Businesses don’t know the value of their data but universities can help

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How data-efficient is your business? Most businesses aren't.

By U2B Staff 

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Only 4 percent of companies in the UK report having the right expertise and tools to extract meaningful insights from data. Less than 10 percent use CRM to collect, store and share customer information within their business.

The others are “data novices”. They may read about the value of data-driven research and development in the news and emerging trends in data and analytics, but they aren’t sure how these apply to their business.

When it comes to harnessing data, some struggle to get out of the blocks while others still cannot grasp the power and value of the data in their hands. The latter scenario was not too long ago the most common – you don’t know what you don’t know, after all.

But in a rapidly advancing environment, all that has changed. It is estimated that data analytics will contribute over GBP46 billion a year to the UK economy by 2020 or nearly 2.2 percent of GDP. With that explosion of data, the walls of business are coming down and competition getting even tougher.

Even the mom and pop stores of today know they’re not only competing with their local peers in the same industry. Like everyone else, they too operate in a global marketplace, with direct and indirect competitors coming from across multiple industries.

And more and more, businesses have become aware that they’re likely sitting on a treasure trove of data just waiting to be mined. They also know that information gleaned from data-driven R&D could potentially be the very catalyst they need to grow their bottom lines and survive the increasingly competitive landscape.

The UK government wants to raise UK investment in R&D to 2.4 percent of GDP by 2027 and 3 percent in the long term. To achieve this, businesses must take advantage of new trends to innovate and grow.

But where should they start? How?

Nexus Leeds, Leeds University’s GBP40 million innovation hub, says partnerships with universities are one surefire way forward.

At its official launch this week, the hub released an industry report that homed in the potential of data-driven R&D to businesses and why collaborative projects with a university partner could help fix their data problems.

The report, titled “The Changing Nature of R&D” was put together in collaboration with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), a business peak body representing over 190,000 businesses in the UK.

Nexus Leeds
The Nexus Leeds is a GBP40 million innovation hub at Leeds University.

Here are two key findings from the report, both of which present a solid business case for university partnerships:

1. Advances in data and analytics are changing research and innovation

Digital transformation has changed the way companies are approaching innovation.

With the amount of data now available and the creation of advanced analytics tools, businesses are turning to data and analytics to power new innovations.

By shortening the product development process, the power of data analytics has not only allowed companies to scale quickly and efficiently, but also enabled the creation of entirely new business models.

As the icing on the cake, the complexity of technologies in this space has also encouraged companies to pursue “open innovation” strategies. This means more interactions between industry and universities, with many businesses forging a network of long-term strategic research partnerships.

The benefits of these partnerships are two-fold: whilst businesses get to access state-of-the-art facilities and tap unrivaled academic expertise to advance developments in their space, universities stay updated with modern-day challenges and are better positioned to train the workforce of tomorrow.


“We can help unlock the potential of data, to help businesses make better use of their data, access new data, or upskill the workforce to increase analytic capability,” Nexus Director Dr Martin Stow says.

“As the CBI/Nexus report confirms, ground-breaking ideas, inventions and products are today about pools of talent, shared expertise and collaboration, and Nexus is aimed at accelerating and de-risking such innovation, to maximise commercial returns.”

2. The changing nature of R&D presents businesses with new challenges

The report recognises that whilst there are some “data native” businesses leading the way on data-driven R&D, they represent the minority. Others described as “data novices” may see the potential of harnessing these technologies but still don’t know how.

Furthermore, the pace of advancements in the field means there remains a dearth of talent; there simply aren’t enough people with the specialist skills or competencies within every business to know the right questions to ask or understand what constitutes an opportunity.

A CBI survey found data analytics to be the most sought-after skill set in an employee but one of the hardest to find, with 37 percent of firms saying they are struggling to hire data analysts. The talent shortage is real and felt across the world. And the problem lies not just in the struggle to find talent – the scarcity also means that those with analytics skills demand high salaries, which means the cream of the crop only goes to companies able to pay top dollar.

The answer (yes, there’s one)? Collaboration.

“Universities possess significant capabilities when it comes to data analytics; from state-of-the-art high-power computing facilities to advanced computer and analytics expertise and cutting-edge research.

“By working together in partnership, business and universities can combine their areas of expertise to apply world-leading knowledge and techniques to real-world challenges to have significant impacts on society,” the report says.


Of course, the process of establishing a meaningful partnership can sometimes be unwieldy. Every university has its own priorities and processes, and finding one that matches your business’ needs will require manpower and time.

But as those who have walked the path would say: it’s a worthy investment.

One such example is British supermarket retailer Asda. The firm worked in partnership with Leeds University to develop its sustainability strategy.

As a result of its work with the university’s Consumer Data Research Centre, Asda gained insight into its customer’s attitudes and purchasing behaviours to help shoppers to reduce their food waste.

“The results of our project with the university were fantastic,” says Laura Babbs, Sustainability Manager at Asda, “with two million customers making changes in their home and benefiting from an average saving of GBP57 per year.”