07/07/2014

By Jim Webber, Chief Scientist at Neo Technology

Chasing San Francisco and New York, London now hosts the third largest technology start-up cluster in the world and the biggest in Europe. To encourage this growth, the UK Government has proposed a significant amount of funding within this area and earlier last week Buckingham Palace hosted a reception to highlight the growing contribution of the start-up community to the UK economy.

However, equally as important as the Government’s continued investment in Tech City is the growing strength of London’s overall developer community. Essential to the survival of any start-up tech scene, a large and well-connected developer community can offer companies access to the wide range of technical expertise they need in order to make their mark and lead cutting-edge innovation projects. Additionally, this pool of talent can help spark new ideas and creativity within some of the more established businesses in the region, as they face stiff competition from their new rivals.

Fortunately, for London’s tech start-ups, the developer community is flourishing and - particularly satisfying for my own company, Neo Technology - is also host to the largest graph database community in the world with well over a thousand developers – and growing! Graph databases differ from the traditional relational model of data storage and analysis (which holds all data in tables - similar to a spreadsheet) and instead allow businesses to make better sense of the relationships within very complex data. Graphs allow organisations to ask complicated, abstract questions such as: ‘How many times has my viral game been shared on social media and who is recommending it to who?’ or 'what is the quickest route from A to B?’. It’s this sort of database which sits behind social networking (such as Facebook and Twitter) - where it’s important to track who knows who, their shared ‘likes’ and their common interests.

Conventional, relational databases simply can’t handle data the same way – it’s something that only a graph database can do well – and fast.

Graph databases are enabling all kinds of new business models, for example, London-based tech company Shutl is using graph databases to determine the quickest possible way to deliver an item from sellers to buyer in real time. When planning routes on its previous, relational database it could take several minutes to crunch the data – now it takes a second, and gives up to fifty different scheduling choices. Now, acquired by eBay, the company is using this intelligent planning and routing platform to provide faster deliveries and a better customer service rolling out globally. However, in order for start-ups to get to grips with this technology, they need access to developers that have the skills and know-how to integrate such platforms into their businesses and use them in the right way to deliver business impact.

Numerous start-ups from London’s Tech City have already turned to our platform, Neo4j. onefinestay, an innovative company that brings guests to stay in upscale homes while the owners are out of town, is a perfect example of the relationship between start-ups and the graph community. They've already hired developers directly from this talent pool in order to up-skill their IT teams and get the most out of graph databases for their operations – for example, planning complex team activities in homes where guests are arriving, staying or departing, all over the city each day. This expertise is invaluable to today’s ambitious SMEs that need to innovate, provide better customer service and stay one step ahead of the competition.

There are real opportunities for businesses to create value – or simply differentiate themselves, by using data in entirely new ways. Google and Dunnhumby have done just that and as a result are dominant in their sectors. Start-ups have the creative thinking and operational agility to make the best use of technologies such as graph databases. And it is through engagement with the graph database community that today’s start-ups could easily accelerate their journey towards becoming tomorrow’s business success stories.

If you’re interested in an introduction to the London Tech City developer community or would like to learn how your business can benefit from some of London’s local tech expertise, then you can register to attend an upcoming hackathon or meetup here.