The appliance of data science

Data science brings together many people with different kinds of skills and is increasingly important in the infrastructure sector, says Richard Shennan.

Data science as a concept has been around for some time, but is becoming more pervasive as connected data in infrastructure is driving smarter cities, asset optimisation, carbon reduction and asset sweating.

Trying to connect data through all the way to the outcomes and the purpose for which data science is intended - everything we do in the built environment, transport, energy, water and other sector - is about making lives better, whether it’s in developed or developing countries.

Wherever people live, the fundamental point of the built infrastructure is to improve lives - to enable people to live better, more-fulfilled, happier, healthier lives. That always has been the starting point and the reason behind investment in infrastructure ever since we started living in villages.

What we’re beginning to see is the need to connect the potential that’s offered by the digital revolution - and data in general - to those enhanced outcomes. Making the connection is the key.

For me, data science is an overall proposition that brings together lots of different capabilities, skills and experience. The definition that we adopt for data science is that it’s about actionable knowledge. This means understanding our clients’ organisations and key roles and how people can make better decisions based on better information - that will make a difference in terms of enhanced outcomes, whether they be social, economic or environmental. Putting data to work means getting close to the sweet spot of sustainability, where these three are compatible.

Data science as a proposition brings together a whole lot of people with different kinds of skills. It’s not just people who are good at analytics or programming, or people who might consider themselves to be data scientists. The key element that we are connecting and hard-wiring into our data science proposition at Mott MacDonald is what is known in the data information business as ‘domain knowledge’.

Our business has deep roots in infrastructure. As engineering, management and development consultants we understand the ultimate purpose of our endeavours whether in hard infrastructure or international development and healthcare. If you put that in the context of a data science proposition, it becomes the absolute key to bringing value to our clients on the principle that their activities and business objectives also ultimately connect through to actual and social outcomes.

It’s knowing about the infrastructure and the end-point of the activity that actually enables us to put the data into service and connect it through to enhanced outcomes. Our proposition is founded on our domain expertise and it’s the thing that we’ve got in spades.

Richard Shennan is a digital business development director at Mott MacDonald.