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Gillian Docherty, Chief executive officer, The Data Lab

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, 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. As an innovation centre funded by the Scottish Funding Council, we are shaping the data science landscape in Scotland, assisting industry and public sector to leverage data in new ways. We have skills and talent programmes to help create the environment for investing in Scotland and we have built a very strong, robust and vibrant data science community. I am very fortunate to work as part of a great team at The Data Lab alongside our industry partners and stakeholders.

 

What has been the highlight of your career in the industry to date?

 

2018 was another amazing year with some unexpected and huge awards for The Data Lab, including winning Digital Leader of the Year UK and receiving an Honorary Doctorate in Science from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. It was the most amazing experience and very humbling to share the graduation ceremony with so many talented graduates embarking on their own careers. It was lovely to celebrate with my family as they do not often get to participate in events related to my work.

 

If you could give your younger self some advice about how to progress in this industry, what would it be?

 

Work hard, take opportunities and treat others as you wish to be treated. The industry is amazing - do not be put off by the challenging and difficult times. Be resilient and pick yourself up if things go wrong. Don’t ever lose your curiosity and creativity, these are immensely important. It was different to what I expected. During DataFest 2018, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal happened which brought data into conversations that would never have happened before. The implementation of GDPR further created discussion and debate, even if it was an eye-opener for the general public about how many companies had information about you or you had somehow signed up for in the past. I think this discussion and debate across society is really important if we are to maximise our value from data while doing so with the right ethics, morals and accountability.

 

What do you expect 2019 to be like for the industry?

 

I think 2019 there will be more detailed debate, investment and understanding of explainable algorithms, ethics and AI. This is a crucially important area we need to get right and, with the creation of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and the Ada Lovelace Institute, we will see this much-needed focus and debate. 2019 will also see more work to take the pilot or test data science and AI projects into production more broadly. This will mean organisations need to enable the capability to productionise and implement robustly.

 

Talent and skills are always a challenge to find - how are you tackling this in your organisation?

 

The Data Lab’s skills and talent programme continues to expand with our annual MSc cohort now supporting 155 students annually across 20-plus MSc courses across 11 Universities, alongside further investment in Industry co-sponsored Doctorates. We have also helped launch four online learning courses in 2018 with more to follow, as well as expanding our CPD and executive education offerings in data value and AI. We have also been supporting various schools programmes and look forward to an announcement in March of a competition we are very excited about.

 

What aspect of data, analytics or their use are you most optimistic about and why?

 

There are so many ways in which data can be used to derive value, I am most optimistic and hopeful of the impact it can make on our health and wellbeing. If we get that use right, with ethics at the heart, then we can make a significant difference in people’s lives. Data and analytics technology/service provider

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