The US has recently appointed DJ Patil as their first Chief Data Scientist. It is a move that many have praised and one that will hopefully bring the expectation of the power of data within the government to a reality.
We have seen that the need for DJ in that position was real and his appointment appears to be well thought out and well accepted by those within government and those companies who are working directly with the White House on data led initiatives. The big question surrounding this is whether or not there needs to be a spread of this kind of position to other countries.
Prime amongst these is the UK, the US’s closest ally and another technology hotspot.
Much as the US has been harmed by its work in the NSA phone data collection scandal, the UK has similarly come under fire for their use of GCHQ, often sharing data with the US and visa versa. Should they follow suit with the US and create a Chief Data Scientist post within the government?
The UK is not the US, although it has a significant number of high tech companies, it is not at the same level as the US. When you look at the biggest US data owners, they hold information on billions of people, whilst the UK’s largest companies are not close to being at that level.
At present there are not any UK based companies who can come close to replicating this amount of data, although it is not an impossibility in the future. It means that at present, the need for a dedicated Chief Data Scientist is not enough to placate the demands of these large internet companies, simply because there are none big enough in the UK.
We are also at a stage where companies are looking to expand and rather than a help in this area, there is a danger that a CDO or CDS will be seen as a policing and hindering force rather than a catalyst for growth, something that the UK economy is currently crying out for. Increasing the level of policing around data collection and data storage will only increase the difficulty surrounding this for many companies.
Regardless of the number of internet giants in the UK, there are still petabytes of data being mined and stored by companies throughout the country. In fact what we are seeing are increasingly diverse amounts of data being used to help inform companies and their customers. Due to this diverse and often confusing landscape a CDO or CDS is going to be key to its continued success. Although it is certainly the case that UK companies do not have the same amount of data, the companies who do have HQ’s in the country, meaning that their UK and European operations would be affected.
Although companies almost always start off with positive intentions, without proper policing they stray into unknown territory and their movements and actions there can have a negative effect on them moving forward. In fact what we are seeing is not only a senior data official in the government being a nice thing, but almost a necessity to make sure that the growing UK companies who may move into this space, do so in an effective and productive way for the company as a whole.
In fact, the use of the Chief Data Scientist might appease many of the companies, both UK based and foreign, who see the government’s approach to data as archaic and misunderstood. When the government is looking at imposing a ’snoopers charter’ which would mean that every internet provider collects information on every site visited by somebody for the previous 12 months. It has almost no support from the public, companies or intellectuals as there seems to be no real benefit to any of them. With a Chief Data Scientist the idea of this, and other controversial data centric legislation, can either be sold to companies or changed based on their knowledge of data. It would mean less embarrassment for governments and more trust from companies.
At present those within government are elected, meaning that often they are chosen based on their charisma rather than technical knowledge, having a go-to person within government who will have an in-depth and technical knowledge of the subject and the industry will have a significant impact on the validity of any data legislation put forward. With the government’s snooper charter and claim to try and unencrypt every website, this may be needed more than we think and calls for this position are likely to increase as the amount of data held on UK citizens increases in the future.