Queen's University Belfast named as £7m 'big data' centre in UK-wide research programme
Northern Ireland has been chosen as one of four UK locations to host a new £7m 'big data' centre – to analyse the equivalent of 150,000 iPads worth of information produced in the world on a daily basis.
The amount of data now produced worldwide every two days is equivalent to the amount generated between the dawn of humanity and 2003 and the new Northern Ireland Administrative Data Research Centre (ADRC) will enable researchers to understand Northern Ireland's economic and social issues.
David Willetts MP, the UK minister for universities and science, announced the new centre as part of a £64m investment across the UK.
The centres will be located at the Universities of Southampton and Edinburgh, Swansea University and Queen's University Belfast, with the administrative data service to be based at the University of Essex.
The Northern Ireland centre is a joint partnership between Queen's University and the University of Ulster, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Health and Social Care Research and Development Division of the Public Health Agency (HSC R&D Division).
The region is already home to a number of firms examining 'big data'.
In May, accountancy firm Deloitte expanded its Technology Studio in Belfast, where staff specialise in data analysis to help improve service for clients.
And Datactics, a company which spun out of Queen's University Belfast a decade ago, employs around 12 people at the Northern Ireland Science Park, along with an office in the USA.
Stuart Harvey joined the company from Wombat, the Belfast-based financial software company which was bought over by the New York Stock Exchange's technology division in 2008.
He said that 'big data' could be Northern Ireland's next niche market.
"We have made a really good job of creating employment in sectors like capital markets and financial services. Big data could be the next big trend, building analytics to extract knowledge from a huge amount of information being generated," he said.
Dr Dermot O'Reilly, from the school of medicine, dentistry and biomedical sciences at Queen's is the director of the new NI centre.
He said the facility would help unlock the research potential of the vast amounts of administrative data routinely collected daily.
"By joining different administrative datasets we will be able to provide a better understanding of the social, environmental and health issues that affect people's lives and to contribute more robust evidence to inform policy development and evaluation," he said.