I am a serial entrepreneur and CEO, and recently co-founded my fifth data technology start-up, Vistalworks, which develops software tools and analytics to detect illicit trade and protect consumers from fake, banned and dangerous goods online.
I also founded Clear Returns, which produced analytics software to understand and reduce the return rates of large retailers. It was named Top Tech Startup in Europe by the European Commission.
As a pioneer in web analytics, including setting up HP’s EMEA measurement technology and delivering Google Analytics’ earliest training programmes outside the US, I was elected to the board of the Web Analytics Association, remain a board director emeritus of the Digital Analytics Association, and sit on the board of the Open Knowledge Foundation.
I was also named Inspiring Woman of the Year at the 2019 Scotland Women in Tech Awards, Most Inspiring Business Person at the 2017 Entrepreneurial Scotland Awards, won Innovator of the Year at the 2014 FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards, and I was named by Computer Weekly as one of its Top 50 Women in IT. I am also an ambassador for Women’s Enterprise Scotland.
It is probably that I have a career as a tech CEO at all. I don’t come from a business background. I was the first of my family to go to university and despite having learned to code as a kid, I studied arts not science. But data found me anyway.
Over the years I have created my own opportunities and found a world I didn’t know existed. These days I get a lot of personal satisfaction from trying to extend a hand to others who may not have the access, network or the confidence to take those first steps.
Dennis Mortensen, CEO of X.ai inspires new invention in me and always elevates my ambition. Gillian Doherty at DataLab and Catherine Stihler at Open Knowledge Foundation amaze me with the impact they create. Then there’s the wonderful people who catch me when I fall and help me to get back up again.
I’m still in shock about the UK’s direction since 2016, and I hoped going in to 2019 that sanity would somehow prevail. But I am an entrepreneur and problem solver – I always find a way to keep going.
So, I became an e-resident of Estonia, which I could never have predicted as I had no preceding connections to the country, and I have since started a sister company to Vistalworks based in Tallinn.
I ended 2019 as a proud and enthusiastic e-resident member of the most digitally literate and digitally engaged country on the planet and found my second “data-home”.
I hope that 2020 is the year we finally bring our ethics and morals into decision making and remember that just because we can, doesn’t always mean we should – we should have accountability to those whose data we use, to ensure we do so responsibly.
Regardless of the UK’s position in the EU, and the hurdles of finding new ways to co-operate cross border with data, we benefit from an enviable legislative framework around protecting citizen data. That is causing at least some of the big platforms to reconsider previous practices of stripping and storing all consumer data without consent.
I believe responsible data analytics doesn’t have to mean commercial suicide and there are emerging opportunities for businesses prepared to take a more transparent and consensual approach.
Corporates have made fortunes by “black-boxing” their data processes in ways that feel threatening because they are unknowable and unaccountable. But once background levels of data literacy increase in a society, that behaviour becomes less acceptable. I hope we are at least closer to the point where the exchange of data and its associated value becomes fairer, with citizens and societies willing to share specific data with businesses because they gain meaningful value.
Organisations face a basic data literacy challenge, rather than a technical one. I have worked in data analytics since it moved online, and direct marketing analytics before that. The problems haven’t changed. We throw tools and technology at data and expect meaningful solutions.
The smartest tools on the planet cannot offer an answer if as humans we haven’t fully thought about where we’re going, why we are doing what we are doing, who is impacted and what we intend to achieve. Technology is the last part of a digital transformation strategy, yet we tend to put it first.