Data ethics and ‘tech for good’ are some of the most hotly-debate topics in Greater Manchester, providing ample opportunity for investment, Manchester inward investment organisation MIDAS said.
Tim Newns, chief executive of MIDAS said ‘tech for good’ is a “really live debate in Greater Manchester” as its research, in partnership with The Data City, showed that ‘tech for good’ or ethical tech came up as frequent topics of discussion, which they found out by analysing networking and events platforms such as EventBrite.
He made the comments as MIDAS – alongside GC Business Growth Hub and FutureEverything – continues its Innovate Manchester online event series, which runs until February 2021.
The latest event under the programme, called Our Digital Futures: Data and Ethics, looked at the rise of digital technologies and the benefits and challenges of developing and adopting ethical practices.
“Tech for good came out as one of those things that was a hot topic in Manchester” compared to elsewhere in the UK, “and something businesses are really interested in”, Mr Newns said.
“When we were doing this analysis, we were doing it right across the UK and some of the research elements with the universities were global ones, so we were able to get a picture of how these sat in terms of benchmarking against either other UK places or potentially even global places.”
Mr News said by using open data, as opposed to more traditional research such as using Office of National Statistics or Companies House data, they were able to “gain a lot more insight into what was being discussed”.
“We were able to analyse both what was going on at our universities and where the key areas of research strengths were, then look at our business base and emerging technologies, and analyse again where we have real volume of companies and expertise.
“Then [we would] look at the networks and the strength of the networks and what themes were really coming out of the networking that was going on in Greater Manchester as well so we could see where industries were coming together.”
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Security, cyber and service design also came up as frequent topics of discussion, he said.
Mr Newns said the Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted opportunities for Greater Manchester, if it could overcome areas of data governance.
“In Greater Manchester, we were able to overcome certain data governance and information governance issues during Covid that had seen some of the more ambitious things we were looking to achieve in health data come to fruition.”
Mr Newns gave the example of the Integrated Care Record (ICR), which allows workers in health or social care, easy access to patient information.
“Before Covid, the ICR was something that was going on for two or three years and we hadn’t quite been able to overcome some of the challenges to make it happen fully.
“But in the early stages of the pandemic, those information governance issues were overcome and we now have an Integrated Care Record for the whole three million population of Greater Manchester, spread across primary, secondary care, and other areas of care like mental health.”
“That is world leading,” he said.
“Not only does that offer a fantastic opportunity in terms of the standard of patient care that people get…things like that are also massive opportunities internationally for companies that are looking to interpret data and see where trends are and how they can adjust treatments to various different conditions.
“That can be leveraged externally in terms of how data can be managed and understood in terms of trends it sends to the big pharmaceutical companies in terms of how they may wish to develop new treatments and any of that data would be dealt with anonymously so there’s no issue with that.”
Mr Newns said Greater Manchester’s ICR system is an example of how overcoming privacy and information governance issues can turn into an ethical and health opportunity as well as a potential commercial opportunity.
“This [Our Digital Future] session in particular was about looking at more of what opportunities there are with data and how we can come up with different ideas of how data could be used for good.
“[We’re looking at] where there might be commercial opportunities around that use for good as well so that local SMEs and some of the large firms they’re interacting with in this event platform, along with the universities, can actually come up with some of those ideas about how other opportunities might be created.”
He added: “We have some incredible companies in Greater Manchester that deal with data all the time, whether it be people big e-commerce companies that store masses of data from consumer habits, whether it be the health system, whether it be AI and data specialist organisations, people like ARM and others that have big Manchester bases.
“It’s how we use the example of how ethical data for good has been able to overcome some of those challenges, to improve lives essentially.”