Management changes unveiled at Scotland’s innovation centre for data and AI

Scotland’s innovation centre for data and artificial intelligence has appointed an interim chief executive to lead its 50-strong team.

Brian Hills takes up the role at The Data Lab following the recently announced departure of chief executive Gillian Docherty. He will be responsible for leading more than 50 staff and driving the growth of AI and data science skills across the academic and business community in Scotland.

In addition, Heather Thomson, head of skills, has joined the centre’s senior management team. A member of The Data Lab for three years, Thomson will work with Hills and the wider senior management team to extend the reach of The Data Lab “to ensure Scotland is seen as a world leader in AI and data science”.

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The centre, which operates through hubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness, is in the process of appointing a permanent chief executive and will announce the appointment in due course.

Brian Hills becomes interim CEO following the departure of Gillian Docherty OBE. Picture: Jane Barlow

Hills said: “This will be a pivotal year for The Data Lab as we continue to reinforce the power of data and AI to organisations. SME [small and medium-sized enterprise] recovery and growth following the pandemic are high on the agenda.

“Accelerating the value of data will undoubtedly be a contributing factor to the business community as part of this recovery, but there remains a lack of understanding on how firms can use data effectively.

“We will be looking at new ways that we can empower the sector to realise how data science and AI could contribute, while also opening up opportunities for growth.”

Thomson added: “The data skills gap feels like a significant hurdle to overcome for academia and business. However, there are many routes and pillars of support available for individuals and organisations to understand what they can do to better use data.

“Joining The Data Lab senior management team will put addressing this gap at the forefront of the centre’s growth strategy.”

Docherty announced her departure in November, to take up the role of chief commercial officer at the University of Strathclyde.

Les Bayne, chair of The Data Lab board, said at the time: “The work and programmes achieved under the leadership of Gillian over the last six years have made a considerable difference to Scotland’s AI and data sectors and set the tone for the future of the organisation.

“I extend my thanks to Gillian for her support and ambition, which has benefitted the centre and all who work for and with The Data Lab.”

The management changes come as the centre looks to make enhancements to its Data Lab Community - an online platform which launched last September. The community now has more than 900 members from some 25 countries regularly contributing and collaborating.

Hills added: “Over the last year we have seen the launch of several exciting programmes, however, the success of The Data Lab Community has been extraordinary bringing together individuals and organisations with a passion and interest in data and AI to share news, ideas and jobs so everyone can evolve. I see this continuing to grow and feeding into our growth strategy.”

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