This week, I attended DataFest21, which is now in its fifth year. It was the first hybrid event with more than 700 people registered online and 94 attending in person at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh.

The event showcased Scotland’s leading role in data science and artificial intelligence and featured on-point, inspiring speakers.

Those who take part can interact with local and international talent, industry, academia and data enthusiasts, so it’s a fantastic networking platform.

At HIE, we’re working closely with The Data Lab, which was set up to respond to the needs of SMEs and particular sectors as well as the challenges they face as a result of the pandemic. We want to ensure that our region benefits from the growing market opportunities in data science.

The Data Lab’s business development executive, Karen O’Hanlon attended the event in person to promote our new Data Drive HIE programme. The two-year programme of support aims to scale the use of data and AI to accelerate digital transformation and contribute to a green recovery.

More info on how to get more out of your data and case studies on who we’ve helped can be found at

It was the last DataFest to be hosted by Gillian Docherty, the current CEO of The Data Lab, Scotland’s data innovation centre, before she moves on to become Commercial Operations Director at the University of Strathclyde. 

Scotland First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, attended and spoke about the importance of quality data to decision-making during the pandemic and that the ethical use of data will be critical to life, society and the economy going forward. 

Three things that the Scottish Government will continue to support and invest in:

  • Scotland’s tech sector and the adoption of digital technology across all sectors, reinforcing the importance of digital technology during the pandemic;

  • Implementing the recommendations in the Scottish Technology EcoSystem Review (STER), initially the £42m TechScaler network, which will provide the national infrastructure to support tech start-ups but important scale-ups;

  • Data and Artificial Intelligence – support for The Data Lab, the new AI Strategy and ethical use of data.

However, the key points for me in both the speech and the Q&A with the FM was that “data is central to tackling the defining challenges of our time” and that we should all try to approach recovery from the pandemic with optimism and hope.

A lot has already been achieved in realising data potential in the Highlands and Islands, but it is really important that we build on that success and use data innovation to deliver real economic, social and environmental benefits throughout the country.

The opportunities from the data revolution are enormous and we want to ensure that the Highlands and Islands is best placed to exploit them.

It’s great to partner with The Data Lab and we look forward to expanding our joint work further to support the community in the region on their digital journey.

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