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Data at the heart of Knowledge Gateway
6:00am Wednesday 30th October 2013 in News
ACCORDING to Google boss Eric Schmidt, we now create more data in just two days, than mankind made from “the dawn of civilization through 2003”.
Power resides nownot just with those who have this information – but also with those who know what to do with it.
That expertise is something Essex University has in abundance.
The use of “big data” – how it is collected, stored and understood for the benefits of businesses and the wider community – has become a major new focus of the Knowledge Gateway research park, set on 400,000 sq ft of Colchester campus.
“Data scientists” who can figure out why we make the decisions we do are now among the most sought-after professionals around.
A previous slant towards human rights, and along with it a centrepiece Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution, designed by world famous architect and university alumnus Daniel Libeskind, has been set aside.
But Steve Clarke, the university’s Knowledge Gateway consultant, stressed the park would be for any business which believes the university can help it improve and expand its work.
He said: “Different people have tried to position the Knowledge Gateway in different ways.
“Now the vice chancellor has recognised that what makes the university unique is all the skills it has, in various departments, in terms of quantitative methods.
“That’s basically doing things with data – the ability to interpret data and work out what it is telling you.
“We live in a world where there’s more data than we know what to do with.
“We’re starting to get huge datasets that can tell you an awful lot about society, people’s choices, needs and requirements.
“The view now is we could package that better and help companies from all sorts of sectors.”
Expertise already resides at the university-based UK Data Archive, the Institute of Social and Economic Research and elsewhere.
Earlier this month Universities and Science Minister David Willetts awarded the UK Data Service a £5million share of £34million to help create a Big Data Network.
And the Knowledge Gateway could take this further.
It was first envisioned in the late Eighties, and outline planning permission for a range of possible uses was granted by Colchester Council in 2006.
But when the recession hit the park’s financing, the university got the work started itself, by spending £8 million on necessary infrastructure, including a new junction off the A133.
Mr Clarke said the business park itself began to become more concrete once that work had been completed by the end of 2011.
Already completed is the Meadows, a £22million student housing campus with 650 bedrooms.
Construction work on the Parkside office village, for firms wishing to create strong links with the university, is under way using £2.4million of funding from the local enterprise partnership.
And although not officially part of the Knowledge Gateway, the neighbouring Essex Business Centre should proveamajor draw when the £21million building is completed next autumn.
While sources of funding are now scarce, the South East Local Enterprise Partnership has told universities it will support them, if they support businesses.
The partnership, which channels European Union funding, has encouraged Essex to draw up plans for an “innovation centre”.
Mr Clarke continued: “We’re keen on innovation centres where you can provide some support to businesses.
“If somebody said we have got a really good idea here but we need some technology or expertise to fill in that gap to see how we can get this to work, then they would come here.
“I’m talking to a couple of companies coming here who want to expand their research and development team. They want access to graduates and academics here to help them do that.”
The innovation centre, currently at the feasibility study stage, would be similar to the incubation centres run in Colchester for fledgling businesses, but would be aimed at entrepreneurs with less mainstream ideas.
Mr Clarke hopes building work can start in 2015, with the centre expanding to meet demand.
He said he did not want to be too prescriptive on how the remainder of the Knowledge Gateway would take shape.
Part of the site is earmarked for homes, which may not be built.
However, Mr Clarke said he was confident the overall aim to create 2,000 jobs on the site would be met.
He added: “This is a large employer in the region – one of the biggest in Colchester and we have a major investment and expansion going on here.
“Essex University adds £190million to £200million to the local economy – and this will be in addition to that.”
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