5 Tips From Wakefield Business Week: Thriving in the Northern Powerhouse

As a small business owner in Wakefield, a city in the Leeds city region, I was keen to get as much as possible out of the Wakefield Business Week.

Today’s F5 (Refresh) Your Digital & Creative Skills was on point. It hit the sweet spot between appealing to non-technical small and medium business owners and advocating for productivity the tech and digital sectors offer.

Here’s 5 tips to help business owners thrive in the Northern Powerhouse:

1. Collaborate
From large organisations like Google, Microsoft and BT to regional influencers like the LEP, White Rose credit union and locals like Wakefield Council and Cognitiv, there’s an abundant opportunity to collaborate and grow.

Councillor Jack Hemingway, made it clear that Wakefield Council’s business support team were ready and willing to help businesses in Wakefield thrive.
Tip: Don’t go it alone, collaborate.

2. Go Local
Wakefield has a wealth of digital and creative companies that end up working outside the region. By getting in touch with a membership organisation like Cognitiv, you get access to expertise on your doorstep. From next month, the last Friday of the month will be a casual breakfast drop-in at Unity Works. Who know who’ll you meet?

Dan Conboy of Cognitiv laid out the pillars of their mission o make Wakefield a thriving place for small and medium enterprises: Collaboration, Promotion, Representation. These, along with promoting Code Club, digital literacy and facing common challenges like skills and training, make Cognitiv a valuable addition to Wakefield.
Tip: Go local for great talent.

3. Think about the Cloud
Could the cloud and related technology help your business innovate and grow? Daniel Langton of Microsoft showed it’s not rocket science to transform your business, no matter it’s size, with technology.

Think about your vision for your business, are you:

  • Paying too much?
  • Working effectively?
  • Trapping business insights in legacy tools or paper?
  • Communicating quickly and effectively?
  • Giving clients and employees what they want?
  • Over or under covered for information security?

Tip: Think about how technology could help your business thrive.

4. Be Mobile Friendly
Google is the de-facto platform for search and mobile is now overtaking desktops and laptops. To thrive, you need a website that tells your story and sells your brand. More than that, your website needs to be mobile friendly to rocket up Google’s ranking.

Abbey from the Google digital garage covered a number of free tools for business that can help with everything search-related including SEO – search engine optimisation, SEM – search engine marketing and more. See Google’s business page for more.
Tip: Make yourself easy to find, especially on mobile devices.

5. Eat the Free Lunch
At the end of the talks, a trio of organisations: the LEP, Tech Partnership and Leeds Beckett University urged small businesses to take advantage of funding for training. This one is a no-brainer for any business that needs to improve their skills to grow.

Both the LEP and Tech Partnership will fund up to 50% (with some additional criteria) and Leeds Beckett University introduced a number of other organisations that can help with funding, research, training and more.
Tip: Fund your skills and grow, the money is out there.

What Next?
Firstly, a huge “thank you” to Wakefield First for organising the free event. I learned a lot and met several talented and lovely local people. Next for my small business? I’ll be joining Cognitiv, popping into for a free consultation at Google Garage Leeds and taking advantage of the Wakefield Business Week. See you at the next breakfast meeting?

Header Image: WakefieldFirst logo

Big, Clean, Valuable: 12 Steps To Better Data and Quality Insights

Do you have data dragons? Is your data a mess? Is data stored everywhere and you don’t know who uses what? Is analytics taking forever because your data quality is poor or non-existent?

Is your data holding you back?

It’s rare that a board of directors, especially in small and medium enterprises, signs off funds to straighten out creaky data. Frequently seen as housekeeping and a problem for IT, data cleansing, modelling and data governance aren’t tackled until the situation becomes untenable. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Here’s 12 simple steps to a better data platform, quality data and more valuable insight:

1. Admit you have a problem

As a data geek, I see a lot of problem data but rarely is the problem acknowledged. If you can identify with any of the question above, admitting your organisation has a data problem is the first step to fixing it.

2. Make sure you can resolve it

If you aren’t in a position to influence change within your department, organisation or team, don’t bang your head against a brick wall. While you can make changes by stealth, without the support of the right people, you’ll be bailing out your leaking canoe with a teaspoon. Not fun!

3. Make a positive choice to resolve it

That’s right, a choice. Choosing change is a decision everyone involved has to buy into. The change needn’t be a huge, expensive project but the appetite for change must be there or your efforts will come to nought.

4. Take a living inventory

Take a simple, high level inventory of where you are and keep it up-to-date. Don’t attempt to make it so detailed and hard to maintain that no-one will touch it or even worse, it becomes “your baby”. This goes back to buy-in. Keep it simple, keep it alive.

5. Find the root cause

Understand why you’re here: Poor practices? Lack of knowledge? You won’t be surprised to learn that having dedicated data professionals who understand data modelling, logical and physical design is not a priority in many organisations.

Data development is inherently different from procedural or object development. Knowing how to code in sql isn’t the same skill as wrangling or modelling data. The skill of translating the real world domain to good models however, can be learnt.

6. Understand you can’t fix it overnight

It’ll take time, so be prepared to iterate and learn from each pass. This is a marathon not a sprint.

7. Start modelling

This is essential to good database design. Now you have your inventory and have raised your skill levels, start modelling to understand what entities (people, places, things, events, objects and concepts) you record data about and how they interact.

8. Know your pipeline

A model isn’t the be all and end all of a database. You also need to understand how the data flows around your organisation — the data pipeline if you will. This is where you’ll discover common events and meeting points. This can save time, boost understanding outside tech teams and really aid development efforts.

9. Apply good practice

Don’t just tick off a list: unit testing, integration testing, agile methodology etc. Actually integrate them correctly into your daily operations. At a minimum, test and review regularly.

Make sure you understand good practice (no such thing as best!) and why it is useful or not for your situation. Poor practice in development becomes a pain in support, don’t make it someone else’s problem.

10. Continuously review

Ask smart questions: how are we doing? could we do this better? what was the lesson?

11. Incorporate lessons learned

If you aren’t applying the lesson to the next or ongoing iterations, you’re wasting several golden opportunities to improve your data and avoid pitfalls.

12. Toot your horn

Keep everyone appraised about how you’re doing — elevator-pitch style. Don’t overwhelm people with details but make sure improvements are seen and heard. Who knows? You might even get support for a bigger project.

Good luck!

Need help with your data strategy? Hire me.

image: janneke staaks – Research Data Management

Leeds Data Map: Leeds Most Influential Data Players

Leeds is the city of data and here are the top accounts to follow on social media by popularity, influence and how well they engage and share.

Twitter’s top 5 most influential Leeds data accounts (powered by SocialBro):

Visualising Data – Andy Kirk
Data visualisation specialist


National health and social care information provider


Bloom Agency
Data insight & analytics, creative & digital agency


Leanne Buchan
Leeds Data Mill partnerships lead and freelance consultant


Call Credit
Experts in managing consumer data


Twitter isn’t the only social media platform in town. For business, there’s LinkedIn, “the world’s largest professional network”.

LinkedIn’s top 5 most followed data companies:

Prozone Sports
Pioneering performance analysis in sport.


Call Credit
Experts in managing consumer data


National health and social care information provider


CAP Automotive
Experts in the automotive industry


Innovative healthcare


The ones to watch:

Ssentif Intelligence
web-based data benchmarking and performance management system

83 followers (Twitter)

When I interviewed Judy Aldred of Ssentif last year, I was blown away by their benchmarking and performance tools. Run by a small team in north Leeds, this company is making waves with open data products for local government, hospitals and more.

Data Marketing – data-guided business strategy improvement

72 followers (Twitter)

I stumbled across this company recently, which offers to improve business strategy through data cleansing, B2B data management, and customer relationship management, all tying into improved business strategy.

What to do next:

How I made this list:

The Twitter list is powered by SocialBro, using Kred scores (a measure of influence). The LinkedIn search is powered by LinkedIn’s company search filtered for 1-5000 and 5000+ followers for companies in Leeds. I’ve focused on people heavily involved in data and companies that have strong data or analytics products.

image: Social by JD Hancock

Re: the problem with open data is open data people

In response to: the problem with open data is open data people

I agree and think this is a problem in tech in general but focusing on open data, it doesn’t have the cachet of big data. With big data, you barely need to sell the concept because the real-life results are clear and provide real value. With open data, you’re already battling a number of myths and legends, so persuading people outside the open data community it is useful *to them* is an uphill battle.

I’m struck by the differences between this article and one on LinkedIn about the same event. That author decided if people don’t “get it”, you should leave them behind and focus on those that do. I’m in the camp of, if people don’t “get it”, maybe you’re explaining “it” wrong? as a first stab at persuasion, all things being equal.

The Open Data Institute’s slogan is “Knowledge for everyone” – only possible if we don’t keep it to ourselves.

More of the same:

Beyond Smart Cities: Smart Rural?

Smart cities are coming of age, but are we forgetting the needs of rural communities?

A lot’s been said about smart cities: the use of digital technology to make cities more efficient and engaging. Consultancy firm Arup for example, estimates the smart cities market will be worth $400 billion per annum by 2020.

Understandably, the technologies and investment focuses on making cities more efficient and engaging for their citizens. Reaping the gains from digital technology by applying them to key urban sectors, has meant a focus on transport, energy, health and well being, waste and sanitation.

Ben Barnett - The Yorkshire Post
Ben Barnett – The Yorkshire Post

In all of this progress, what’s happening to the needs of rural communities? Ben Barnett, writing for The Yorkshire Post, claims “Too often rural issues seem to be sidelined by politicians of all stripes”. This is a worrying trend. Smart rural and smart cities are motivated by similar challenges and opportunities such as the global recession, climate change, the digital age and an ageing population. The focus of a rural community might differ from an urban one but their needs are equally important.

EE Connecting rural communities with micro networks
EE Connecting rural communities with micro networks

This isn’t to say that efforts aren’t being made: In Cumbria, predominantly rural county, Telecom provider EE is trialling mesh networking technology to connect over 1,500 communities to 3G and 4G by 2017. As rural communities have traditionally suffered from patchy connectivity, this will be an impressive boost to the uptake of smart technologies. And make no mistake, technology is permeating rural businesses and that influence isn’t limited to mobile phones. From (somewhat controversial) tracking farm animals with RFID chips to personalised weather reporting to smart farms, change is coming.


What’s missing it seems, is meeting the real, everyday needs of the people in rural communities. This is something the Open Data Institute node in Devon is tackling with their event: “Beyond the smart city“. With support from the Met Office, this event will bring people together to take smart initiatives beyond their current city-scope and provide benefits for everyone.

Next time you think “Smart City”, spare a thought for “Smart Rural” and make it part of your dialogue.

Top 3 Reasons Developers Shun Your Hackathon

As an independent technologist,  I get invited to a lot of hackathons, deep dives and unconferences. I attend maybe 10% of them. I did a straw poll of my developer and technologist friends, it seems to be a growing phenomenon, Here’s why:

1. Work is not it’s own reward

office4 by IconShockReward is important. If you have low developer attendance, are you offering a suitable reward for their time and effort? If you don’t tune into their WII.FM (What’s In It For Me?), you’ll struggle to convince highly skilled tech folks to give up a paid day, holiday or weekend to attend your event.

Think Rewards: Paid attendance, causes you can get behind, opportunities money can’t buy – what does your event offer?

2. A killer reputation

Like by Yana KulakovaWhen you’ve attended a poorly organised event, you’re understandably reluctant to be fooled again. It may be the event was great but they messed up with the after-sales customer service. You reputation as a great hackathon organiser comes from developers having a great end to end experience.

Think Reputation: Fails like zero feedback, slow or missed payments, poor people skills – which previous faux pas is killing your attendance?

3. Location, location, location

0007_Location by pixelkitI rarely attend hackathons outside West Yorkshire, especially if I’m paying my own way. So bear that in mind before organising an event at a location that’s too out of the way for your hoped-for developers. And at the venue, make sure it’s comfortable and fit for use.

Think kit and comfort: Great wifi, adequate temperature control, unlimited refreshments and plug sockets – are you geared up to remove barriers for a great hackathon?

Three reasons developers shun your hackathon, deep dive or event. A few simple tweaks should improve your attendance.

Hosting a data-intensive hackathon or deep dive? Need an experienced speaker at your next event? Hire me.