Phenomenal quantities of valuable data are now being collected and created by UK businesses but much of its commercial potential remains untapped.
Fears of data leaks and of losing control are the key reasons why companies are hoarding data rather than sharing or trading it openly and transparently or turning it into profitable information-based products and services.
These are the key findings from an investigation carried out by Imperial College Business School with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The team has worked closely with organisations such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Ofcom, IBM and the BBC.
On average, data-based capital contributed just 0.015 per cent to UK GDP each year over the period studied by the team, even though investment in data-based assets in the UK reached US$7 billion in 2013 - which equates to around 40 per cent of the amount invested in R&D.
Turning data into a widely traded, growth-boosting commodity similar to oil, for example, would require (i) a clearer regulatory framework and (ii) low-cost trading mechanisms enabling data to be exchanged in vibrant digital market-places without sensitive information about its originators being revealed.
Professor Aija Leiponen, Associate Professor at Imperial College Business School who led the work, says: The world is increasingly awash with data and the key objective must be to ensure that it can be turned into growth, prosperity and jobs. Currently, however, data is still at the very early stages of commercialisation. It can't really be legally owned and that makes companies very protective and secretive where their data assets are concerned. Moreover, even anonymised data can be collated to reveal sensitive information about the organisations where it originates.
What's needed is the development of new trading technologies - technologies like the emerging 'blockchains' that incorporate protection against tampering or unauthorised use and could potentially enable anonymous trading of relatively high-value data assets. Alternatively, data assets can be commercialised as part of other digital products and services, though this can require significant R&D. However, data is unlikely ever to become formal intellectual property in the same way as patented inventions or copyrighted content are.
The aim is for the findings to be taken forward by government, the IT sector and wider industry to help create the legal/regulatory framework and technical capabilities needed to release the full commercial potential of the 'big data' revolution.
The results from this research are being presented today (18 May) at a workshop hosted by Imperial College London.
About the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate.
By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture.
We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via UK Research and Innovation.
About the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
ESRC is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high-quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. Its total budget for 2016/17 is £188 million. At any one time ESRC supports over 4000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. It is a non-departmental public body (NDPB) established by Royal Charter in 1965 and receives most of its funding through BEIS. Its research is vigorous and authoritative, as it supports independent, high-quality, relevant social science.
About Imperial College London
Imperial College London is one of the world's leading universities. The College's 16,000 students and 8,000 staff are expanding the frontiers of knowledge in science, medicine, engineering and business, and translating their discoveries into benefits for society.
Founded in 1907, Imperial builds on a distinguished past - having pioneered penicillin, holography and fibre optics - to shape the future. Imperial researchers work across disciplines to improve health and wellbeing, understand the natural world, engineer novel solutions and lead the data revolution. This blend of academic excellence and its real-world application feeds into Imperial's exceptional learning environment, where students participate in research to push the limits of their degrees.
Imperial collaborates widely to achieve greater impact. It works with the NHS to improve healthcare in west London, is a leading partner in research and education within the European Union, and is the UK's number one research collaborator with China.
Imperial has nine London campuses, including its White City Campus: a research and innovation centre that is in its initial stages of development in west London. At White City, researchers, businesses and higher education partners will co-locate to create value from ideas on a global scale.
Reference: PN 27-16
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