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Gillian Docherty, chief executive officer, The Data Lab

Gillian Docherty, chief executive officer, The Data Lab

How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?

 

The Data Lab is Scotland’s innovation centre for data science and artificial intelligence. Our mission is to help Scotland maximise the value of data and lead the world to a data-powered future. So our main role is to help others on their data journey through innovation. We have a number of services, such as collaborative innovation projects with academia or our data scientists, our Masters scholarships, professional development and online learning. We use our data to inform our services and their effectiveness in driving economic and social benefit for Scotland.

 

2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?

 

It really was a challenging year for all. We were very fortunate in that we continued to work throughout the pandemic and we also supported a number of Covid-19 projects in Scotland. These included working on the Connecting Scotland project getting devices, connectivity and training to people across the country who were not online.

 

We also worked with several organisations securing innovation funding for Covid-19-related activities, such as Game Doctor which has developed mobile games to inform children. We also supported a project helping to measure directly the economic impact of Covid-19 with the Global Open Finance Centre of Excellence.

 

Our other services continued throughout and we pivoted most in-person activities to be delivered online, such as our Innovation Challenge Week for our Masters cohort. DataFest (our two-week data festival) unfortunately was cancelled part-way through in March and we hope to bring that back in virtual and hybrid form in 2021.

 

Our team has been amazing and worked really hard throughout. I am really proud of them all and they surprise me every day with their efforts and hard work to help others

Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?

 

Our goal is to help others, so we are expecting to work with more companies and organisations and support them as they go on their data journeys. We will continue to explore innovative ways to support more organisations and help drive the economic recovery we need following the pandemic. We will use our own data to help determine what we do and how we do it. Our key measure of success is the impact we can have in terms of driving new jobs, helping organisations become more productive or operationally efficient and bring new products and services to the market.

 

Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?

 

Yes, many of our projects involve data for good, whether that is with our public partners such as NHS or with our third sector partners. We have recently launched a new challenge for data in care homes and we hope that will bring new innovations in 2021 to help support our care home residents with improved holistic care. We also support the Scottish Tech Army which was formed in 2020 with over 1,000 tech volunteers working on projects supporting third sector and others throughout the pandemic.

What has been your path to power?

 

I joined IBM directly after completing a computing science degree at Glasgow University. I held a variety of technical and sales positions, supporting IBM clients across the UK, and spent several years working in the financial sector in London. I had significant opportunities to grow and learn and enjoyed the various roles and leading some significant opportunities. From 2005 onwards, I held several leadership roles in IBM’s business units in Scotland, including running the hardware business, client-facing teams and, latterly, the software business.

 

I joined The Data Lab as CEO in June 2015, which was a very exciting challenge for me. Over the past six years, we have built an amazing team which is helping to drive value from data in Scotland. I am extremely motivated to help organisations and individuals through the work we do at The Data Lab and I believe I have one of the best jobs in the world. We get to make a real difference and to help others be successful is just a wonderful way to spend your day.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

I was very fortunate to be awarded an OBE in 2019 for Services to Information Technology and Business and had a lovely day out with my family at Buckingham Palace.

 

Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?

 

We have been supporting the Scottish Government on the development of an AI Strategy for Scotland which will be published in 2021. I am really excited about the opportunity for Scotland to build and use AI to help our citizens. The strategy will focus on helping us to deliver the National Performance Framework objectives. I am also very keen on the various projects we are involved in which will help us towards Net Zero, probably the most important challenge for us all.

How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?

 

For us, we are a data enabler and therefore for us it is everything. We also work to help others on their data journey, so we try every day to inform, educate and help others to recognise the value. One of the key things that we have found that is critically important is the awareness and understanding at board, senior exec and management - their leadership is essential for an organisation to become data-driven.

 

Other aspects are important, too, including technical skills. But without that leadership many projects will fail to gather the support and investment required to be successful. We have completed some work on organisational readiness for data projects and from the analysis we have done, one area we have found increasingly important is culture - get the culture of the organisation right to enable data innovation.

 

Across the different industries we work with, we do see a pattern in terms of collective industry readiness and some are more closely aligned that others. We hope to see more industries drive value from data.

 

What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?

 

Culture is one of seven areas of organisational readiness we have identified. I think there are several aspects of a good data culture which also align with the willingness and support to innovate. Several areas I think are important to develop: creativity and curiosity, innovation active, test and scale, and no fear of failure. It is as important within the leadership of the organisation as it is across the teams.

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