Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Big data and data analytics Seminar

Big data and data analytics Seminar

On Thursday, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend Big data and data analytics: commercial opportunities, privacy and effectiveness, one of several seminars offered by the Westminster eForum. It took place at the Glazier’s Hall, on London’s south bank next to London Bridge.

The four hour session, split into two halves, was chaired by two members of the House of Lords, Lord Inglewood and Lord Witty, and the speakers represented various users of big data in the UK. These included the ABPI, whose members carry out research and development into new medications, Dunnhumby, who worked with Tesco to launch the original Clubcard in the 1990s, academics and industry partners.

The talks given by the speakers were interesting, and focussed more on policy and high-level overviews, rather than technical details. For example, whilst Hadoop was passively mentioned on some slides, there wasn’t much about deployment and how it works. But there was some discussion about database design, as companies move away from traditional relational databases to big data capturing solutions.

Privacy implications came up several times as well, an irony not lost on one of the speakers who noted that the event coincided with Data Privacy Day. In particular, there was a focus on how to design systems with privacy in mind, but also that the UK’s and Europe’s more restrictive privacy laws may be part of the reason why the world’s biggest data users – GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook & Amazon) – are all based in the US.

I came into the seminar essentially wearing two hats. My main reason for attending was as a blogger (or ‘freelance writer’ according to the attendance list), but data analysis is also one of my roles at work. However, we’re not yet at the stage where we’re using ‘big data’ – most of our data is all within standard relational databases and I can’t see that changing any time soon.

As always, such events also offer a chance to network and it was good to speak with some of the other attendees. As you’d expect from a more high-level seminar, this was an event for people with suits and ties, and not t-shirts and hoodies. Many were from government departments, regulators and other public sector bodies, as well as large organisations such as the BBC and Arqiva.

I came away with plenty of notes, and some action points to perhaps bring up at work. Channel 4’s Viewer Promise video was mentioned as great example of best practice for explaining their privacy policy – far better than pages and pages of legalese. Maybe universities could do something similar to explain the student contract at enrolment.

This day was made possible by Dell, but all thoughts are my own.

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