"BigDataEurope is reaching out to stakeholders in all seven H2020 societal challenges to understand their data and knowledge needs" - an interview with Bryn Williams-Jones

Amongst other things, Bryn Williams-Jones is currently CEO of the Open PHACTS Foundation, and has been involved in establishing and leading Open PHACTS for the last five years. Prior to that he spent 19 years at Pfizer in a number of different roles, latterly with an interest in precompetitive computational drug discovery, and provision of impactful insights to early target identification. 

1. The Goal of the BigDataEurope (BDE) project is to 1. collect requirements for an semantically interoperable ICT infrastructure to process data and knowledge and 2. the design and implementation of an architecture for an infrastructure that meets these requirements.
How does BigDataEurope want to achieve these goals?

BDE is reaching out to stakeholders in all seven H2020 societal challenges to understand their data and knowledge needs, with an aim to identifying pilot projects that can use the generic BDE big data infrastructure for pilot use cases that meet their needs. The aim is to provide some insight into the potential of big data approaches in the societal challenge, to stimulate future efforts to build on these pilots in the longer term. So outreach and engagement is important to understand use cases, and how big data approaches can be applied to meet the needs of particular communities.

2. Please tell us about data management in Open PHACTS and its role in the BigDataEurope project?

In the case of Open PHACTS, in the health and demographic change community the biggest issue is data variety - as an illustration the number of different ways a particular gene is described in all the various sources and literature. Management of entity identity is key for us, and any big data infrastructure has to flexibly manage this as different approaches are used in different use cases. This can never be a case of one size fits all. Open PHACTS is also unusual in that we have a working big data infrastructure already, so part of what we’re doing is exploring what happens when we move this to a different technology stack. The main emphasis for us though is how we can pilot bringing more diverse and different data types together to answer real scientific questions in health and demographic change.

3. One of the main challenges in agricultural data management is the variety of data types and sources that are typically used in agricultural, food and environmental research. How can Open PHACTS as a partner of the BigDataEurope project help to encounter these challenges? Do you think that the Open PHACTS approach could be applied to agricultural data?

Very much so, and we’ve had a number of discussions on exactly this point before we were engaged in BDE. At the basic level, Open PHACTS focusses on the effect of chemistry on biology. Whilst we originally focussed on drug discovery use cases, we are very aware that the reference data sources used in this setting are the same use in the agochemical, food and numerous other industries. Our interest is in how we can expand to meet the needs of these communities, but also synergise on the efforts we’ve gone through so far to integrate and align the relevant data. It would be wasteful to do all that again, the real focus should be on how are the use cases different in the agrochemical setting, and how close are the services built in Open PHACTS already to meet agrochemical needs.

4. In how far is the agricultural information management community involved in the project? How will the community benefit from BDE?

It’s great to have FAO and Agroknow engaged in the BDE project, and as I said previously the emphasis currently in BDE is on outreach to communities of interest to better understand their needs and potential for big data approaches. So please come and talk to us, checkout the BDE website (www.big-data-europe.eu) which has lots of different routes to keep in touch, but specifically reach out to those working on pilot use cases in agricultural data and get involvled.