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How Big Data is Driving Innovation in the Leeds City Region

· Ali Turner · Discussion

Big data, AI, machine learning – they’re more than just buzz words.


From 3D-printed prosthetic limbs to cybersecurity, big data is transforming businesses in the Leeds City Region.

Big data is changing the world as we know it. It’s the secret behind Google’s algorithms, the genius of self-driving cars and the reason why ‘in vitro’ experiments have been replaced by ‘in silico’. Just about everything in the natural world can now be represented and manipulated as data. The possibilities that presents are endless, which is why it’s so exciting that we’re at the heart of the action.

The Leeds City Region is a hub for data-enabled businesses

From financial institutions like TSYS to communication powerhouses like Konnektis and NFC Ring, the Leeds City Region is full of data-led businesses that are driving innovation. And the scale of what they’re doing is mind-boggling.

Take The Data Shed for example. They work with an unfathomable amount of data to help their clients get to know their customers. “I know at least five other businesses in the Leeds City Region that are handling 30 million+ data events every day as a matter of course. Every second of every minute of every day more than 300 events occur that need to be handled, understood and responded to. For us, 30 million is a quiet day,” Ed Thewlis, Founder of The Data Shed in Leeds, told us.


Jaywing is one of the five companies he’s referring to. They’ve developed a suite of AI and machine learning products that help their clients squeeze every bit of insight out of their customers. Their PPC platform continually learns and optimises itself to manage paid media spend in real-time, delivering more sales for less spend, while their social listening tool analyses millions of data points in minutes to work out what’s influencing people’s behaviour. The result is that clients can see the complete user journey as their customers switch between a multitude of channels and devices.

“That kind of data can provide significant insight into every interaction a brand might have with someone, both online and offline,” Rob Shaw, CEO of Jaywing, told us. “The impact of big data could transform a business, leading to reformed marketing communications that are highly effective and ultimately deliver much-improved ROI.”

Sky Betting & Gaming

Credit: Zoanne Garner

It’s not just marketing though. Big data is revolutionising our healthcare system. In 2014, NHS Digital transferred 40 terabytes of data from the previous system to the National Spine, bringing together billions of patient records, all in one place. Now they’re working to combine all the datasets owned by the NHS, to create a single access point that will help researchers inform healthcare planning. But they also use AI for other purposes, like identifying cancer cells and finding anomalies in system usage.

“The real game-changer is machine learning. It allows computers to learn how to complete tasks successfully, rather than being programmed to follow specific rules,” Andy Walton, Enterprise Business Architect at Sky Betting & Gaming, told us. And they should know – they’ve created their own custom-made big data platform where they store and process data, ready to be used across the business. It feeds into everything they do, from financial reporting and risk liability to security and live betting – they’ve even used machine learning to aid responsible gambling by identifying customers who might need to ‘cool off’ or be proactively contacted by their safer gambling team.

And TransUnion are at it too. The credit reporting giants recently ran a year-long trial to test the predictive accuracy of machine learning. Using a portfolio of 60,000 credit cards, they found that it would result in a 10% reduction in bad debt – that’s a big improvement that benefits both creditors and customers.

Those businesses are supported by a string of world-class institutions


Credit: Mark Hemingway

The combination of financial services, retail, manufacturing and gaming companies makes the Leeds City Region a really interesting place to work with data – and that, in turn, helps us to attract new talent. Of course, it helps that we produce 38,900 graduates every year, 45% of which come from STEAM subjects. And because data analysis is becoming ever more important, local businesses like Jaywing, TransUnion and Sky Betting & Gaming are getting actively involved in education, working with the universities to make graduates industry-ready.

In return, the universities have developed a series of state-of-the-art innovation centres to help businesses tap into their data expertise. Established in 2014, LIDA brings together 150 researchers and analysts from across the University of Leeds to tackle a diverse array of social and environmental problems. But they don’t do it alone, they work with private and public sector organisations to turn insight into action.


Credit: Simon and Simon Photography

Their accomplishments are wide-ranging, but the most impressive has to be Bowel Cancer Intelligence UK. It’s designed to save lives. How? By giving researchers access to the data they need to get better outcomes. BCI UK has created a COloRECTal Repository (CORECT-R) to consolidate existing datasets on the diagnosis, treatment and outcomes of bowel cancer patients to help researchers see the whole picture and identify trends that will improve patient care.

Meanwhile, over in Huddersfield, 3M BIC supports business growth through innovation. It acts as a gateway to the University of Huddersfield’s research centres, bringing together businesses and academics to find new ways of doing things, including revolutionising traffic systems and 3D printing artificial bones. As projects, they couldn’t be more different, but they’re both completely dependent on big data.


Credit: ODI Leeds

The University of York is equally blessed. Here you’ll find the central hub of the Digital Creativity Labs, an interdisciplinary think tank with a focus on research and innovation. Their speciality is games and interactive media, but data analytics is at the heart of what they do. One of their most interesting projects looks at esports data and how it can be used to improve performance in the same way it is for conventional sports. Bringing together advanced machine learning and data mining principles, they’re doing something that no one has done before. The end game is to develop a suite of visualisation tools that allows players to harness the power of their stats.

And then there’s the Digital Health Enterprise Zone. Headed up by the University of Bradford, it focuses on digital health innovations that will help prevent and manage long-term conditions like diabetes, which was the subject of their first hackathon. They challenged three businesses to find a new way to tackle diabetes in Bradford, using open-source data from NHS Digital and insights from real GPs. The winner showed that the NHS could save £1 million in prescription costs and generate £1 million of additional income by redesigning the service.

But even that is only the beginning of our data creds. After all, Leeds is home to one of just three ‘Pioneer Nodes’ of the Open Data Institute (ODI). They connect, equip and inspire people to innovate with data, and they have done since they first launched in November 2013, just one year after The Open Data Institute was founded. Together with initiatives like the Data Mill North, an open data resource that originally started in Leeds but has since expanded to cover the wider region, they’re making data accessible to everyone.

There’s no limit to what we can achieve


The Leeds City Region is leading the way in big data innovation, but we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible. As LIDA’s Professor Mark Birkin summed it up, “Within the next 10 years, it’s entirely possible that 95% of road miles will be covered with no human driver. Your mobile phone could be capable of providing advice more rapid, reliable and accessible than either a GP or hospital consultant. A machine will be capable of reading minds through a combination of facial signals and physical monitoring.” And it could happen right here on our doorsteps.