Data Spark scheme allows Imperial students to develop their data analytics skills on live client projects with KPMG

Data-spark-bannerOur advancing digital world has seen an exponential rise in the amount of data available. 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years alone. Imperial Business Analytics with KPMG, a centre resulting from the alliance formed between innovators at Imperial College London and KPMG in 2014, is uniquely positioned to help bring data science research closer to the world of business.

The Data Spark scheme is a pioneering new initiative set up as part of the Imperial Business Analytics and KPMG alliance. It offers opportunities for students to be a part of the centre’s work and harness the leading research occurring right here on campus.

Leveraging some of the world’s best academics, industry experts and technologies, the scheme is open to all students on our Full-Time MBA and MSc Business Analytics programmes, as well as members of the Imperial College Data Science Society.

Mark-Kennedy-Data-Spark

Dr Mark Kennedy introduced the scheme

Dr Mark Kennedy, Associate Professor and Director of Imperial Business Analytics with KPMG, explained the Data Spark scheme at a launch event for this year’s students on Wednesday 19 October.

In teams of four to five people, students spend six weeks tackling genuine problems facing KPMG and their clients and provide fresh insights into the data and developing patterns. Within these six weeks, they transform the wealth of data they’re given into a great story that they can share.

Students are supported during the project by mentors from KPMG and an academic supervisor who helps them to frame the project and meets with them on a weekly basis.

As a voluntary project, the scheme also gives our students a chance to network with students outside of their programmes. Full-Time MBA student Vince Marsland is motivated by this prospect, “What excites me most is the opportunity to stretch my capabilities while working with a diverse team who are studying and specialising in other areas than myself.”

The projects also give students an opportunity to experience the working environment at KPMG, with project kick-off meetings and final presentations being held at the KPMG offices in Canary Wharf.

Dr Mark Kennedy highlighted the unique value that the scheme has for students, “The great thing about these projects is that they are based on real client data, and on real problems that organisations have.”

MSc Business Analytics student Marnelia Scribante is attracted to the Data Spark scheme because of how it relates to her career aspirations, “I’m very interested in a career in consulting; extracting valuable insights from data and catapulting one company ahead of others. Getting the exposure and experience from the Data Spark scheme will be invaluable.”

Students take in visualisations from previous Data Spark projects at the KPMG Data Observatory

Students take in visualisations from previous Data Spark projects at the KPMG Data Observatory

The scheme is also a useful tool for students with a desire to learn innovative business techniques or build their leadership skills. Full-Time MBA student Suzy McClintock said, “The Data Spark scheme provides an opportunity to leverage my leadership and business skills while learning more about working with and interpreting Big Data to understand and solve business problems. It’s an incredible opportunity to work with a company like KPMG on projects that have a real-world impact.”

Cynthia Yoon, an Analyst at KPMG, joined the launch to discuss the Data Spark scheme and the opportunities it provides for exposure to KPMG Leadership, “One of the most exciting parts of the alliance between Imperial and KPMG is the Data Spark programme. Hopefully this will be a really great opportunity for you as well, especially if you’re interested in consulting or really trying to understand how your data analytics capability can solve real world problems.”

The launch gave students the chance to see work from previous Data Spark projects showcased in the KPMG Data Observatory, a 310 degree visualisation space designed by and housed within the Data Science Institute on our South Kensington campus.

The KPMG Data Observatory is an impressive structure. A circular wall of 64 monitors, the screens are driven by 32 computers and amass to a total resolution of more than 130 million pixels. Dr David Birch from the Data Science Institute explains “The Observatory provides a new tool for generating insight from Big Data in a collaborative social setting using visual analytics. The high performance computing and high resolution display enables large quantities of data to be explored by multidisciplinary teams generating and communicating new data-driven discoveries”.

Data-Spark-tourThe power of the Observatory wasn’t lost on our students. Felix Chee, an MSc Business Analytics student, said “The Data Observatory is really cool, I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

His classmate, Louise Fallon, added, “It shows on such a big scale the way that you can present data that in a report or presentation would fall slightly more flat. You can have multiple people consuming the data in the same way and discussing it and I can see how it’s a really great tool for starting discussion.”

Tours of the Observatory were led by Eva Kirchberger, a final year PhD student at the Business School and experience designer for Imperial Business Analytics. Having also coached the first 2015-16 student team, Eva offered an inside perspective on the scheme, “Data Spark is a student accelerator. In only 6 weeks, a multidisciplinary team of postgraduate students deliver fast responses to client queries based on data analytics, which would otherwise have taken years to explore. The beauty of the projects is their richness in variety – from identifying individual driving behaviours to unravelling the emergence of the sharing economy.”

During the tour, Eva explained the two showcased Data Spark projects, which were recently delivered by last year’s students, and how they were able to help turn a vast pool of data into an impressive visualisation.

Understanding the Sharing Economy

Students within this Data Spark project analysed the results of a survey of the UK population on their usage of sharing economy platforms, such as Uber and Airbnb. The findings give insight into the characteristics of the population of adopters and non-adopters, as well as into the usage of some of the main sharing economy platforms.

Development of Driving Data Insights

Traditionally insurance companies have relied on black-box data to provide them with insights into customer behaviour and driving, however, students from this Data Spark project have demonstrated that a mobile phone app has the potential to rival the black box data.

Students were assigned this proof-of-concept project by KPMG and asked to investigate a number of potential applications. They focussed on 3 main areas: one, driver behaviour prior to a reported crash – visualising this data when overlaid with data on national speed limits allows us to see how fast the car was moving prior to the crash; two, underwriting or fraud detection; and three, calculating driver safety scores.

Dr Mark Kennedy emphasised the level of work that students can accomplish during the scheme, “The fact that students are able to do this in six weeks as a result of what they learn how to do on their courses is very impressive.”

The launch culminated with a drinks reception, allowing students to discuss the Data Spark programme with faculty and researchers, representatives from KPMG and other students interested in taking part in the initiative.

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