Applying Big Data to Economics

Lucy Tallentire from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics at Birkbeck and CSIS PhD candidate Seongil Han report on a recent conference at the Birkbeck Centre for Data Analytics (BIDA).bidaWhat can we learn from Big Data, and how can Big Data analytics be applied to the field of Economics? These were just some of the questions answered by a one-day conference held by Birkbeck Institute for Data Analytics (BIDA) on Monday 5 June. The event was organised in collaboration with the Department of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics, to bring together researchers from statistics, applied mathematics, computer science, finance and economics to enhance the research environment and promote cross-disciplinary collaboration within the College, and with a wider external audience.

Birkbeck’s Professor Stephen Wright kicked off proceedings with an insightful presentation on the application of Big Data to large-scale surveys and maps. In his research project of residential land supply in 27 EU countries, he examines sources such as Google Maps, ONS/Ordnance Survey and Open Street maps to explain large differences across EU countries and identify whether there are restrictions on residential land. Professor Wright concluded that a large proportion of the regional variation in supply of residential land in the EU can be explained econometrically and is very strongly determined by regional geography and history.

Guest speaker Giovanni Mastrobuoni, Professor of Economics in Department of Economics, University of Essex, provided a unique insight into the role of Big Data analytics on police patrols and crime. Based on recent evidence that police deployment reduces crime, the project was designed to identify whether the elasticity of crime with regard to policing remains the same, and whether it is worth randomly increasing mobile police presence in an area. The results suggest, however, that big data is only useful with good prior identification; elasticity is negligible if identification is low, and random mobile patrolling cannot reduce crime significantly.

The second part of the conference focused on big data in business, economy and strategy. Professor Roger Maull, from the Department of Digital Economy in University of Surrey, discussed business models in relation to the digital economy, introducing 3 new approaches to the economy for big data – digitisation, datafication and digitalisation. He explained business models with industry dynamics and emphasised the following qualities:

  • value proposition, or what the customer pays for;
  • value creation, or how one delivers what the customer pays for;
  • value capture, or how the customer pays for it.

Big data has allowed significant advancements in personalisation and customisation, which also link to HAT (Hub of All Things): an IT business services to store and customise the personal data, as a real business model for personal data.

Final speaker Ernesto Damiani, from the Etisalat British Telecom Innovation Centre, Abu Dhabi, introduced the prospect of big data analytics as a service. He started by highlighting the 5 Vs of big data:

  • Variety in analytics model: static ways vs dynamic ways;
  • Volume;
  • Velocity;
  • Value;

He also compared traditional analytics with big data analytics and explained a change in paradigm for data analytics, which is supported by the example of Google.

The conference succeeded in providing a comprehensive introduction to the many ways in which big data analytics, such as text mining techniques, can be applied to Economics and business. Big data analytics continue to attract a great deal of attention in academia and industry, with an increasing amount of unstructured data available on web; it is vital to apply big data analytics to various problems to supplement qualitative information to conventional descriptive analytics and infer the predictive analytics.

BIDA would like to thank the presenters and all those who attended for their insightful comments and discussion. You can find out more about the Birkbeck Institute for Data Analytics on their website.

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Megacities, the Knowledge Economy and the Dynamics of City Growth

This post was contributed by James Fisk, graduate administrator at the School of Business, Economics and Informatics. Here, James reports from the 19th Uddevalla Symposium, held at Birkbeck from 30 June to 2 July 2016. Read James’s first, second and third blogs on the symposium.

A bustling Tokyo daytime city scene

Since the advent of the industrial revolution, the notion of the city has held a privileged place in our collective imagination. A place of both prosperity and poverty, a site of both unity and tension, cities are synonymous with modernity and its attendant complexities. Now, for the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population are living in cities and, many people, now reside in Megacities – typically defined as a city with 10 million-plus inhabitants (London is on its way there).

The emergence and continued rise of Megacities is a trend that started in the 20th century, but now looks poised to host many of the antagonisms faced in the 21st. How can cities continue to grow without leaving the rest of the world, and many of their own residents, behind? Is inequality an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of Megacity growth, or is it a matter for political and social intervention? These were some of the questions posed at a keynote panel session held at Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus, as part of the 19th Uddevalla Symposium.

The panel, comprising Dr Jennifer Clark, Professor Ian Gordon, Dr Tom Kemeny, Dr Jonathan Potter, Councillor Ali Hashem and chaired by Birkbeck’s Dr Federica Rossi, brought together academics and policymakers to discuss the problematic position of Megacities in the globalised contemporary world. The complex relationship between growth and inequality was a key issue at the panel discussion, with a variety of perspectives on the panel testament to the breadth of the issue and an indication of its wide-ranging implications.

What drives growth in Megacities?

Dr Tom Kemeny discussed the drivers of growth in Megacities and highlighted many features specific to them. Citing London and Los Angeles as appropriate examples, Professor Kemeny discussed how high costs associated with conducting business in cities determine a particular, and necessary, character to the type of service or product produced. New enterprise in both London and LA must be able to contend with the high operational costs associated with the cities, meaning the type of service or product produced will typically be high-value, rent producing enterprises that can offset the cost of high wages.  Furthermore, given the concentration of expertise, many of these products or services cannot be easily relocated to elsewhere and the role of a city as a spatial nexus of innovation and connectivity is central to the success of enterprise in such regions.

Dr Jonathan Potter discussed the importance of globalisation and its role in increasing market size, something he says is fundamental to the growth of Megacities. Increases in the mobility of capital and better communications have overcome the traditional constraints of geography and logistics, meaning that Megacities, with their global outlook, are poised to benefit from this paradigmatic shift. Megacities may be the future, but as much as they present unique opportunities, they also present us with unique risks.

Growth and Inequality

The spectre of inequality is one that often runs parallel to growth; if political decisions are not made to distribute the dividends of growth, won’t inequality continue to proliferate? Professor Jennifer Clark spoke at length about this problematic feature of growth, drawing attention to the importance of political discourse in theorizing an equitable solution. Typically, in recent years, the problems associated with growth have been construed as a matter of social policy, rather than a necessary component of economic policy.

However, if the inequality between regions is not the fault of those regions themselves, but the organisation of production by institutions, then the solution required cannot be a technical question but rather a social and economic one for political intervention. As Professor Ian Gordon contended during the panel discussion, it is these political decisions about distribution that sustain and increase inequality, citing the increase of regional inequality from 15% to 30% during the Thatcher government, a period of drastic economic and social change.

Dr Jonathan Potter discussed a fundamental incompatability between inequality and growth, citing recent research from the OECD that saw areas with high inequality experience reduced growth. The reason for this needs further research, but Dr Potter spoke of the importance of human capital and the impact investment in human capital can have on labour productivity.

Translating to Policy

Councillor Ali Hashem (Hammersmith and Fulham Council) spoke of the role of policymakers in both the growth of industry and attempting to make such growth equitable. The difficulty arises from attempting to reconcile macroeconomics, global currents and capital flow, with regional demands and needs. Again, the issue here is that whilst growth must be engineered through economic policy, the consequences of growth must be addressed as a political issue. In this respect, there are many aspects of the global Megacity that must be thought through not just as regional initiatives, but as part of a larger ecology with implications for both those inside, and outside, the city limits.

Click here to watch a video of the panel session.

You can also hear a full audio recording of the panel session on the Bloomsbury media cloud.  Relevant courses from Birkbeck’s Department of Management and the Economics, Mathematics and Statistics Department are available on our website.

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19th Uddevalla Symposium: Rethinking Leadership and Gender

This post was contributed by James Fisk, graduate administrator at the School of Business, Economics and Informatics. Here, James reports from the 19th Uddevalla Symposium, held at Birkbeck from 30 June to 2 July 2016. Read James’s first and second blogs on the symposium.

Trigger logoAre female leaders more efficient in family firms? Does corruption have a gendered effect on small firm performance? These are some of the questions posed at the recent Uddevalla symposium, held in the UK for the first time at Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus, between 30 June and 2 July. As part of its stated themes of ‘Geography, Open Innovation, Diversity and Entrepreneurship’ the symposium took time to focus on gender inequality, with TRIGGER (Transforming Institutions by Gendering Contents and Gaining Equality in Research) holding a dedicated paper session to consider the topic.

The question of gender equality among businesses and innovators is a complex one; gender exists as a category long before we enter the workplace and carries with it a variety of social, psychological and material implications. It’s clear that increased gender diversity can have a positive effect on firm performance and, as McKinsey & Company pointed out recently, will be absolutely crucial to global economic growth in the coming years – possibly to the tune of $12 trillion by 2025. However, for both the global economy and society at large to benefit from these prospective dividends, attention must be paid to gender inequality in its current form and its attendant complexities.

Therefore, a much discussed theme of the symposium appeared not so much as, how can we honour an obligation to gender parity, but crucially, how can we unleash the huge productive potential of an equal and diverse workforce and, what are the implications for innovation and entrepreneurship?

Is leadership a gendered role?

A keynote speech from Professor Colette Henry, Head of Business and Humanities at the Dundalk Institute of Technology and CIMR Visiting Fellow, considered the position of female entrepreneurs and innovators through the prism of veterinary practitioners and researchers. Her lecture, the first keynote lecture of the three-day symposium, discussed many of the counter-intuitive features of the sector – notably that there are more than twice as many male as female sole principals, and more than four times as many male directors or equity partners, in veterinary firms, despite women accounting for over 50% of those working or studying in the sector.

Her work suggests that current innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems, despite their propensity to change and evolve, are not sufficiently addressing less visible barriers for women. Professor Henry proposes an ‘integration’ model rather than merely beefing up the curriculum with corrective modules, this, she says, is the way to instil ambitious young females with the confidence and support necessary for them to excel to male dominated positions.

It seems, therefore, that the task of encouraging female innovators and entrepreneurs is one keenly tied to changing perceptions, of decoupling innovation and entrepreneurship from gendered ideas of what makes a good leader or a successful entrepreneur.

Porous Borders

Professor Per-Olof Bjuggren’s paper ‘Are Female Leaders more Efficient in Family Firms?’ also considered how definitions of leadership intersect with wider cultural issues, this time by scrutinising family firms. Professor Bjuggren’s work situates itself at the nexus of two historically gendered leadership roles, head of the family and head of the firm, allowing us to trace the relationship between the two and, ultimately, consider the effects of their intersection.

His work found that, whilst the effect of female CEO’s in non-family firms is ambiguous, female leaders in family firms had a positive impact upon the fortunes of the business. Whilst he proposes further research to unpack this assertion, his findings are crucial to understanding how the question of leadership is not one to be solely directed at businesses, but also society and culture at large. The quest for gender equality and equity cannot be an isolated and compartmentalised pursuit, as indicated by Professor Bjuggren’s work, it must look to consider the porous borders between whom we are at home and who we are at work.

You can see the winners of the 19th Uddevalla Symposium best paper awards on their site. To see the ways in which Birkbeck are tackling gender inequality, please visit TRIGGER’s webpage, as well as viewing the various networking and mentorship programmes such as ASTREA and AURORA.

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19th Uddevalla Symposium: Is the Future Open?

This post was contributed by James Fisk, graduate administrator at the School of Business, Economics and Informatics. Here, James reports from the 19th Uddevalla Symposium, held at Birkbeck from 30 June to 2 July 2016. Read James’s first blog on the symposium.

Delegates attend the Open Innovation session at the Uddevalla Symposium hosted by Birkbeck

Delegates attend the Open Innovation session at the Uddevalla Symposium hosted by Birkbeck

The future is, and has always been, a contested space. A space in which hopes and fears of the present are projected and embellished, a destination we’re heading toward without having quite figured out all of the co-ordinates yet.

In a world changing as rapidly as ours, as new data streams emerge and we’re able to map the world in ways never thought possible before, attention must turn to the historic driver of change: innovation. Indeed, as odd as it sounds, innovation itself, or rather the mechanisms of innovation, must keep up with the times. The concept of Open Innovation, coined by Henry Chesbrough in his book ‘Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology’, takes this proliferation of data as its core consideration and asks that innovators remain open to a newly communicative world of research, ideas and data. So, what will a world invested in Open Innovation look like and is it the right model for innovators today?

Uddevalla and Open Innovation

A glimpse of this possible future arrived at Birkbeck between 30th June and 2nd July 2016 as the topic of Open Innovation was explored at the 19th Uddevalla Symposium. The annual symposium, held in the UK for the first time, invited over 150 academics, business leaders and practitioners from 27 countries to Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus to discuss, share and ruminate on the topic of Open Innovation – as part of this year’s ‘Geography, Open Innovation, Diversity and Entrepreneurship’ theme. The three day symposium saw keynote lectures in the morning and parallel paper sessions in the afternoon bring together diverse strands of research, with the Bloomsbury campus alight with fervent discussion and debate.

A keynote lecture from Professor Jennifer Clark, Director of the Centre for Urban Innovation at Ivan Allen College in the US, gave a tantalising insight into how Open Innovation is changing the dynamics of both private and public sector innovation. Her lecture, ‘Smart Cities and Social Entrepreneurship: Remaking Markets and Manufacturing Open Innovation Spaces’ discussed how future cities that best utilise advances in technology, particularly advances in logistics and data, will benefit the public, private and third sectors mutually. However, such advances are reliant on open platforms for software and effective, equitable technology diffusion. An attendant commitment to Open Innovation from both the private and public sector would be necessary too; the task of reengineering cities as sites of both innovation and sustainability is a challenging one with implications for all businesses, public services and third sector parties. Professors Clark’s timely lecture comes as the US city of Columbus has just been awarded $40 million dollars by the U.S Department of Transportation, to create innovative solutions for the future of urban mobility, undoubtedly a tentative first step toward the actualisation of Smart Cities.

Are we open or closed?

CIMR logoA utopian ‘internet of things’ however, is perhaps not as close as advances in technology suggest. The question of which model of innovation actually produces the greatest benefit is one fiercely debated and was the subject of the best paper award winner ‘The Paradox of Openness Revisited: Collaborative Innovation and Patenting by UK Innovators’.  The paper, written by  Professor Ashish Arora (Fuqua School of Business, Duke University), Professor Suma Athreye (Brunel Business School, Brunel University) and Dr. Can Huang, (Institute for Intellectual Property Management, School of Management, Zhejiang University), explores two seemingly contradictory strands of contemporary thought: should businesses innovate openly or protect themselves from ‘knowledge spill over’ and patent?

Their findings suggest that the answer is contingent on a number of factors, most notably the relative size of the business and whether it leads or follows in its chosen market. Their research edifies an ongoing debate among innovators, are we open or closed?

For more information about the 19th Uddevalla Symposium, you can visit their website. To see future events hosted by the Centre for Innovation Management Research, please visit their webpage.

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