Alan Turing Institute needs to be given freedom to innovate to help UK compete on big data, says expert

Out-Law News | 25 Mar 2014 | 12:17 pm | 2 min. read

A new UK centre for 'big data' research must be given a free rein to innovate if the UK is to see the benefits of its work, an expert has said.

Technology law specialist Andrew Brydon of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the planned Alan Turing Institute has the potential to help UK companies become world leaders in developing and implementing big data tools.

The UK Treasury announced in the Budget (120-page / 2.15MB PDF) last week that it would establish a new Alan Turing Institute, named after the famous British wartime code-breaker, for the purpose of "analysing and identifying useful insights in big data".

"The government will provide £42 million over 5 years for the Alan Turing Institute – this will be a national institute which will undertake new research in ways of collecting, organising and analysing large sets of data; big data analysis can allow businesses to enhance their manufacturing processes, target their marketing better, and provide more efficient services," it said.

Precise details about where the Institute will be based and its precise remit are yet to be decided.

"It is welcome that the government is investing in data science," Brydon said. "A lot of the running on big data has come from the US so the establishment of a UK centre on big data has the potential to help the UK compete at the forefront of what is increasingly becoming a central aspect of doing business."

"However, the precise impact that the new Alan Turing Institute can have will depend on the remit it is given and the focus of its research, including whether it is tasked with analysing public sector data only, whether it is tasked with developing better tools for analysing data and whether the results of its research and development will be made available for those in the private sector to benefit from for free or at a cost," he said.

"It would be great if the research of the Institute could be used by businesses to help them with their move to a more digital-orientated business focus, but clearly there is a balance to be struck between making sure the insights derived from the Institute's work can benefit the greatest number of individuals and businesses in the UK with the need to ensure that there is a return on taxpayers' investment in the research," Brydon said.

"Whilst businesses are increasingly acknowledging the need to develop a big data strategy, it has become apparent that there remains a gap between putting such a strategy in place and actually making the most of the large data sets being collected and the analytics tools available for gaining insights into that information. If the Institute can help develop new tools and build a bank of knowledge that can be exported allowing the tools to be used effectively, then UK businesses could gain an advantage in understanding and profiting from the data they collect," he added.

"Turing was a genius whose work had an extraordinary and enduring effect not just on our country but on society more widely. The government needs to make sure that the Institute can operate with freedom to innovate, to allow it the best opportunity to flourish and deliver on its potential," the expert said.