The drive for Edinburgh to become the data capital for Europe is a goal of the Edinburgh and South-East City Region Deal. Launched in 2018, this collaboration between the UK and Scottish governments, six local authorities and the city region’s universities, colleges, businesses and third sector announced a £661 million Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) Programme to harness the area’s strengths in digital technology and enhance its data capabilities. The goal is to be recognised as the European centre of excellence for AI and data science.
Throughout our research, we found that many of the assumptions about the strengths of Edinburgh as a centre of data excellence were justified and could be evidenced. Fundamentally, Edinburgh has a strong and growing digital technology sector and workforce that make a valuable contribution to the economy. This is complemented by government support and inward investment. But critically, we asked what makes a data capital and whether we are all focused on those goals.
The report looks in depth at the five pillars essential to claim the title of ‘data capital’—business demand for data expertise, the economic environment, the talent pool, innovation, and clarity of purpose—in order to spark a debate about what needs to be done to overcome any lingering barriers and challenges for Edinburgh to step up and into the role as a European leader of all things data.
How does Edinburgh rank for data and AI?
In comparison with other cities in Europe, Edinburgh is consistently rated highly on its data and AI capability, ranking within the top five to ten cities in Europe. However, in the absence of a single, consistent set of benchmarks, a definitive conclusion for which city is ‘leading’ is hard to reach. Measuring and benchmarking any city’s performance as a data capital is complicated but important in establishing progress towards that goal. Our research shows that a range of factors can be used to compare relative successes and weaknesses. If we want Edinburgh to keep being successful, we need to accept this and determine where best to focus improvement. If we can clearly evidence our greatest strengths, we can celebrate and promote them and attract further inward investment. As part of these efforts, the term ‘data capital’ should be defined—including underpinning benchmarks—so the title can be confidently claimed.
Using the demand for data to create opportunity
The role of data will be critical to the long-term competitiveness of businesses—that data is integral to the operation and success of organisations in both the public and private sectors. However, while data is seen as integral to many aspects of business, companies could do more to strengthen their data skills and to encourage a more widespread understanding of the role data can play. Talking up the role of data in driving innovation and business value is essential. Where awareness and knowledge of the value of data are still low, more should be done to increase the understanding of the value that data can unlock for business.
Sizing up the economic environment
Scotland has a strong and growing digital technology sector, and the economic contribution from Scotland’s digital technology sector is significant and growing at a faster pace than other sectors. It is also forecast to grow further. Government support is increasing, investment is strong and Edinburgh is already regarded as ‘AI ready.’ However, Edinburgh faces increasing competition both in the UK and Europe, and so we must continue to sell the city’s credentials as a data capital to realise this goal.
Drawing from the tech talent pool
Edinburgh has a strong, digitally skilled workforce, which is critical to the aspirations for becoming a data capital. Certainly, Edinburgh is one of the major hubs for data and AI jobs in the UK outside of London based on the number of postings for jobs located in the city. Additionally, seven of Scotland’s universities, including three based in Edinburgh, offer AI and data science courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, with computer science related courses delivered by another 23 Scottish colleges. However, closer collaboration between businesses and academic institutions is vital to develop essential skills among new talent.
Collaborate to innovate
Edinburgh has the resources, expertise and facilities to further develop skills and new talent. The presence of world-leading innovation hubs, funded via the DDI Programme, specifically focused on data and AI along with internationally renowned centres of research and teaching at the University of Edinburgh, underpins the collaborative drive towards data capital status. Further collaboration should be encouraged across business and sectors to make the most of Edinburgh’s data and AI capabilities and further strengthen the city’s claim as data capital.
Putting Edinburgh on the map
Edinburgh’s journey to become the data capital for Europe is heading in the right direction, but the city needs government, industry, academia and the third sector to come together if it is to succeed in its ambitions. To get started, we recommend that all involved:
Define ‘data capital’ and set goals
Emphasise Edinburgh’s strengths and the digital nation
Drive collaboration between business and education