Bayes Centre hits accelerator of data-driven innovation

The Bayes Data Science Unit is helping to co-ordinate data science projects internally at the University of Edinburgh whilst forging external data science centric relationships. Article by Lucy Saddler.

In summer 2021, as part of the Data Driven Innovation initiative (DDI), the University of Edinburgh launched the Bayes Data Science Unit (BDSU) in a bid to encourage more collaboration between academics at the university and external partners.

By giving those external partners access to the university’s world-leading data science expertise, the BDSU aims to introduce and integrate data science into sectors that aren’t traditionally associated with data.

When various academics from the University of Edinburgh expressed a desire to become more involved with the university’s existing data science infrastructure, Craig Sheridan, Business Development Executive at Edinburgh Innovations (the university’s research commercialisation service), was asked to think about how to bring this desire to fruition.

“The BDSU stemmed from a need and a want for academics and academic schools to have a service that would allow them to get more involved with what the DDI is doing and with what the Bayes Centre is doing,” Craig explains.

Although still evolving, the BDSU will function as the co-ordinating hub for all things data science at the university. The unit will draw on the university’s current data science capabilities including the DDI initiative and its network of data innovation hubs that includes the Bayes Centre, which focuses specifically on driving innovation in the data science and artificial intelligence fields.

The Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre and the Edinburgh International Data Facility – another of the DDI’s five innovation hubs, that is tasked with providing a robust data infrastructure– will also support the BDSU in its mission to better co-ordinate data science-centric projects across the university.

Craig describes the BDSU’s function as twofold – with both an internal and external outlook: “Internally, it is about getting a better idea of all the data science assets that we have at the university and all the data science academics that we have – to raise awareness of that and utilise those assets.

“I think it is important that we first co-ordinate internally,” he adds.

With that in mind, the BDSU has already worked to establish links with the university’s centre for digital expertise EDINA and to assist them with the development of a cloud based Jupyter notebooks service. These notebooks are often used as a teaching mechanism, allowing both students and lecturers to access live code, static texts and datasets.

“The BDSU have been speaking to EDINA about commercialising this concept and taking this into companies. The notebooks could be used commercially to incorporate new datasets, data visualisations and algorithms – alongside EDINA we can help develop this for companies,” says Craig.

Fostering interdisciplinary collaboration by drawing on the university’s data science expertise across academic schools – even those not traditionally associated with data – is at the heart of the BDSU.

The BDSU will make use of the university’s School of Geosciences and their geospatial data analysis expertise, a field that has become popular with the explosion in Internet of Things (IoT) technology and satellites.

This interdisciplinary approach will underpin all of the BDSU’s core services and Craig explains that by establishing a pool of interdisciplinary and collaborative relationships both internally within the university and with external partners, the BDSU will be in a position to attract larger funding streams.

Core services

From an internal perspective, the BDSU will not only seek to strengthen the university’s internal data science assets but will also aim to help commercialise and apply data science research in a real-life setting.

“The BDSU is there for when internal data science research has reached a level where it needs to go up the technology readiness level, to look at how to commercialise it and to look at how we can turn it into applied science,” explains Craig.

In that sense, the BDSU will bring data science experts across the university opportunities to collaborate externally with different organisations and companies.

Turning to the unit’s external outlook and its bid to showcase the breadth and depth of the university’s expertise to the outside world, Craig says that the BDSU will offer a consultancy service for external partners.

He explains that for more technical companies with a good understanding of data science but who have affordability and resourcing constraints, the BDSU can supplement their existing capabilities and resource the right people for them.

But the BDSU will also seek to introduce data science to companies and sectors in which data isn’t currently widely utilised.

“There are companies that work in sectors that aren’t associated with data science or haven’t started using data science. The BDSU will have to reach out and sell data science to those companies, by using the university’s expertise to demonstrate that data science can apply to all companies,” says Craig.

Craig hopes that the BDSU’s initial consultancy service will lay the foundations for longer-term, strategic relationships.

“The initial consultancy is all about working out the needs of the company, then looking at what we can do with them over the longer term – perhaps providing student internships or innovation labs,” he adds.

The BDSU will also function as a one-stop-shop for collaboration between the university and external partners, rapidly responding to all their data science needs.

Space Intelligence

One such company, that has benefited from using the BDSU as a one-stop-shop to access the university’s data science expertise, is Space Intelligence.

Founded in 2018, Space Intelligence uses information from satellite data to provide solutions for climate change, with the company using the BDSU to access the university’s high-power computing facilities at the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre.

“It also allows us to develop a relationship with researchers across the University of Edinburgh with unique expertise in geospatial data analytics and modelling which we don’t currently have in the team” says a member of the Space Intelligence team.

Space Intelligence is just one of an increasing number of companies in the space and satellites industry, that have based themselves in Edinburgh as the city bids to become the space data capital of Europe.

Space and satellites are one of ten core sectors that the DDI initiative – of which the BDSU is also a part of – supports with funding.

It is precisely this support that Space Intelligence highlights as fundamental to the development of their services: “The depth of expertise and targeted funding available are a potent mix, catalysing the efforts of companies like ours in a bid to make Edinburgh the space data capital of Europe.”

Collaboration not competition

The BDSU will prioritise collaborative relationships over a more competitive approach and Craig cites the BDSU’s developing link with Dublin City University as an example of the positive benefits that collaborative relationships can bring.

“We are close to signing a memorandum of understanding with them. It is relatively informal and more about having regular conversations. They will have expertise in areas that we don’t have and vice versa and that is why building a collaborative relationship is so important. I much prefer this collaborative approach as opposed to competing with other organisations,” explains Craig.

Craig hopes that the BDSU will become an integral part of the university: “We want to get higher levels of prominence and we will start to build up very clear motivations for what we are doing, especially promoting our core services.”

The project is funded by the Data-Driven Innovation initiative (DDI), delivered by the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University for the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. DDI is an innovation network helping organisations tackle challenges for industry and society by doing data right to support Edinburgh in its ambition to become the data capital of Europe.

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