Gillian Docherty, The Data Lab CEO

Written by Alan Robertson on 3 December 2015 in Feature

For 100 days, Connect is running through our Tech 100 for 2015, profiling the key figures driving the digital agenda in Scotland

Gillian Docherty (@gilliandoc)

Job Title/Organisation: CEO, The Data Lab

What does your role involve?

I contribute to the strategic vision set forward by The Data Lab Board and I am responsible for translating strategic vision into delivery. The Data Lab is one of eight innovation centres funded by the Scottish Funding Council to drive innovation in Scotland to enable economic and social benefit and the creation of high value jobs. The Data Lab focuses on helping both industry and public sector innovate through the use of data science and analytics.

We work with industry and the public sector to shape innovation projects which we match with leading academics. We can part-fund these projects and our independent industry advisory board approves our project investments. We have a responsibility to create the right skills and nurture talent in Scotland to be able to take advantage of the possibilities data science has to offer.

I have lead the implementation of The Data Lab (infrastructure, facilities and people) and developing the culture and values. We work directly with industry, public sector and academia and to bring these communities together to enable innovation.

Working closely with both our main board, industry and education advisory boards, we create the processes that ensure the multi-hub structure of The Data Lab operate as a cohesive single organisation.

I have responsibility for ensuring we work with other partners in the innovation landscape across Scotland including the other innovation centres, Scottish Enterprise, Highland and Islands Enterprise, Interface and several others. More broadly we engage with other organisations such as the Digital Catapult, Innovate UK and Horizon 2020. I ensure we have high-level global presence at relevant conferences, promoting and disseminating the Data Lab’s success stories.

What do you consider to be the most imminent challenge in your line of work?

The most imminent challenge for industry and the public sector is the vast possibilities available by leveraging innovative data science techniques to create new businesses, new products or services and improve operational efficiency.

The digital world we now live in presents no borders or boundaries for innovation and the challenge for every one of us is to innovate in our own environments. New businesses are disrupting whole industries and in many cases data is at the heart of that innovation.  

A consultation by Optimat and CEBR predict the opportunity for Scotland by 2017 by leveraging data is £18bn, but to enable that level of impact we need to embrace change in the way we do things, in the businesses we create or the public services we deliver. As Albert Einstein said: ‘The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

What has been the most rewarding piece of work you've undertaken?

There probably is not one piece of work which has been more rewarding that any other but I am very positive about the progress we have made in the last six months. We have approved funding for 12 projects with industry, across entrepreneurs, SMEs and large enterprises, and our teams are now working actively across those projects to drive data innovation for these organisations.

We had our first 40 MSc in Data Science students begin at our partner universities - Stirling, RGU and Dundee - and we have had significant interest from industry and public sector organisations to work with those students on projects and placement opportunities.

Our community activity is building and at a recent Data Science Tech Meet-up we hosted in conjunction with MBN Solutions we had over 100 attendees interested in working together as volunteer data scientists to work with the third sector and charities to leverage their data skills for societal good. I am looking forward to many of our projects and activity materialising in job creation and economic benefit for the industry partners we are working with.

How can Scotland bridge the digital skills gap?

There are many aspects to bridging this gap from attracting more children into STEM subjects and ultimately careers, providing the right enablement for all citizens to participate using digital technology, and to attract and keep talent in Scotland. Considering we have so much to do across these areas, it is imperative that we work collectively at a national level. There are some great pockets of activity but it is not joined up.

Some of this includes industry engagement at school level to help children understand the possible careers in technology, work with charities and third sector to enable citizens to get digital education. There is also significant activity to create the right talent by Scottish Funding Council and our academic institutions, Skills Development Scotland with Foundation and Modern Apprenticeships and activity such as CodeClan to fast-track new software engineers.

We are also playing a small part at The Data Lab with sponsored MSc Data Science places, co-sponsored PhDs with industry and the delivery and co-ordination of online learning and MOOCs in different aspects of data science. All great activity but no one place has a holistic view of this or how we take what is working well to other areas. 

Which new technology excites you the most?

I love hearing stories or anecdotes of how organisations are leveraging their data to drive business benefit, social good or patient outcomes. Data can be used and leveraged to improve customer experience and citizen engagement but when you see how linking and analysing data can save lives it is very powerful.

At an event recently we heard several new start-up companies and although all in different sectors and industries the core theme running through their business models was ‘it is all about the data’.

Internet of Things (IoT), improving health outcomes, citizen engagement, marketing segments of one (the individual) all leverage data. It is impossible not to get excited by the possibilities. 

What's your favourite app and why?

I don’t think I can pick one. I love any app which helps you do something more efficiently or engage in a better way. I regularly use around 25 apps (so too many to mention) which help me navigate through my day and enable me to learn and interact more efficiently.

One thing I did find really valuable recently was the feature on iOS in which you can select text - anything from a document, a web page, a book, social media etc - and ask the phone to speak it to you. I needed to read some papers, was travelling (by train) but I was tired and didn’t want to spend another 40 minutes on the screen so I got the text read to me. A really useful feature for all busy people to be able to listen (in car, train or anywhere) without having to read a screen.

What, for you, will 2016 be the year of from a technology/digital standpoint?

2016 happens to be the Year of Innovation and Architecture in Scotland so I am looking forward to seeing more innovation in the technology and digital worlds and it would be great for it to come from Scotland. Virtual and augmented reality, Internet of Things, data-driven enterprises are the three which excite me the most. 2016… here we come. 

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