Launch for data analytics centre Insight puts the focus on ‘big’

12 Dec 2013

Prof Barry Smyth, CEO of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in Dublin. Photo by Jason Clarke Photography

The Insight Centre for Data Analytics had its launch in Dublin earlier today. Claire O’Connell went along.

If you had to sum up in one word the launch of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in Dublin today it would be ‘big’. Billed as the largest investment in a single research centre in the history of the State, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)-supported centre had its big day today in the Royal Hibernian Academy.

Bringing together around 200 researchers and numerous industry partners and with total funding of €88m over the next six years, Insight is expected to create 300 direct jobs and result in 12 new spin-out companies. And there were not one but two ministers present at today’s official launch. Why? At the heart of it is data and data-driven thinking – from natural resources, such as forests, to the enormous wealth of health, business and consumer data, Insight wants to capture and make use of it.

Data abounds

“The world is awash with data,” Insight’s CEO Prof Barry Smyth told the audience. “And the capacity to capture and understand this data, to turn its fleeting patterns into actionable insights and informed decisions has the potential to transform the world – the way we live, work and play.”

The right data at the right time can not only help win presidential elections and sports matches, but it can enable societies to make better decisions about policy and investment, it can help businesses to flourish and it can even help individuals to live healthier lives, he added.

“We are creating far more information than we ever were,” Smyth later told “But its information that’s very fleeting, it’s real-time and unless you start to pay attention to it you miss it.”

So the new joint initiative, which brings together researchers from University College Dublin (UCD), Dublin City University, NUI Galway, and University College Cork, as well as other institutions, aims to catch it and analyse it.

Initial scope

Initial areas of focus for Insight will be on connected health, which focuses more on the personal data we generate, and also the ‘discovery economy’, which offers new products and services for getting more out of individual or organisational data. It’s there to be mined, according to Smyth, who holds the Digital Chair of Computer Science in UCD and who co-founded the companies ChangingWorlds and HeyStaks.

“History has shown that those companies that recognise that the information is there and figure out how to use it, they can completely disrupt their industry,” he said.

Already 30 industry partners are engaged with Insight – including RTÉ, The Irish Times, Cisco, Microsoft, Alcatel-Lucent, Santry Sports Clinic, the IRFU, Avaya, TE Labs, TreeMetrics, NitroSell, Avego, UTRC and Shimmer – and Smyth encourages more to get involved: “The centre has been set up through a hub-and-spokes model, and through SFI’s spokes programme we can bundle up individual industry partners or groups of partners together and build a sizeable spoke that might cover a particular market,” he said.

Big ambition

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, TD, spoke at Insight’s launch about the potential for innovation and growth. “It is so important that we have that ambition to be a leading provider in this data analytics area,” he said. “This is already changing businesses – those who are slow to move will be left behind and those who move early will have huge opportunities.”

Minister for Research and Innovation, Seán Sherlock, TD, said the centre demonstrated a scaling up of our research infrastructure and spoke about the need to deliver societal and economic impact. Fresh from the launch of Horizon 2020 this week, he added that Insight offered opportunities to link into the EU programme.

“The potential for analysing the growing amount of data we generate is absolutely boundless and Ireland is now placing itself as a global leader in the data analytic space,” he told “We are confident that by bringing industry, the State (through SFI) and excellent academic researchers together on this scale we are going to be able to deliver in this area.”

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication