The Federation of Small Businesses has found that over a quarter of business owners lack confidence in their basic digital skills. A concerning statistic, especially when our society and economy are increasingly reliant on digital services. As our wireless networks become more advanced with 5G, the need for businesses to digitise will only increase, which is where initiatives like the Big Data Corridor project is helping SMEs thrive. The Big Data Corridor (BDC) started as a way to link businesses with emerging technologies and help them utilise their own or regional data. Now, our team is looking forward to the future of 5G and how it can be used to connect and digitise businesses.
Abdel-Rahman H. Tawil is a professor in software engineering and researcher in big data solutions at Birmingham City University. He is also the Principal Investigator for the Big Data Corridor project - a three-year European Regional Development Funded project assisting SMEs in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP to make the most of data driven innovations.
Pushing SMEs into the digital age
The BDC initiative has successfully translated to the creation of new products and services for SMEs, identifying data needs and the use of data in their sector. From sector insight workshops to the creation of online data platforms, dashboards and software toolkits, the BDC offers knowledge that serves to digitally upskill businesses in the UK. With the advent of the West Midlands Combined Authority 5G testbed, the need for businesses to digitise will become more important than ever, with competitors likely to take advantage of the increased connectivity, availability of data and insights from machine learning.
Currently, with the support from colleagues, researchers and students at Birmingham City University, we are working with 43 SMEs as part of the Big Data Corridor project, servicing industries in the health, transport, education and tourism sectors. This includes SMEs like PBL Care, a high-quality care agency providing home care services to those who wish to maintain their independence. As PBL Care’s users aren’t centrally located, their challenge was to keep track of all their user’s care needs in a central location. They wanted to know what and exactly how much care their users needed, allowing them to act on that data and address those needs. Originally PBL’s records were paper-based, which was not an adequate solution for real-time data analysis. To remedy this, we implemented a data capture solution linked up to a central dashboard which allowed managers to assess users care needs and any gaps that need to be addressed, ultimately improving care standards for their users.
5G and your digital business
This is just one example of how a business can be assisted, but through my work with BDC and my own research in emerging technologies, I’ve seen how essential it is for businesses and organisations to future-proof themselves. The Big Data Corridor’s main focus is to enhance Birmingham as a smart city. Smart cities rely on Internet of Things devices (IoT) to gather data from the city about things like traffic, air quality, population density and so on. For a health sector business like PBL Care, imagine a future with wearable health monitors for users displaying real-time health information on a central dashboard, with emergency indicators if the user is in a critical state. Considering the large number of devices, 5G will be necessary to deal with the volume of connections and the speed of data transfer. Therefore, businesses will need to know how to integrate with and utilise 5G networks.
Accordingly, the Big Data Corridor project is developing platforms to support smart cities and the 5G revolution:
- Open data is the lifeblood of any smart city and having the advantage of cost-free, unlimited usage rights removes two major barriers to progress. The BDC developed a data platform for storing open and private city data leading to new innovations driven by big data analytics. We are continuously updating our datasets based on SMEs demand and identified smart city requirements.
- A Transport platform for smart cities, allowing traffic monitoring and congestion prevention. We are working on the development of this platform using IoT sensors, offering 3D maps to monitor traffic and analyse congestion. A major benefit of this platform is the ability to monitor certain traffic patterns and common congestion points.
- An Education Demonstrator, which monitors and analyses after school activities as part of the Birmingham City Council’s larger education platform to assist parents in choosing the right extracurricular activities for their children.
- Smart Irrigation Solution is a platform that uses analysis of real-time IoT data to smartly control the amount of water delivered to farm plantations in differing weather conditions.
These project initiatives are examples of some of the future innovations that will become widely used when 5G is implemented. With all the experience we’ve gained from the project, we at Birmingham City University are uniquely placed to help businesses analyse new data from smart city IoT devices and ensure they make the most of the 5G revolution.
What’s next after the Big Data Corridor?
The Big Data Corridor project may come to a close in September 2019 but that doesn’t mean my colleagues and I will stop working with local SMEs. With the WMCA 5G testbed we will be able to use our implemented platforms as an infrastructure to capture true big data due to the likely influx of IoT sensors. Going forward, the connections we’ve already made and continue to make with businesses will allow us to assess future requirements and promote benefits gained from 5G connectivity. With this, we will be able to help even more SMEs connecting their physical infrastructure, the IT infrastructure, social and business infrastructures to leverage the collective intelligence of the city.