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EARL 2021 will start with a week of afternoon workshops, hosted by our expert Mango Solutions Data Scientists.

This morning I (Laura Swales, Community and Events Manager) caught up with Alejandro Rico who is hosting the ‘Introduction to Shiny’ workshop to find out more about him and what people can learn from his workshop.

Hi Alejandro! Could you tell us some background information about yourself and what you do at Ascent?

I started with maths and statistics and trying to use that knowledge somewhere in business. More often than not, the decisions I made for businesses were automated – normally when you are a Data Scientist you just process a lot of information and interpret this in some way. But often those decisions are quite simple – for example, if X number is higher than X threshold, then green light. You then normally end up automating all of that, once you automate that information then you end up probably building a nice looking UI – so the product team can already check those numbers and say: ‘ok, we’ve got the green light from the maths shenanigans!’ – so I specialised doing that, not so much on the statistics part of things, but on the automation and nice-looking UI part. This eventually became Shiny development, so I joined Ascent (Mango Solutions) exclusively as a Shiny developer.

During my time at Mango, I’ve been developing Shiny – for different companies and different Shiny applications, but all Shiny! This is still a broad term because sometimes you spend a lot of time on the UI part – like designing the UX flow and how the user should interact with the tool, and on some other occasions, you spend time on the data processing part – which is closer to what a pure Data Scientist would do, but it’s part of the job still. I also deliver training on Shiny as well.

You’re hosting the Introduction to Shiny workshop at EARL online this year – what can attendees expect to learn?

I want to explain some basics with this workshops – getting people up and started on Shiny. I also want to sell Shiny! By that I mean, showcasing what you can do with Shiny and what the applications can be used for. I hope that once people are convinced of the advantages of Shiny, then the chapter on how to build your first Shiny app will be even more exciting. So there are two parts – selling Shiny and getting started with simple applications using Shiny.

Why do you think people should use Shiny over other tools?

The main reasons are when you look at what tools or framework you want for developing stuff you usually have to choose between something that’s easy to use or something that is powerful. I believe Shiny is an interesting framework as it’s extremely simple and easy to use for those who might not know about web app development. You only need a basic knowledge of R to use it and to get started pretty quickly. For anyone who wants to get started on web application development, Shiny works because you can start quickly but know that you can invest more and build more complex apps over time.

What is your favourite thing about Shiny?

Really what I said before – it’s flexibility! You can just use R and not ever realise behind the scenes it is using HTML and CSS, but if you really want to (and I do) you can be specific and flex your javascript knowledge. Shiny can have lots of small widgets where you can embed your javascript code – and I think that’s really cool. It has helped me to do unique things in the web app development world.

Thank you Alejandro!

To find out more about Alejandro’s Introduction to Shiny workshop – please view here. The workshop will take place on Monday 6th September from 2 pm-5 pm UK time and will be £90. Profits from EARL online will be donated to DataKind UK.

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The final day of the Enterprise Applications of the R Language Conference will be a day full of presentations from speakers who use R at work. It will be a great opportunity to hear from a variety of industries and how R is helping them in enterprise.

This closing day of EARL will take place on Friday 10th September and will run all day on UK time. The tickets will be priced at £9.99 – as the event is online we have far fewer overheads, and we will be able to donate our profits to DataKind UK.

We are pleased to also announce that EARL has been DICE (Diversity and Inclusion at Conferences and Events) certified and approved. The DICE organisation aims to encourage event organisers to think more about who they put on stage and to improve representation at events.

Agenda highlights

Of course, we are excited about all the talks at this year’s EARL, but we’ve selected just a few to highlight on this blog.

Dr Jacqueline Nolis, Saturn Cloud – Keynote
Jacqueline will be our first announced keynote speaker – she is a data science leader with over 15 years of experience in managing data science teams and projects at companies including DSW and Airbnb. She is currently the Head of Data Science at Saturn Cloud, where she helps design products for data scientists. We can’t wait to hear from Jacqueline’s vast experience of being in the data science field.

Avision Ho, Mettle – Meeting citizens where they R
Avision’s talk sounds like an excellent example of using open-source software to improve citizen access to meaningful information. He will cover specific technical elements of building a robust CRAN package and a mobile-centric Shiny app, as well as good DevOps practices that facilitate standardised and easy collaboration.

Daniel Durling, Bank of England – We are not start-ups!
Daniel’s talk touches on a host of oft-experienced cultural/operational barriers to doing data science in larger organisations, such as making the switch to open-source software and dealing with legacy code. We are looking forward to hearing how Daniel navigated this in the Bank of England.

Adithi Upadhya, ILK Labs – Shiny apps for air quality data analysis – Introduction to network analysis
Adithi is a co-founder and co-organiser of R-Ladies Bangalore and currently works as a Geospatial Analyst at ILK Labs Bangalore. Adithi’s talk will focus on creating Shiny applications to analyse and visualise air-pollution data. With pollution and air quality as hugely topical subjects, it will be fascinating to hear how Adithi and her team are managing the vast amount of data and creating meaningful Shiny apps.

To see the rest of the agenda, please visit our EARL page here. Alongside the presentation day, we are also hosting four workshops from Monday-Thursday (6-9th September 2021): Introduction to Shiny, Package Development in R, Functional Programming with Purrr and Web Scraping and Text Mining Lyrics in R.

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We are pleased to announce that we have selected DataKind  as the chosen charity that the Enterprise Applications of the R Language Conference (EARL) will support in 2021.

Last year when EARL needed to move online, we decided that as our overheads were lower we could donate our profits to charity. As we are online again, we are pleased to be able to do the same this year. We interviewed Suzy East, DataKind’s Community Project Manager, to find out more about the great work they do.

Tell us about DataKind’s mission?

Our mission is to transform the impact of social change organisations by building their capacity to use data science through:

  • Changing attitudes

We want to increase understanding of and trust in data science within the social sector, by showing what’s possible and how data can be used responsibly

  • Providing a safe space to test ideas

We work with organisations to explore what might help them, and introducing them to new approaches and tools

  • Supporting data practitioners

We provide access to peer support networks for data experts in the social sector, and we’re working to ensure the number of data scientists in social change organisations continues to grow

In order to achieve this, we run a number of programmes ranging from our monthly Office Hours, where any social change organisation can receive an hour of free advice on any data-related topic, to our DataDives, a high-energy weekend of exploratory analysis for one to three carefully selected charity partners, to our DataCorps, projects of up to one year where we can build and operationalise a data science tool to help an organisation work smarter.

Since we were founded in 2013, we have worked to understand the social sector’s needs and how we can harness the power of pro bono data scientists to deliver social impact. All of DataKind’s projects are undertaken by pro bono data scientists; we have a core community of around 50 active volunteers and work with several hundred over the course of every year. We are powered by this community of passionate data scientists – including statisticians, data engineers, visualisation experts, developers, designers and project managers – who have contributed over £3 million in pro bono data services through DataDives and DataCorps projects to more than 80 charities. We are now, by far, the most experienced provider of charity data science support in the UK.

Can you give us some examples of the kind of work you have done with social change orgs?

Example: Centrepoint

Centrepoint, a youth homelessness charity, came to their DataDive with a mound of messy local authority data. After much data cleaning, the volunteers created models to show that official government numbers underestimate the number of homeless people by a factor of 10. At that time, official government figures showed that there were 16,000 young homeless people in England. Our volunteers found that figure was more like 140,000. This project was the start of a two-year Centrepoint programme to develop a robust and accurate Youth Homelessness Databank for the entire sector, building on data contributed by charities and local authorities all across the UK.

Example: The Welcome Centre

We worked with the Welcome Centre, a food bank in Huddersfield, to identify those most likely to need extra support, over and above food packages. Four DataKind UK volunteer data scientists and a Welcome Centre trustee embedded a machine learning model in the food bank’s referral system. The model enables advisors to fast-track support to high-need cases. It identifies clients who were likely to become dependent early in their journey, enabling them to get extra support and advice to prevent temporary crises from becoming more permanent. This project was a finalist in the European Data Science Awards 2019 for Best use of Data to achieve Social Impact.

Has Covid affected the type of projects you have worked on?

Covid hasn’t necessarily affected the types of projects we work on, but it has massively impacted how we work. We used to run in-person DataDive weekends of up to 100 people, as well as in-person monthly office hours, volunteer committee meetings and training sessions, and much more! We’ve translated all our events and activities online, and while we miss seeing our wonderful volunteers and charity partners ‘IRL’, it has opened our events up to a new audience that couldn’t attend previously due to the distance, caring commitments or other factors. As a result, we definitely plan to keep holding regular online events in future.

As for our charity partners, it’s made it much more difficult for them to find the time and energy to engage in data projects with us, as many people have been furloughed, and many charities have had to prioritise delivering direct support to their beneficiaries. 

What are your main aims for 2021?

We are about to hold Data4Good festival on May 10-12, an online conference about data in the social sector. We are also currently working on developing an updated strategy for the next three years, with the help of our board of trustees. In terms of projects, we’re looking to deliver three DataCorps projects, along with our regular DataDives. 

If someone is reading this and wants to find out more and ways they can help, where can they go?

If you’re a data scientist or data analyst that wants to get involved, we recommend you start by taking part in one of our DataDive weekends. Take a look at our website where you can read more about volunteering with us, and sign up to our mailing list to hear about future events.

Thank you Suzy! We look forward to working on some events and partnerships with Data Kind UK in the lead up to EARL 2021.

Tickets are now on sale!

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We are excited to announce that the Enterprise Applications of the R Language Conference is online again for 2021.

We’re hopeful that we’ll be back ‘live’ in London for 2022, but for now, we’re delighted to share the agenda for this year’s EARL Conference. We are also pleased to be able to donate all profits to charity once again, and this year the Mango Solutions team have selected Data Kind UK to be our beneficiary.

We are pleased to also announce that EARL has been DICE (Diversity and Inclusion at Conferences and Events) certified and approved. The DICE organisation aims to encourage event organisers to think more about who they put on stage and to improve representation at events.


Four workshops will be hosted every afternoon from Monday 6th September to Thursday 9th September 2021. Each workshop will be hosted by experienced Mango Solutions Data Scientists, who will be able to give you new learnings to take back and action in the workplace.

The workshops will be competitively priced at £90 for each half-day workshop.

Conference day

The EARL week will end on a high with a full day of presentations on the use of R in enterprise – this is a great opportunity to hear from a range of industries and how they are using R to solve issues and to be more productive.

You can view the full presentation day agenda here. The tickets for the presentation day will be £9.99.

In the coming weeks, we will highlight and interview some of the speakers lined up.

EARL online 2021 tickets are now on sale.

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We are pleased to share that the next free and online LondonR meetup will take place on Wednesday 26th May from 4.25 pm (BST).

We will be joined by three presenters who will share their work in R stats, and we will also be hosting LondonR on a new platform!

  • Robert Hickman – Amateur Professional Football Analytics Using R
  • Gary Hutson, NHS – NHSDataDictionaRy – the joy and perils of R package development
  • Alejandro Rico, Mango Solutions – Encrypting with R. From protecting passwords to setting up a blockchain

To join us, register for a place here.







demand forecasting this easter
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Using data to accurately forecast demand for chocolate this Easter

Easter is a significant holiday for many businesses especially within the UK. The holiday period brings an increase to food and drink sales, with Easter being the second most popular period of the year for chocolate consumption. Many Britons book holiday trips in this period as well, making it an important time for the leisure industry.

Data science enables businesses to effectively plan for this busy period. Analysis of historical sales data can be used to predict future demand, allowing businesses to accurately plan stock levels; real-time analysis provides visibility of the state of a product, enabling businesses to quickly resolve issues regarding the manufacturing of products like chocolate bunnies.

Accurate forecasting to match demand

Demand forecasting is a commonly used approach which allows businesses to effectively predict future sales, plan and schedule production, improve budget planning, and develop efficient pricing strategies. Predictive analysis is used to understand and forecast demand over time, helping businesses make well-informed decisions.

Adapting in line with the coronavirus pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought great challenges within businesses. Easter brings challenges itself with the date of the holiday moving each year, however in 2020, businesses were simply not prepared for the impact of the pandemic. Easter egg sales fell by £36 million with many retailers having to sell lots of eggs at discounted prices. Some retailers were also unprepared for the boom in online sales and were not able to meet demand. On the upside, many businesses are better prepared for this year’s Easter period, with many focussing on online operations. Through demand forecasting techniques and last year’s data, businesses have been able to better prepare for this year’s demand. Many, for example Hotel Chocolat, are offering a limited range of Easter eggs this year.

As well as benefitting the retail and leisure industries, demand forecasting is used by other organisations over Easter. The NHS use forecasting techniques to predict demand and capacity for their services. This has been particularly important during the pandemic. In the January peak, NHS hospitals were caring for over 34,000 COVID-19 patients in England, approximately 80% higher than the first peak in 2020. Demand forecasting and mathematical models are being used to predict hospital bed demands frequently, tailored to specific hospitals, to help the NHS and government plan for future holiday periods such as Easter.

Demand forecasting is an effective approach that is being used by many businesses to plan for this year’s Easter holiday. Data-driven businesses can make well-informed decisions for the future, and as a result many will be better prepared this Easter.

Can we help with any aspect of your demand forecasting? Read our case study to find out how we have helped other companies with this.

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If you were thinking about submitting an abstract for the Enterprise Applications of the R Language Conference – you have just one week left to do so!

The conference is dedicated to the real-world usage of R with some of the world’s leading practitioners. If you use R in your organisation, then the EARL Conference is for you and your team. Whether you’re coding, wrangling data, leading a team of R users, or making data-driven decisions, EARL offers insights into the application of R that you can action in your company.

EARL 2021 will be held online on Friday 10th of September UK time, but we are pleased to welcome abstracts from across the world.

If you would like to share your work in R, please submit an abstract before the 31st of March here.

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The next LondonR session will be a workshop focused on ‘Text Analysis in R’.

The workshop will be hosted by Hannah Alexander and Elizabeth Brown on Tuesday 23rd March from 3.30pm-5.30pm (GMT).

In this introductory workshop, we will show you how to get started with analysing text data – from simple manipulation through to sentiment analysis. A good working knowledge of R programming is assumed and familiarity with basic analytic techniques and linear modelling is required.

Tickets to the session are free, if you would like to join, please register for a ticket here. 

If you’d like to find out more about our future events, click here.

Later this year The Enterprise Applications of the R Language Conference will be hosted online from 6-10th September 2021, to stay up-to-date join the maling list here.

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In 2014 we launched the EARL (Enterprise Application of the R Language) Conference aimed at connecting and inspiring business users of R, the increasingly popular open source statistical programming language. With the pre-eminence of data science, the adoption of data-driven approaches to commercial decision making and R’s versatility for modelling, machine learning, report generation and interactive visualisations, we have been fortunate in attracting some fascinating presentations in the past six years.

We are now planning for EARL 2021 and we are looking for an eighth conference-worth of inspiring and interesting presentations within any of the following categories:

  • Business use cases of R
  • Python and R
  • Green R – using R to better the environment
  • R in Production
  • Using R to understand COVID
  • R for Automation (automation of data pipeline, automation through package building etc)
  • R Packages developed for business
  • Shiny

We are also looking for 10-minute lightning talks on:

Data for good – the use of R in addressing, measuring or solving issues to better the world.

We asked some of 2019’s presenters what prompted their decision to speak, to share their experiences as presenters and for their advice to others who may be considering submitting an abstract for EARL 2021.

Why Present?

For Mitchell Stirling, Capacity and Modelling Manager at Heathrow Airport, the opportunity to present helped fulfil a professional ambition.  “I discussed with my line manager, slightly tongue in cheek, that it should be an ambition in 2019 when he signed off a conference attendance in Scotland the previous year. As the work I’d been doing developed in 2019 and the opportunity presented itself, I started to think “why not?”, this is interesting and if I can show it interestingly, hopefully, others would agree. I was slightly wary of the technical nature of the event, with my exposure to coding in R still better measured in minutes than hours (never mind days) but a reassurance that people would be interested in the ‘what’ and ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’, won me over”.

Dr Zhanna Mileeva, a Data Scientist at NBrown Group confirmed that making a contribution to the data science community was an important factor in her decision to submit an abstract: “After some research I found the EARL conference as a great cross-sector forum for R users to share Data Science, AI and ML engineering knowledge, discuss modern business problems and pathways to solutions. It was a fantastic opportunity to contribute to this community, learn from it and re-charge with some fresh ideas.”

In past years EARL has attracted speakers from across the globe and last year, Harold Selman, Lead Data Scientist at Ordina (NL) came from the Netherlands to speak at the conference. His motivation? “I knew the EARL conference as a visitor and had given some presentations in The Netherlands, so I decided to give it a shot. The staff of the EARL conference are very helpful and open to questions, which made being a speaker very pleasant.”

Some of our presenters have enjoyed the experience so much they have presented more than once.  Chris Billingham, Lead Data Scientist at Manchester Airport Group’s Digital Agency MAG-O, is one such speaker. “I’ve had the good fortune to present twice at EARL.  I saw it as an opportunity to challenge myself to present at the biggest R conference in the UK.”

What did you enjoy about presenting at EARL?

For many people, the idea of delivering a presentation before a large audience can be a pretty scary prospect, but our presenters all enjoyed the experience.  Chris Billington commented that “It allowed me to focus in not only doing a great piece of work in R, but also to ensure I could communicate that work (in front of a load of R experts). It was nerve wracking but a brilliant experience,” whilst Mitchell Stirling noted that  “While any public speaking should make anyone a little nervous no matter how many times they’ve stood up and done it, it was good to get past it and realise there was an appetite to hear what we had been doing at the airport “.

Zhanna Mileeva clearly suffered no nerves and “enjoyed every aspect of presenting at EARL: the atmosphere of the conference, its interactive audience with diverse background and experience, and brilliant organisation”.

Were there any specific goals you were seeking to achieve by presenting at EARL?

Presenter’s motivations for submitting an abstract vary for a conference can vary widely; some are motivated by personal development goals whilst others are keen to contribute to the community.  Zhanna’s motivations covered a range of objectives: “As a Data Scientist my goals were to learn as much as possible during three days of the conference to advance my personal and professional development and to bring the highlights and most interesting business stories back to my team at NBrown. Another aim I had in mind was to grow my network of professionals passionate about Data Science. And, of course, I wanted to take the opportunity to shout out about our company, its recent success and why we are different from other retailers.”

Harold Selman had a goal of “expanding my horizon as an international speaker” and Mitchell’s objective was “to almost prove to myself that I could do it in an environment where people didn’t know me and wouldn’t have been the type of audience that I’d have hand-picked to give a talk to on this subject”. Chris, meanwhile, had professional development in mind, “I knew that speaking at EARL was an environment conducive to trying new things out so felt comfortable continuing to push myself to be better.”

What benefits (personal or professional) were achieved by presenting at EARL?

Whether for individual gain or the greater good, there are many benefits available for those whose abstracts are accepted for the EARL agenda.  One immediate benefit is a free conference pass for the day on which the presentation is to be given, along with a free ticket for the popular Conference Evening Reception.  In Mitchell’s opinion, “the R community must talk about the work its members are doing. I was glad to play a small part in that. I hope that some people who saw my presentation would consider Heathrow as an employment choice in the future after understanding what we are looking at achieving through this type of work.”

Zhanna reported that she was “pleased with the outcomes of my participation as I achieved what I aimed for. Informal breaks allowed me to meet like-minded people and expand my professional network. And I have some new ideas of what I would like to try next in Data Science” whilst a second presenting opportunity allowed Chris  “to build on all the good things I learned the first time and really nail the delivery, whilst talking about a much more technical subject (albeit a humorous one!).”

Our final ask of the presenters was would they recommend speaking at EARL?  On this, they were unanimous:  Harold’s advice was “I would recommend you apply this year if you think you have an interesting story to tell. And don’t let keynote speakers scare you out of submitting an abstract, not all speakers can be keynote!”

Chris is already planning his third appearance at EARL, “I cannot recommend enough taking the opportunity to talk at EARL. It’s really well organised by the Mango team who ensure that everything goes to plan, the attendees are great listeners and challenge you with some of their questions but also you’ll learn so much about communication and how best to do that as a Data Scientist. I’m already thinking about what my next talk might be!”   

Zhanna was equally enthusiastic “I highly recommend presenting at EARL. It is a great opportunity for learning, networking, talking to subject matter experts and sharpening your presentation skill” and Mitchell enjoyed the opportunity to present so much that he’s agreed to deliver his talk again in March at the LondonR user group.

Hopefully, the candid comments and experiences of this small selection of 2019’s presenters will provide just the inspiration and encouragement that you need to submit an abstract for EARL 2021.  The deadline for submissions is the 31st March. EARL 2021 will be held online on Friday 10th September.

We look forward to hearing from you!