Gillian Docherty is Chief Executive of The Data Lab. She has over 23 years’ experience working in the IT sector and is responsible for delivering the strategic vision of The Data Lab , the aim of which is to create over 250 new jobs and to generate more than £100 million to Scotland’s economy.The Data Lab is one of eight innovation centres funded by the Scottish Funding Council and it supports the development of new data science capabilities in Scotland.
Working in the technology industry for almost 23 years, every day I learn something new. The pace of change has increased significantly and technology is changing everyone’s lives. The way we interact with our bodies, our friends and family, our doctors, our peers and colleagues is changed by technology advances and, with the internet of things, connected fridges and washing machines are on the way. In fact, it is predicted that there will be 20.8 billion connected ‘things’ by 2020.
I will share some of my journey to my current role as Chief Executive of The Data Lab and some of the fantastic opportunities I have had along the way and those I think are still to come.
When I was at school there were no computing courses until I was in my 6th year, but I really enjoyed sciences, maths and problem solving so it was a natural progression to take a module in computing when it became available. I was excited about the new opportunities computing enabled but wasn’t as visionary as Steve Jobs unfortunately. I followed that course by taking Computing at university and secured a graduate role at IBM. If I’m really honest, I wasn’t fully aware how important that decision was and how a whole world of opportunity would open up.
I started with IBM in Portsmouth, which seemed such a long way from Glasgow at the time, but I enjoyed joining with a graduate cohort where there was as many women as men. We had a lot of fun, the jobs were varied and we had lots of opportunity to move around and experience new departments. My role was as a technical specialist supporting systems from IBM and their clients, and the teams I worked in were some of the best in the world at what they did. So I had a great grounding in systems which ran FTSE 100 businesses.
I then took the opportunity to spend 3 months in IBM’s Almaden lab in San Jose when Silicon Valley was full of semi-conductor and manufacturing capabilities. Coming home an expert in a particular IBM product, I was asked to work directly with customers in IBM’s sales teams. I found getting to know different clients every day, understanding their problems and challenges really excited me and kept me motivated to keep learning and deliver value to the clients.
Working in London and Edinburgh I supported many clients, coached and mentored many new colleagues and every day was enthused by the possibilities of technology and I was amazed as it changed the world a little bit every day. For the last few years before joining The Data Lab I ran various parts of IBM’s business in Scotland including the hardware and software businesses – growing those businesses and building the right teams to support our clients.
In 2015 I had the possibility to make a big change, so after 22 years with IBM I resigned to join The Data Lab as chief executive. The Data Lab is an innovation centre helping Scottish businesses leverage the opportunity of data science and analytics with the intent of driving economic growth and high value jobs.
The opportunity to make a fundamental change to the Scottish landscape and work with some many diverse industry partners both in size and focus was too good to turn down. Each and every day I speak with new start-ups, to growing scale-out companies to large global corporates and evangelise about the possibilities leveraging data in new ways can open up.
You may be wondering what I mean by data science and analytics so a few examples may help.
Netflix is a data driven business, and a recent example of their data analysis drove what House of Cards trailer you may have seen. They created 10 trailers and you will have seen the trailer that was most relevant to you based on your viewing habits. They collect billions of data points every day and build algorithms to analyse everything you do and recommend new shows and also show you the most suitable and attractive trailers for shows that may be of interest.
IBM’s Watson (a cognitive system) was created as part of a research project in 2011, and its first outing was to win the US game show Jeopardy. It is now working with oncologists helping analyse and understand more complex cancer cases, ingesting data from every research paper, clinical trial and previous case histories. It helps oncologists diagnose complex cancer cases and recommend treatment pathways.
New Scottish startup Sansibles has developed ‘LiveSkin’ intelligent sensors for use in contact sports such as rugby. The sensors are fitted in players’ shoulder pads to capture data from collisions on the playing field. The data can then be wirelessly transferred in real-time to a specially designed app that sport coaches, physiotherapists and medics can use to monitor the force exerted by the athletes in a tackle or a scrummage, as well as examine how their bodies recover from injury. This information can be used to improve training regimes and rehabilitation programmes to better reflect how players recuperate.
Every day I come across Scottish companies using data in new and innovative ways and I am extremely positive about the opportunities to get involved in some exciting projects. Every day I continue to learn and appreciate how technology and data in particular is changing every aspect of our life.
Find out more about The Data Lab in this short film