Understanding data analytics at BICOD

Lucy Tallentire from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics reports on the biennial British International Conference on Databases (BICOD).

Award of Best Research Student paper prize to Alexandru Bogatu, by Alastair Green of Neo Technology

From 10-12 July, Birkbeck’s Department of Computer Science and Information Systems played host to a wealth of insightful research discussion at the biennial British International Conference on Databases (BICOD). Birkbeck has a long-standing association with BICOD since its inception in the 1980s, with three generations of Computer Science researchers at Birkbeck having contributed to its legacy.

In her opening address, Professor Alex Poulovassilis, Deputy Dean of Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics & Informatics, and General Chair of this year’s BICOD, highlighted Birkbeck’s long-standing contributions to the conference. She gave special thanks to this year’s Keynote speakers and those delegates who had travelled from abroad for the occasion. The last time Birkbeck hosted the conference in 1997 it was still known as the British National Conference on Databases (BNCOD) but this name was changed in 2015 to reflect the aim of the conference to be a platform for research discussion both nationally and internationally: “The geographical and thematic scope of this year’s papers and the interest from all over the world serves to demonstrate the conference’s continuing success.”

The theme of this year’s BICOD was Data Analytics, and the programme kicked off with a Keynote talk from Dr Tim Furche, Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Oxford and Co-Founder of Wrapidity Ltd. Tim stressed the importance of translating research in AI and Machine Learning into practically applicable technology – in the case of his company, in the large-scale extraction of useful data from websites.

Short presentations by the four students vying for the best PhD paper prize followed. The judges commended the quality of the competition and praised the investigation and presentation of all the students. The winner, Alex Bogatu, collected his prize from the sponsor Neo Technology.

Further conference sessions over the course of the event comprised of two more Keynotes, from Professor Elena Baralis and Dr Sihem Amer-Yahia; two Tutorials, from Professor Leopoldo Bertossi and Dr Vasiliki Kalavri; and further research paper presentations, with subjects ranging from Data Exploration, Multidimensional Data and Graph Data Querying.

Keynote Speaker Professor Elena Baralis

On the final morning of the conference, there was also a unique chance to enjoy a joint session between BICOD and the International Joint Conference on Rules and Reasoning (RuleML + RR), which followed the BICOD conference at Birkbeck. The leading international joint conference in the field of rule-based reasoning, RuleML + RR brought a number of new delegate perspectives to the audience, as well as a focus on theoretical advances, novel technologies and innovative applications for rules and reasoning.

The BiCOD team would like to thank the conference sponsors for their generous support: Neo Technology, ONS, Palgrave Macmillan and The Information Lab.

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That thing you thought? Think the opposite: Football, Data and OptaJoe

This post was contributed by James Fisk from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics

In September 2014, England, having been ranked 10th best team in the world four months earlier, suffered an ignominious 1-0 defeat at Wembley Stadium to Norway, a team ranked 67th in the world. This came after an early FIFA World Cup 2014 exit in Brazil, a failure that had already galvanised England manager Roy Hodgson’s critics, who, emboldened by this latest humiliation now confronted the manager with a damning statistic: England had just two shots on target. There was also some more colourful language that I can’t replicate here. Hodgson replied “Don’t hit me with statistics,” and – clearly antagonised – dismissed the use of statistics to describe what had happened that night. Yet, despite this incredulity toward statistics from the national team manager, the analysis of statistics to achieve competitive advantage has become a huge part of the game; not just for viewers and Sky Sports infographic designers, but by clubs themselves who have integrated data analysis into their scouting networks, tactics and coaching systems. Data has become vital not only to how we interpret the beautiful game, but to how it is played too.

optajoeThe official Premier League data partner is Opta, a firm that collects millions of details from leagues across the globe and has built a picture of the game not possible before now. It’s no surprise then that when the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre invited Duncan Alexander, Opta’s Chief Data Editor, to discuss his new book OptaJoe’s Football Yearbook 2016: That thing you thought? Think the opposite the lecture theatre became very crowded, very quickly. As co-creator of the widely cited @OptaJoe Twitter account, a source used by the BBC, Sky Sports and, well, pretty much everyone, Duncan and Opta have worked not only to edify clubs’ understanding of football (working both with the Premier League and every individual club) but to puncture some passionately held opinions. Speaking to an audience of professionals, students and academics, Duncan discussed a few key insights drawn from his book that delve into some of football’s most puzzling events of the past few years; how on earth did Leicester win the league? What’s happened to Manchester United since Fergie? Who really is the all-time top scorer in the Premier League?

The prospect of Leicester City winning the 2015/16 Premier League title would have been dismissed by even the most stoically optimistic Leicester fans in April 2015, as the team sat rock bottom of the table. Just over a year later, Leicester were crowned champions of the Premier League, shocking pundits and forcing Gary Lineker into his pants on Match of The Day. However, as revealed by Duncan, we can at least understand some of this phenomenon by deconstructing it with data. For instance, Leicester made the second fewest changes to their starting line-up, for a League winner, in Premier League history. They earned the joint highest number of penalties in a season, drawing level with Crystal Palace and saw the biggest improvement in their points-per-game ratio of any club in top flight history (stretching back over 100 years).

When it comes to the apparent decline of Manchester United, who for a time had a near monopoly on the Premier League title, Duncan points to instability metrics as the most immediate indicator of the decline. David Moyes’ tenure saw him bring in his own coaches from Everton and then, for his 51 games in charge, played 51 unique starting line-ups. Duncan also discussed how data might inform debate, citing the dispute between Louis Van Gaal and Sam Allardyce over long-balls he explained that, in the five Premier League games with the most crosses, only two goals were scored from crosses. Fielding questions from the audience, Duncan also discussed how Opta have helped identify transfer targets for clubs, using their vast database to map a certain player profile – most notably their data helped Leicester identify N’Golo Kante in the summer of 2015.

On how data can further add to the beautiful game, Duncan discussed the ‘expected goals’ metric – an analysis of almost a million goal angles and positions that can tell you, based on chances, how effectively a team play. This can be used to gauge the effectiveness of certain players to allow managers and coaches greater flexibility in understanding of how to use their squad and in which situations certain players are better suited. The final extract from the OptaJoe 2016 Yearbook brings us back to the England team and their perennial failure at big tournaments. Data reveals that, after the 1966 World Cup, England have won only six games in the knockout stages of tournaments, including reaching the Semi-Final of Euro 96.

Indicated as much by demand from top tier clubs around the world, as the stream of questions posed to Duncan by the audience, it’s clear that data is already influencing football and looks set to play an even bigger role in the future. While the discussion over a few of these points provided fervent discussion among the audience, the book from OptaJoe provides many more statistics to show you that, what you thought you knew, you don’t.

For a full listing of future events and public seminars at the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre, see our website. You can get a copy of the OptaJoe 2016 Yearbook here and you can follow them on Twitter using their handle @OptaJoe.

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The importance of Web Science

Richard has a BSc in Physics from University of Leicester and an
MSc in 
Advanced Richard Brownlow copyInformation Systems from Birkbeck. He has over 20 years’ experience in industry as a Software Engineer and Software Project Manager and is currently studying for a PhD at the London Knowledge Lab where he is a member of the Weaving Communities of Practice Project. His research is in the design of tools to help domain experts integrate heterogeneous data sets.This post was contributed by PhD student Richard Brownlow. 

 

Annually at Birkbeck, the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems celebrates the work of its founder, the late Dr Andrew Booth, who was a pioneer in computer hardware and machine translation. Hosting this year’s Andrew Booth Memorial Lecture was the London Knowledge Lab, a unique interdisciplinary collaboration between two of the UK’s most prominent centres of research – Birkbeck and the UCL Institute of Education.

This year, we were honoured to have Professor Dame Wendy Hall present. She has played a foundational role in the development of the Web, the Semantic Web and Web Science, with her current research focussed in applications of the Semantic Web and in exploring the interface between the life and physical sciences. Along with being the first person outside of North America to be elected to the post of President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), she has also been hugely influential and inspirational in promoting women’s careers in computer science.

Along with Professor Hall’s lecture, a broad range of London Knowledge Lab research was on show in the Department, for staff, students, alumni and guests from other institutions and across the industry. Opportunities for future collaborations and research were discussed. Some of the research demos included projects relating to Learning Technologies, such as LIBE which supports literacies through lifelong learning with inquiry based education. Other research demos were in the areas of ontology querying and mobile location analytics. I was also given the opportunity to demonstrate some of my own research interests including the knowledge base developed for the Weaving Communities of Practice project.

The importance of Web Science

The magnificent Keynes Library in Gordon Square was the setting as Professor Hall kindly delivered her lecture, captivating the audience with her insight on what the discipline of Web Science means in the context of the history of the World-Wide-Web. This was especially interesting given the foundational role she played in the development of the Web, including her collaborations with other giants of the sector such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

internet

Discussing the role of the Web in knowledge creation and sharing and the need to understand it in terms of both its technical and its social aspects, she also spoke on how this multidisciplinary field has come to be known as Web Science and the establishment of the Web Science Trust (WST) in 2006. She went on to describe how Web Science encompasses the theory and practice of Social Machines and how such machines are quite different from Turing Machines, which lie at the heart of every computer.

Professor Hall described the establishment of the Web Science Trust Network of Laboratories (WSTNet), an initiative furthering academic excellence in the field. There are currently fifteen such labs, including two in the UK. She then went on to describe a new exciting initiative called the Web Observatory, through which global partnerships are established to share data sets (both open and closed) along with associated Metadata and Analytics tools. Through these initiatives, Professor Hall described how Web Science aims to understand the origins, current state and possible futures of the Web, and to further the development of new research methodologies.

It is just over 10 years since Professor Hall delivered one of the inaugural talks at the London Knowledge Lab. In her vote of thanks, Professor Alex Poulovassilis – one of the two Co-Directors of the London Knowledge Lab – drew links to that inaugural lecture, firstly in the role of the Web in knowledge acquisition, sharing and dissemination, and secondly in the need to keep historical “memories” of the Web in order to enable the longitudinal analyses required for understanding its evolution and future.

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