Leaders’ Insights: Edward McDonnell, CeADAR

25 Aug 2016

Edward McDonnell is the centre director of the Centre for Applied Data Analytics Research (CeADAR).

Funded by Enterprise Ireland and the IDA, CeADAR was formed in 2012 when researchers from University College Dublin, University College Cork and Dublin Institute of Technology came together and proposed the establishment of a technology centre dedicated to data analytics.

Describe your role and what you do.

I am the centre director of CeADAR, which is the national centre for applied data analytics. The centre is funded by Enterprise Ireland (EI) and the IDA to assist companies in adopting and applying analytics. It has been active for three years and has more than 70 member companies, ranging from small SMEs up to the well-known blue-chip multinationals. My role involves setting the strategic direction for the centre in conjunction with our membership, working with the team and our membership in delivering technology solutions, and helping companies understand the value that analytics brings.

What are the biggest challenges facing your business and how are you tackling them?

The greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity is the huge demand for analytics and data scientists. The national agencies, EI, IDA, and SFI, foresaw the demand for analytics well in advance and strategically prioritised the area. Our centre was established as part of that initiative with a particular focus on applied analytics and delivery of solutions to our business and industry partners.

As a result of these strategic big bets, Ireland is well-placed as an international centre of excellence and talent in analytics.

What are the key industry opportunities youre capitalising on?

In today’s world, we are seeing the “datafication” of everything. Recent statistics report that 90pc of the world’s data was created in the past two years from social media, digitisation of books and documents, sensors in phones, cars, etc. This datafication has produced a wave of data that is huge, fast-moving and with incredible variety and, sometimes, dubious veracity.

Big data analytics takes all this data and reduces it into ‘little data’, in other words, it reveals the hidden insights in all this tsunami of data. The promise of analytics is better decision-making, greater objectivity and accuracy, and more personalised engagement.

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

After graduation, I went abroad to research in the field of artificial intelligence applied to large data sets, in the days before the term ‘data analytics’ was coined. I worked with several companies in the areas of the ‘internet of things’ and ‘data analytics’ before returning to Ireland to work in analytics in financial services and the sensor-web.

‘Recent statistics report that 90pc of the world’s data was created in the past two years’

How do you get the best out of your team?

CeADAR is unique in that we only work on projects that are proposed to us by our membership. So we can be sure that what we’re doing will have an immediate and beneficial impact. This dynamic is highly motivating for us all as we get to work on a huge variety of projects across many industries every six months. Predictive analytics in the oil and gas industries, customer insights in business, fraud detection in financial services, and real-time analytics for the airline industry are just some of the projects we’ve undertaken recently. We rapidly co-develop these projects into prototypes for deployment into real-word situations.

Our management structure is flat and everyone has a voice, which contributes to the camaraderie and excitement we feel in making tangible impacts in this dynamic field of data analytics.

Who is your business hero and why?

A man who richly deserves the epithets of “hero” and “great leader” is the Irishman Ernest Shackleton. He displayed incredible leadership and perseverance in the face of monumental adversity in the quest to get to the South Pole. Every man of his crew survived two years of intense challenges in the South Atlantic. The crew, quite rightly, attributed their survival to Shackleton’s brilliant leadership.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Continuing the thread above, I’d recommend Endurance by Alfred Lansing about Shackleton’s incredible voyage to the Antarctic. There’s also an accompanying book called Shackleton’s Way, which applies Shackleton’s principles to modern management.

CeADAR, in association with Next Generation Recruitment, will be hosting Ireland’s inaugural DatSci Awards in Dublin on 22 September. Visit www.datsciawards.ie or follow @DatSciwards for more information.