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Top 10 information management stories of 2023

Generative AI was inescapable as the leading theme of the information management stories of 2023 gathered here. But also selected are pieces about data and healthcare, and the inexorable rise of the CDO

Generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) was the ineluctable information management topic of 2023. For, without data, there is nothing for large language models (LLMs) to work their magic upon.

GenAI is then, unsurprisingly, a big theme of the Computer Weekly top 10 information management stories selected for 2023.

But also picked out are two broad trends in data analytics and management. One is the role of data in healthcare. The other is the increasing centrality of data to organisations’ high-level strategies. Thus, the continuing consolidation of the chief data officer (CDO) role, which can be subsumed into the traditional office of the CIO – which would have been more of a chief infrastructure role a decade or so ago, despite the word “information” in the title.

And so, this selection of 10 pieces includes three on data and healthcare and two illustrating the salience of the CDO role. Many more of the latter ilk could have been selected, but Computer Weekly also sports a top 10 CIO stories for 2023. Here, we have the chief data officers of Very and DFS.

The first five pieces are, however, about data and GenAI – which Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), an IT analyst firm owned by Computer Weekly publisher TechTarget, found to be ranking higher than sustainability and cloud migration as a strategic priority for enterprise IT globally.

First up is a conference-related overview blog on the topic, Boffins in clover. Then follows an article on the role of GenAI in education, looking at how it can enhance rather than undermine learning.

The need for “guardrails” – to use an American term – in application to AI in general, and generative AI in particular, has been a constant in the public discourse on the topic this year. One story here looks at a UK government proposal to create a code of practice for GenAI companies. And another details how the Trades Union Congress has launched an AI “taskforce” aimed at instigating new laws to safeguard workers’ rights and ensure the technology has broad social benefits.

Finally, under this heading, is featured a supplier blog post, from Qlik, that aims to give practical advice to organisations about their data strategies in respect of GenAI, one year on from the birth of ChatGPT.

Healthcare is an area where the virtues of artificial intelligence and of modern data management and analytics practices have been much touted over the past five to 10 years. One data analytics company seems to have been singled out for controversy in UK healthcare: US specialist in data technologies popular in the western defence and security communities, Palantir. September 2023 saw the final award by NHS England of a £330m, seven-year contract to run its Federated Data Platform to Palantir, prompting concerns from data privacy practitioners. Computer Weekly has published a good deal on this story, including a blog that reflected on whether the, then potential, Palantir award, whatever its technical merits, was, or was not, worth the aggro. NHS England decided, in the end, that it was.

Also featuring in the list is a story about the Scottish Government’s health data strategy. And, less parochially, a feature about artificial intelligence in healthcare in northern Europe, mainly the Netherlands.

1. Gen AI: Boffins in clover

Larry Ellison, in his keynote speech at Oracle Cloud World in Las Vegas, in September said GenAI marks the dawn of a new era. He spoke of how the “baby” ChatGPT is talking, with a multibillion-parameter large language model behind it.

It was the same story at every IT conference in 2023. From Qlik World in Las Vegas in April, through ServiceNow’s Knowledge 2023 event in Vegas in May, SAP’s Sapphire event in Barcelona in May, and SuiteWorld in October to AWS Re:Invent in November, similar declarations of a new epoch were made. Often by artificial intelligence boffins who have been slaving away on AI for years and years, in relative obscurity, and who are now, finally, in clover. Einstein himself could be said to be their avatar.

2. Large language models harnessed for education

Large language models are being used to teach, support and assess students, enhancing education rather than impairing it.

Rumours, then, of the death of homework may have been exaggerated. LLMs) such as ChatGPT are disrupting some of the ways in which educators assess the progress of pupils and students, but they are also being used for new methods of assessment, teaching and support that aim to enhance education rather than compromise it.

3. UK government to create code of practice for generative AI firms

In March a code was mooted to strike a balance between copyright holders and GenAI firms so that both parties can benefit from the use of copyrighted material in training data

In July 2021, the government had outlined its plans to create “pro-innovation” digital regulations, and has since taken this approach forward into various legislative proposals, including its Data Protection and Digital Information Bill and plan to create a new framework for AI technologies.

Since the start of 2023, a spate of legal challenges have been initiated against generative AI companies – including Stable Diffusion, the Microsoft-backed Open AI – over alleged breaches of copyright law arising from their use of potentially protected material to train their models.

The government said the IPO was to be tasked with producing a code of practice.

4. TUC launches AI taskforce for workers’ rights and societal benefit

The Trades Union Congress launched what it called an AI “taskforce” to draft an AI and Employment Bill, with the aim of safeguarding workers’ rights, early in 2024

The taskforce, which the TUC said will corral specialists in law, technology, politics, HR and the voluntary sector, will publish an AI and Employment Bill early in 2024. It will then lobby to have the bill incorporated into UK law.

5. Generative AI, one year later: moving beyond the hype

In a guest blog post, James Fisher, chief strategy officer at Qlik, commented on ChatGPT, one year after its appearance in November 2022.

He said the hype may be real, but so is the value potential for your business. But if your company has not quite figured out a path forward, you are not alone: only 39% of organisations have formalised an AI strategy, according to a survey commissioned by Qlik.

He adds that while generative AI will be transformative, we are in the infancy of its potential and adoption. Moreover, AI is more than generative AI: traditional AI remains prominent and a value driver.

6. Scotland launches data strategy for health and social care

In February, the Scottish government published its first-ever data strategy for health and social care, aiming to transform the way people access their personal health and care information, and the way data is used to transform health and care services.

The five-year plan was billed as a “dynamic, evolving, living document” which will adapt and respond to any new data challenges that crop up.

It sets out eight key priority areas, including ethical approaches to data.

7. AI in healthcare in northern Europe suggests future pathways

AI is used sporadically across northern Europe. But if the healthcare sector is to provide affordable, high-quality care as the population ages and the economy falters, it will be needed more, experts say.

One could compare the introduction of AI with the advent of electricity. “AI will be a real game changer,” says Pieter Jeekel, chair of the Netherlands AI Coalition Well-being & Healthcare. He is a national expert on digitising healthcare, with a strong focus on the Netherlands and a knowledge of AI developments in the rest of Europe. “The Netherlands and other European countries must be prepared and make sure we can lead the way.”

8. Palantir awarded NHS FDP data contract

NHS England awarded, in November, a £330m, seven-year contract to US data specialist Palantir, prompting concerns from data privacy practitioners.

The long-anticipated FDP supersedes the Covid-19 Data Store, which also involved Palantir, as well as Google and Microsoft. This platform, stood up in difficult circumstances at the height of the pandemic in 2020, was designed to improve data analytics efforts across the NHS and help the health service act more efficiently in the face of the biggest public health crisis ever seen in the UK.

9. CDO interview: Very’s Steve Pimblett on finding UB40

The chief data officer of online retailer Very, Steve Pimblett, explains the place of data cataloguing in its data strategy, both for governance and innovation

Readers of a certain age will remember taping the top 20 on a Sunday night. And will also remember – if they had failed to catalogue what they were, possibly illegally, recording – not being able to find that particular New Order track among a stack of cassette tapes.

Or UB40 track. This is the particular example that Pimblett tends to give when speaking at data management conferences about the company’s data strategy. Not so necessary for delegates to such conferences, but very useful for board members of a certain vintage when signing off on data catalogue technologies – in Very’s case, from Alation.

10. CDO interview: Robert Michael, group head of data, DFS

‘Data Bob’ is transforming data strategy at furniture retailer DFS, aiming to build a digital twin of the company to improve business modelling – but his first task is to make sure people can trust data.

You can tell you’ve made it to the top of the competitive world of digital leadership when you become synonymous with your company’s data strategy.

Data Bob – or Robert Michael, as he’s otherwise known – is group head of data at retailer DFS. He was the company’s first data chief and his efforts to turn information into insight have made him a well-respected figure at the furniture brand.

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