Tuesday 15 September 2020 11:54 am

We should embrace data and use it well – not guard against it

The coronavirus pandemic holds no shortage of challenges for British business, but it has highlighted the importance of data. Combined with good judgment and expert knowledge, it gives us the insight to act with accuracy and speed.  

Data has identified where to send medical supplies or channel financial support to businesses. It has allowed food banks to connect with families in need of supplies. And now it is helping councils forecast where to deploy resources for new outbreaks.    

Read more: Covid-19 threatens to set UK data protection back a generation

Using relevant information to help us navigate the crisis has reminded us of the great value of data and technology in tackling even the biggest challenges. The benefits are far-reaching, provided it is used effectively and people’s privacy is respected.   

The government’s new National Data Strategy offers renewed focus on the skills and expertise required in this field, and will build on the work which is already positioning the UK’s data industry as a world leader. Digital secretary Oliver Dowden is clear that data and the way it is used are opportunities to be embraced, rather than a threat to be guarded against.  

We can expand our industry to one which is world leading in skill and innovation. The UK is already a leading digital nation. Data-enabled UK service exports were estimated to be £243bn in 2019, or 75 per cent of total service exports.  

And data is a growth area – both economically and in terms of appealing to talent wanting to work in the industry. In our own business, we have seen a 133 per cent growth in applicants for data science and analytics roles this year alone.  

Consumers, meanwhile, are also embracing the use of new, helpful data. Over 1m customers use Open Banking which allows greater control between different bank accounts. Four of the largest banks have Open Banking apps, as do several challenger banks. Cross account searches and access increased from 80.7m last July to 475m in July this year, showing popularity with users. 

As the world becomes ever more connected, the sheer volume, range and variety of available data will continue to grow at a substantial rate. The ability to analyse and use it in the right way will show us its true value.

Read more: Let’s hope tough new rules on children’s online data collection deliver, and give parents peace of mind

Britain needs to be at the forefront of the digital revolution, and it is encouraging to see the government state its ambition to become a global leader. 

By championing and supporting the UK’s dynamic data industry, we can boost the economy, focus on continued innovation and create more jobs.

Jonathan Westley is chief data officer at Experian.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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