How a “magic Thursday” was the start of a new consortium-led data access platform

After a “magic Thursday” RegulAtion was able to create a consortium-powered data access platform.  What made that fateful day so magic was that it was when all of the pieces for the AIR platform fell into place. RegulAItion CEO Sally Tait said, “[this was] the day when everyone I talked to said ‘yes’.”

The AIR platform is a cross-sector consortium of businesses and universities who have a goal of improving the access to data for regulated industries. Led by RegulAtion, the platform is a privacy preserving, data access and data collaboration service that has the aim of changing how the private and public sectors operate and interact locally and globally.

Philip Treleaven of University College London claims this solution could “do for data what the Internet did for communication.”

The AIR platform, which is planning to launch in 2021, is being built with project collaborators including the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), two international banks, Ashurst, Oasis Loss Modelling Framework, Wilson Wright Accounting and Tax Practice, University College London (UCL) and Loughborough University. To help the platform’s development the group has received a £1.67m investment from Innovate UK.

The end goal for the platform is to offer a digital infrastructure which supports scalable, automated, repeatable and responsible data access.

Sfeir-Tait said, “We’re facing the perfect storm; there is simply more data in the world than we can handle, it is suffocating businesses, industries and regulators. Equally, data silos mean organisations are unable to develop meaningful solutions, and privacy concerns such as GDPR and commercial interests stand in the way of delivering collaborative efforts to share knowledge from data.

“Tackling these challenges as individual businesses or sectors is not only prohibitive but also limiting in terms of what can be achieved that is of real value. However, a collaborative, sector-agnostic approach driven by artificial intelligence, machine learning and other analytical technologies can work. The AIR Platform will be that generational breakthrough.”

The idea for the AIR platform came whilst Sfeir-Tait was visiting The Innovation Lab, a UK government-backed innovation funding service. This was a three-day workshop in November 2019, bringing together 50 people from the business and technology worlds. Over the course of the evert, Sfeir-Tait had her lightbulb moment.

She said, “I had focused my company’s work on the regulation problem and the need to deliver a platform to enable machine readable and executable rules. I hadn’t yet focused on the data access problem. If we are ever going to deliver a straight through process of machine executable regulation – real-time regulation – you must solve the data access issue; it is the cornerstone of the problem.”

The company held a presentation at The Innovation Lab outlining its plan, but to get the green light they needed to have collaborators from the industry and universities. Loughborough University was the first to join the consortium, with UCL close behind. Once these were onboard, Sfeir-Tait began to “cherry-pick” other collaborators, including banks, legal companies, insurance leaders and regulators. This was the “magic Thursday” where everyone agreed to join. The company was approved for funding.

Each of the consortium is working hard to test the service and provide regular feedback on how it can be improved. Numerous case studies are being conducted and organisations are being welcomed to the consortium to further its development.

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund challenge director Stephen Browning said, “A common hurdle when trying to develop and apply AI solutions is accessing data, often across organisational boundaries.

“This is particularly true in regulated sectors such as Legal, Accountancy and Insurance where concern for the privacy of client data is paramount. The AIR Platform project has the potential to overcome some of these issues and unlock the potential of applying AI to Professional and Financial Services and I’m excited to see what this project can deliver in privacy enhancing data solutions.”

The AIR platform is an infrastructure-as-a-service platform that is revolutionising things by using federated learning. This is a type of machine learning that trains an algorithm across multiple decentralised data sources without exchanging data. “These “travelling algorithms” solve the fundamental issue of privacy as data never leaves the original secure premises.  The algorithms go out and the computation, not the data, comes back.”

This platform is not locked to one industry and can be used across multiple sectors to help various organisations work together and better leverage data.

RegulAtion claims that Improving the access to data for AI technology and bolstering privacy technologies could go a long way in combating financial crime, assessing the impact of climate change and much more. Money laundering is a colossal problem and a lot of work is needed to try and curb this. The United Nations estimates around $1.6trn is laundered through the global financial system each year. The UK accounts for $90bn of this. Through the AIR platform, the group hopes to help firms better combat the laundering threat.

Sfeir-Tait said, “The AIR Platform as an enterprise-grade infrastructure will be completed this September and we are developing use cases concurrently with our collaborators validating data holders and their service providers’ return on investment to create the hard-proof the industry needs to get on board.”

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