the team to tailor the existing work to the needs of the broadest possible audience.

The future is uncertain, as it always has been, but embracing and understanding the wealth of data that we are creating about our world offers the potential for all of us to increase our understanding of the world and improve the decisions that we all make about this future.


Steve Brewer

10 January 2017