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Gillian Docherty, chief executive, The Data Lab

Gillian Docherty

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 five years we have built an amazing team who are helping to drive value from data in Scotland. With a variety of programmes across innovation, skills and community, we have been helping to make a difference to Scotland’s economy and society.

We secured another £13.5 million of funding and we plan to launch various new programmes in 2020.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

2019 was a pretty special year and to share a trip to Buckingham Palace with family to receive an OBE made me and all my family and friends very proud. I was totally surprised when the letter arrived and wondered if it was a speeding ticket initially.

 

Who is your role model or the person you look to for inspiration?

I get a lot of inspiration from my nine year old daughter Charley, who is always challenging me to be better. I have had the privilege of supporting digital leaders and have been amazed watching Jacqueline de Rojas in action, a wonderful role model for so many.

 

 

Did 2019 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

When looking at 2019 I thought we would have more detailed debate, investment and understanding of explainable algorithms, ethics and AI. I think this did happen, but I am not sure whether we moved as many data science and AI projects from pilot to production as I would have expected.

 

 

What do you expect 2020 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

This year I really hope we get more SMEs engaged in using their data to drive value. We launched our “driving value from data” online learning course in January and we believe helping organisations to start asking the right questions and build from there is key. There will continue to be push around AI, ethics and automation but if we want to change the needle for the country, we need to take everyone with us.

 

Data and technology are changing business, the economy and society – what do you see as the biggest opportunity emerging from this?

There is opportunity in every sector. Considering some of the global challenges, I think the move to explore how data and technology can help us to address the climate emergency and healthy ageing is very positive to see. As I have heard mentioned, it doesn’t really matter how cool your algorithm is if we don’t have a sustainable planet. So, if we are to truly look at the biggest opportunity, surely it must be the use of these capabilities in those grand challenges.

 

What is the biggest tech challenge organisations face in ensuring data is at the heart of their digital transformation strategy?

The biggest challenge is getting started, for many the task seems just overwhelming, especially for businesses which have legacy systems. Getting started takes a combination of people, processes and tools. Answering the “where to start” question will be key. We need to enable organisations to do that, to ask the right questions, see where utilising their data will drive more value for the organisation. To do that they will need the right skills.

 

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