Government must make UK a big data leader, not follower

Government investment needs to create big data leaders not followers
Big data training needs growth

Universities and Science Minister David Willets recently announced funding of £73m in big data - with funding split between four UK Research Councils, which will then support nearly 50 big data and analytics related projects. I understand a lot of the money has already been allocated to existing academic research projects that are well underway.

It's great that the government is making the money available; it shows clear understanding of the enormous potential of big data. The government has previously marked big data as one of its eight great technologies in which to become a global leader.

However, without wishing to paint a negative picture, in order to become a global leader, I would like to have seen some of the money spent on big data skills, i.e. training a new breed of developers with industry experience, so that as a nation we can become the big data leader, not follower.

The official government announcement talks about big data creating 58,000 new jobs before 2017, but without skilled people, I think we'll be creating 58,000 vacancies or asking suppliers and overseas workers to fill the gap.

Boosting the UK's standing

At the moment, a lot of big data projects are being delivered by suppliers, which may have UK offices, but are in reality global operators with little UK presence. I also need not remind anyone that countries like India have a very skilled workforce more than capable of filling these positions.

I'd like to see more money going into education programmes. In the last few months I have seen a number of UK universities launch Masters and PhD degrees in data science and analytics.

The government itself is also investing a lot of resource into changing the national curriculum to give greater focus to teaching children coding. Perhaps in a few years' time, we'll start to reap the rewards of code-savvy children and Master and Doctorate level academics.

In the meantime, I think maybe apprenticeships are the answer; we need skills at all levels. Postgraduate formal qualifications are not always necessary. Developers with Java skills and work experience could be trained in big data in as little as two years - making a meaningful contribution and helping the nation to lead on big data.

  • Chris Brown is a consultant in big data analytics for HPC, storage, data management and analytics provider OCF.