Mark Casci: Data is the new oil and its reserves have huge potential

If ever you needed proof that we live in a globally interconnected world than take a look at what has happened to the flow of private equity cash coming into Yorkshire.

ADOBE STOCK Late afternoon sun on the Leeds skyline

In the first three months of last year we saw 15 deals worth a total of £1.2bn done in the region. For this year that value has fallen to £510m across just five deals.

A perfect storm of higher prices, scarcer assets and, of course, Brexit is attributed for the decline by KPMG, whose analysts believe that investors simply sat on their hands throughout January, February and March as they awaited an end to the soap opera over the UK’s departure from the European Union.

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The Nexus building at Leeds University. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

A drop-off in investment is never a good thing. We have great entrepreneurs in Yorkshire and high functioning businesses for whom PE cash would be a vital boon.

Our ability to impact geopolitical pressures from the ongoing US/China trade war may be limited here in Yorkshire, as is any wish we may harbour for the national obsession over Brexit to resolve itself in such a way as to satisfy all parties whilst maintaining our ability to continue to trade and transact in a way that befits one of the world’s leading economies.

However, there is one area in which we manifestly need direct action.

The amount of money we spend on research and development in the UK is insufficient.

Dr Martin Stow, Nexus Directo

Indeed, ONS figures on UK R&D investment show the amount invested to be worth 1.69 per cent of GDP currently, having grown at an annual pace of 0.02 per cent since 2013 – hardly a stellar performance.

One of the few things I always admired about former US president Bill Clinton was his insistence on never raising a problem without proposing a solution in the same breath and thankfully, this is a lead the CBI has followed in compiling its research.

The fact that companies are currently capturing such a tiny percentage of their customer data is clearly a rich area of exploration.

Indeed, only four per cent of companies report having the right people, tools and data to be able to draw meaningful insights from data.

Data as we all know is very much the new oil. It has enormous potential for revenue generation.

If our Government were not so preoccupied with its implosion over Brexit this is something it could support with measures such as tax credits and support services.

Luckily for us, Government intervention is – at best – an optional extra when it comes to innovation in business.

The preponderance of shared innovation spaces offer a great opportunity to facilitate this.

Take for example the Nexus development on the University of Leeds campus which gets its official launch today.

Its director, Dr Martin Stow, describes it as “a thriving example of the benefits of predictive analytics and working in collaboration”.

Here we have a clear example of how the private sector can take matters into its own hands and really own its future and destiny.

Innovation is not an optional extra for any business. The pace of technological advancement has never been faster and there are no industries whatsoever immune to this velocity.

Fortunately, here in Yorkshire we have a proud history of innovation going back centuries.

Looking backwards is never the best way to make progress in an upward trajectory.

But if we can harness this spirit of embracing change and seeking new methods and practices then we will be carrying on the mantle of one of the proudest industrial and innovative regions in the world.

Those who forge new ideas, services, concepts, technologies and approaches will thrive in the modern world.

Those who fail to do so, quite frankly, will simply have no place in it.