10 experts unlocking the secrets of big data in the information age


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In a world increasingly shaped by data-driven decisions, these 10 influencers are ensuring Ireland doesn’t get left behind.

Ireland's Sci-Tech 100

‘Big data’ has transitioned from being a buzzword to being banal, taken as a given in this age of exponentially growing information. But with big data comes big responsibility, which rests on the shoulders of those driving Ireland’s data science revolution.

Continuing our series on Ireland’s Sci-Tech 100, here are 10 leaders in data in Ireland.

1. Eric Bowman

Eric Bowman, Zalando

Eric Bowman, VP of engineering, Zalando

An alumnus of TomTom and Gilt Groupe, Eric Bowman is VP of engineering at Zalando, the company with the ambition to be the Amazon Web Services of fashion. Founded in Germany in 2008, Zalando employs close to 8,000 people, is listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and reported 2014 revenues of €2.2bn.

In May, the company announced 200 jobs at its new Fashion Insights Centre in Dublin, where Bowman is grouping data scientists with engineers to collect, store and analyse vital insights. “We found the older approaches were not working at the scale we would have liked,” he said. “We are building our own tools to support our vision and enable the fashion industry.”

2. Emer Coleman

Emer Coleman

Emer Coleman, chair of Ireland’s Open Data Governance Board. Photo by Luke Maxwell

As far as data in Ireland goes, Emer Coleman is up there as one of the top dogs. A few weeks back, Coleman – who will be speaking at Inspirefest next summer – was named chair of Ireland’s new Open Data Governance Board.

This means Coleman will play a pivotal role in advising the Irish Government on a national strategy for its Open Data Initiative, which was launched in July of last year.

“Mostly, I am about change,” says Coleman, whose first meeting of the board just last month saw Minister Brendan Howlin in attendance. Watch this space.

3. Todd Curry

Todd Curry, ACIA - Ireland's big data experts

Todd Curry, CEO, ACIA

US native Todd Curry leads the 150-person strong Aon Centre for Innovation and Analytics (ACIA) team in Dublin. Aon, which employs more than 66,000 people worldwide, is using data analytics and innovation to transform its business and ACIA plays a key part in that.

ACIA delivers data-driven insights to clients and its aim is to be the leading provider of insurance market intelligence within the industry. A self-described “tinkerer” and “geek”, Curry says the challenge for data analysts is to create a narrative and a story from the data they analyse. “I think the best analyses are the kinds that really can have a good clear hypothesis and bring clear data, and I try to make sure everybody understands that.”

4. Helen Dixon

Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon

Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon

After taking over from Billy Hawkes as Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), Helen Dixon is overseeing a near doubling of the 2015 budget from €1.8m to €3.6m, an increase in headcount from 29 to 50 and the opening of a new office in Dublin. All of this enables the office of the DPC to handle the growing workload of regulating data in an increasingly complex world.

Whether Ireland likes it or not, it is centre stage for global data privacy issues by virtue of the world titans of tech being based here, though Dixon is determined to meet this challenge head on.

5. Tanya Duncan

Tanya Duncan, Interxion - Ireland's big data experts

Tanya Duncan, managing director, Interxion

It’s been 10 years since Tanya Duncan took on the position of managing director of the Irish branch of the data centre company Interxion, and in that time the company’s profile here has increased immeasurably.

Just recently, under her tenure, the company announced it was to invest €170m in new data centres, one of which will be in Dublin, with plans for a 13,000 sq ft centre to be opened in the latter half of 2016.

Duncan previously spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about the aims Ireland should be setting to “live up to its digital potential”, including improving our renewable energy infrastructure, as well as foreseeing the necessity for increased investment in mobile technologies.

6. Eugene Hillery

Eugene Hillery, Tableau Software

Eugene Hillery, director of international operations, Tableau Software, pictured with An Taoiseach

Eugene Hillery is director of international operations at data visualisation giant Tableau Software. Having previously held finance positions at KPMG, Salesforce and One51, Hillery transitioned to data in 2013, taking a role at Tableau within the company’s first year in Ireland.

As understanding data becomes an intrinsic part of global business, companies such as Tableau are experiencing massive growth. Tableau is hugely successful in EMEA and, under the leadership of Hillery, the Irish branch has expanded exponentially.

Tableau recently announced 80 new roles, effectively tripling its workforce in Dublin over the next three years.

7. Deirdre Lee

Deirdre Lee, Derilinx

Deirdre Lee, CEO, Derilinx. Photo via Enterprise Ireland/YouTube

Deirdre Lee is director, co-founder and CEO of Derilinx, which tackles the challenges of sharing open data and internal data by helping public sector organisations generate high-quality ‘clean’ data, which is then usable in research, innovation and other avenues.

Lee has a background in research, with previous roles at IBM, Arvissoft, the Digital Enterprise Research Institute and the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at NUI Galway, from which Derilinx spun out in 2014.

Under Lee’s leadership, and in spite of Derilinx’s status as an early-days start-up, the company has clearly achieved great success, counting the Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and Local Government Management Agency among its clients, and with a global expansion in its sights.

8. Edel Lynch

Edel Lynch, head of Accenture Analytics Innovation Centre, Dublin

Edel Lynch, head of Accenture Analytics Innovation Centre, Dublin

Edel Lynch has been the head of analytics at Accenture since 2011, leading a team of 40 that works with clients around the world to harness data and create insights that deliver tangible business outcomes.

Lynch is the head of Accenture’s Analytics Innovation Centre in Dublin, a global centre of excellence for advanced analytics, and she also leads Accenture’s global fraud and risk analytics practice, which encompasses teams based in the US, the UK, India and Warsaw, as well as Dublin.

Lynch believes data scientist will be one of the hottest jobs of the 21st century and last year, under her leadership, Accenture joined up with the Irish Maths Association to launch a pilot programme to encourage transition year students to join the dots between analytics and running a start-up business, and to become aware of the career opportunities that exist in analytics.

9. Cronan McNamara

Cronan McNamara, Creme Global

Cronan McNamara, founder and CEO, Creme Global. Photo via Creme Global

Organiser and keynote speaker at the recently held Predict conference in Dublin, Cronan McNamara’s role as CEO of Creme Global sees him lead a company at the cutting-edge of Irish data science.

Sitting on the Open Data Governance Board with Emer Coleman, McNamara’s insights into the Irish data scene are well received in the industry.

“Companies are now competing on the back of data and the volume of information produced is rising astronomically,” he told us recently, noting the numerous areas outside of data that need to be analysed complementarily.

10. Prof Barry O’Sullivan

Prof Barry O’Sullivan, Insight Centre for Data Analytics

Prof Barry O’Sullivan, director, Insight Centre for Data Analytics. Photo via Insight Centre for Data Analytics. Photo via Tomas Tyner/UCC

Holding the position of director since July 2013, Prof Barry O’Sullivan and the Insight Centre for Data Analytics are attempting to bridge the gap between the latest advances in the field of data analytics and the industries that demand them.

At the aforementioned Predict conference in September 2015, Prof O’Sullivan was one of the leading figures of a think tank calling for a ‘Magna Carta’ for data in the face of challenges in society with regard to privacy and structuring access to data.

Based in University College Cork, Prof O’Sullivan has been intrinsically involved in the winning of €140m in research funding throughout his career, €25m of which he has used to support research activities at the Cork university.

Lock and key image via Shutterstock

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