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Are there enough data scientists to make cities smarter?

Companies across all sectors report a growing need for data scientists. But are there enough to go round, and how can the public sector attract them?

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With the explosion of data-centric business models and the ongoing shift to digital, the role of the data scientist has gained significant importance in recent years. Data scientists have become vital in aiding decision-making across businesses undergoing digital transformation.

 

They have also had a hand in developing smarter cities, benefiting their inhabitants and enabling governments to make better-informed decisions.

 

While governments have already started to see improvements in their cities through the power of data, as technology continues to evolve, they will need data scientists to fully leverage this data.

 

The role of the data scientist

 

The data scientist builds a deeper understanding of citizen behaviours by discovering the needs of each individual through the data they generate.

 

Leveraging this information, data scientists have brought invaluable insight to the governments they serve, helping contribute to successful smart cities by delivering the following:

  • Data collection: Data scientists are required to collect information from structured data (established databases without human input such as spreadsheets) and unstructured data (data from human input such as connected devices, citizen enquiries and social media posts)

  • Discovering insight through the data: As more governments begin to rely on data analytics to solve societal issues, decision-makers look to the data scientist to interpret the data collected

  • Communicating the data to decision-makers: Communicating insights to decision-makers at the top level is essential for decision-makers. Government leaders can then make informed decisions to deploy new initiatives and improve services for citizens

Data scientists can play a crucial role on the board of city councils, providing actionable insight to governments that can be implemented into the daily lives of the citizens.

 

Most importantly, they can then help advise the government on the best technology that will improve living conditions. Based on this, there has been a demand for data scientists to hold more senior roles in governments and local councils, and play a part in the decision-making process.

 

The insights generated by data scientists can be leveraged to address different issues in the community. Preventing unemployment and improving environmental conditions are just two of the fields where we’ve seen significant results.

 

Global shortage of data scientists

 

Many governments have increased their investment and deployment of smart technology to ensure cities can become even smarter. The UK government recently doubled down on its transformation strategy by investing £6 million and employing data scientists in its public sector department. However, the pool of potential candidates to wield these innovations is small.

 

The UK government recently doubled down on its transformation strategy by investing £6 million and employing data scientists in its public sector department.

 

The specifications for a competent data scientist are unique and require in-depth knowledge of big data, data management and the science behind the data, as well as analytical and communication skills to provide digestible insight. Because of this, training can take time, and with global STEM skills cap initiatives being poorly received, there is little to no talent available to fill the demanding roles.

 

While there’s a strong demand for these roles to be filled, many public sector businesses and agencies have trouble defining the role and the specifications required. While it may seem clear what the job entails, many candidates that use the title ‘data scientist’ or ‘data evangelist’ may not have the experience needed for the role.

 

What to do?

 

As populations continue to increase, alongside growing demand from citizens for a better quality of life, ignoring the difference technology will make is not an option for governments.

 

Investment must fall on two key areas – technology itself and the people capable of using it to its best potential.

 

Investment must fall on two key areas – technology itself and the people capable of using it to its best potential. This requires training programmes for the next generation of data scientists and incentives for them to work in the public sector. It also requires increased responsibility and trust placed in them to hold positions of power within governments and city planning departments.

 

It may seem a simple message, but smart cities are only as smart as the people building them.

 

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