PA Consulting announce investment in new roles

  • Dr. Gianluca Barletta, Global Head of Data Science at PA Consulting, discusses their plans to establish a Data Science team in Belfast.

    Can you tell us about the Data Science team within PA, and why you decided to bring some of these roles to Belfast?

    Data Science is a global capability at PA. We have a strong presence in the UK, Nordics, the Netherlands and the US. We work across what we define as the life cycle of data. In fact, even our name, Data Science, really refers to the science of data, encompassing all of its phases. So, we have a group that works around the more foundational aspects of data, such as strategy, governance, and management. We also have a group that looks more at the data engineering aspect, especially in relation to the move to cloud, including multi-cloud environments. Thirdly, we have advanced data analytics which looks at the most advanced techniques to actually gather insights from data and that includes all our expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

    Belfast is home to some of the most talented data scientists and digital minds in the UK. At PA we have a vibrant, brilliant, and ever-growing Digital team in Belfast, so investing in our team in Northern Ireland by adding Data Science talent seems like a perfect match, and one of strategic significance for PA. I am very excited by this prospect, and I look forward to welcoming some amazing data experts to our offices very soon.  

    What makes PA Consulting’s approach Data and AI different to other organisations in this sector?

    Turning client problems into opportunities is really what gets us out of bed in the morning. It's our main goal. Our mission is to solve our clients’ most difficult problems using data. AI, in particular, is central to the strategy. The importance of AI is absolutely omni pervasive. And it's not just because it's influencing our own lives, but also because it poses questions around how organisations reinterpret their data strategy. For instance, how do you engage with the cloud providers to ensure that you can leverage cloud to scale up AI initiatives fast.

    Therefore, we are working on AI with a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, we look at the opportunities coming from AI. We identify use cases that would deliver the biggest success for their organisation and create detailed business cases to support that. We would help them experiment and prototype solutions, with architectures and tooling that are ready to scale up.  

    But equally, we make our clients conscious that they want to go across the so-called, ‘Valley of Death’, where proof of concepts, proof of values or MVPs (minimum viable products) fail to scale up to production. To avoid that, we use what we call the data foundational approach, which looks at the foundations that you need to have in place in order to be able to productionise AI, in order to scale it up. In most cases, failure to scale up is not due to having selected the wrong use case but not having solid data foundations in place.

    What sort of projects has PA Consulting delivered with this approach that have made significant business and societal impacts?

    We have many examples coming from our work with the NHS on the Ventilator project or NHS Hospitals, but one that made a great impact in a very limited space of time is our work with Unilever. The global consumer goods brand wanted to guarantee a certain level of production during COVID-19 whilst wanting to ensure the well-being of each of their employees. PA set out to  help Unilever by combining expertise in consumer goods, business intelligence, data analytics, AI and machine learning, digital, operational resilience and global supply chains.

    In the space of a few weeks, we created a dashboard with the ability to forecast the spread of COVID-19 in such a way that Unilever could plan its production lines and plants and minimise the exposure of its employees to high-risk environments. We aggregated, normalised, and validated over 250,000 data points daily, presented using an automated and dynamic dashboard, and we managed to achieve 80% accuracy with a seven-day forecast of Covid-19 trends at a local level and 75% accuracy on a 30-day forecast, This is a project that PA is extremely  proud of.

    PA Consulting has invested heavily in a Belfast Digital Hub, what are the plans for the next 12 months?

    We’re incredibly proud of our team in Belfast and the impact they have across the work we do for our clients. We have plans into next year and beyond to continue the expansion across all aspects of our digital capabilities – design, engineering, data science and cyber security. Over the next 12 months we want to be able to create more career opportunities for people to work in an award-winning organisation which has a focus on digital technology, to help build a positive human future.

    This article appears in the Big Data edition of Sync NI magazine. To receive a free copy click here.

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