Women in data - Elizabeth Hollinger, Head of Analytics and Business Intelligence, Aggreko
The Data Driven Innovation (DDI) Women in Data campaign showcases the rich landscape of women working with data science, technology, innovation and related roles in Scotland’s booming data science and technology sectors, from digital education to astrophysics, students through to CEOs and MSPs.
Head of Analytics and Business Intelligence Elizabeth Hollinger is featured in DDI’s Women in Data campaign, where University of Edinburgh PhD sociology candidate Poppy Gerrard-Abbott interviewed her about Aggreko’s cutting-edge work, her passion for data and her thoughts on gender equality in the field.
The Women in Data campaign aims to provide role models, especially for women and girls around the City Region, showing that women are at the forefront of technological and scientific advancement in Scotland and challenging perceptions that scientific and innovation work is ‘just for men’.
Read the full interview below and join the conversation on social media @DataCapitalEd #WomeninData
Head of Analytics and Business Intelligence, Aggreko
"At Aggreko, we strive for diverse and inclusive teams and I love that"
Can you give us some insight into your journey to your current role now?
I studied maths and statistics at university and always enjoyed working with data and trying to understand patterns of information contained within them. I began my career in the insurance industry, joining Aegon in Edinburgh and studying to become an actuary. From there, I joined Deloitte in the actuarial consulting team and started to focus on analytics in insurance. Through that time, I gained exposure to other teams and projects and enjoyed the challenge of working across a variety of industries with different sets of data, communicating the messages contained within them and making a real impact on decision-making. I eventually led Deloitte’s analytics work across public sector, working with central and local government, healthcare, justice and education. I supported those organisations to set effective analytics strategies, define the right target operating models and develop a successful technology infrastructure.
In 2018, I joined Aggreko and am now Head of Analytics and Business Intelligence. Aggreko are a FTSE 250 company headquartered in Scotland, with 7,000 employees around the world and operations in 100 countries. All relevant data is centralised within my team and we use this data to empower our organisation to make insight-driven decisions. We store and transform our data in a central location and make it accessible via operational reports or analytical models. Our overall ambition is for Aggreko to become an insight-driven organisation, where data-driven decision making is at the heart of all we do.
Which university did you study at?
University of Strathclyde!
What has been the best opportunity in your career thus far?
I’ve been very fortunate, I love my career and I love what I do. When I left university, I had no idea what I wanted to work in, other than I wanted to work with data! I had a great grounding in data and analysis while I worked at Aegon that I built on during my time at Deloitte. Working in consulting helped me to understand the breadth of opportunity there is in working with data – I was lucky to have exposure to many different clients, organisations and challenges. It’s been such a privilege and pleasure to apply that the knowledge that I learned through my time in consulting to the role I have now.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My role has three components. The first is driving our overall data strategy, working collaboratively across our global organisation to understand where the opportunities are for data and insight to add true value to our organisation. The second part of my role is in making sure that we have the right tools, technologies and processes to be able to deliver insight in an effective way. And the third, and most important part, is supporting my team to be successful – providing them with the space to be innovative and equipping them with the right set of tools and experience to prosper.
Do you find your current role supportive of women?
It’s been my experience that there is a slightly better gender balance working with data than in many other IT roles. And I think that’s because it’s innovative and creative, so attracts a diverse group of people to work in the area. In my team we need people who are very technically strong and are expert in advanced modelling, but to be successful we also need people who have excellent communication and visualisation skills.
From an Aggreko perspective, we have a focus on fostering inclusion across our organisation which is supported up to Board level. We strive for diverse and inclusive teams and I love that – in my team we have colleagues from around the world. Gender is very important but is one part of my support for diversity.
Do challenges remain for women and girls for engineering and analytics?
Working in data and technology are generally male dominated industries, and in some organisations that can breed a ‘boys-club’ culture. Where that is the case, it can be challenging to create an inclusive team where woman feel equal and empowered. Organisations should proactively foster inclusive cultures to reduce these challenges and encourage females into the industry.
What would you recommend to women and girls who would like to do what you’re doing?
Be curious about what opportunities there are and be enthusiastic about pursuing what you are interested in. There is no one path into analytics, and people come through all different routes with different work and academic experiences. Do what you love because it makes everything easier.
And if you’re interested in working in analytics then get involved in the wide range of networks across Scotland, and make use of collaborative organisations like the Data Lab who can help you to connect to other data professionals.
What are you particularly proud of and passionate about?
I have a passion for data in general, in particular helping people to understand and use it to make better and more informed decisions. I think accessibility is vital.
At Aggreko, a highlight for me is how we have integrated machine learning models in our day-to-day working and core processes, which help our wider organisation to make the best decisions they can, informed by as much insight as we can provide.
Our team are sought out for our data expertise as a valued advisor across our global business and I’m very proud of that.
What are you looking forward to in your role and in the organisation?
Our short-term strategy is to enable our organisation access to all relevant operational information we collect and have access to. We are proactively building machine learning and deep learning models to summarise that information and make it available to help drive decision-making. Building on this knowledge, our long-term plan is to use our expertise in collaboration with our engineering capability to design and build products that continue to improve and innovate in the services we provide our customers.
What other exciting analysis techniques and technologies are you using?
In terms of our technology stack, most of our work is based in Azure, a cloud computing service provided by Microsoft. Within Azure we use SQL, Databricks, Python, PowerBI and some other tools to create our analytical models or operational reports.
In any of our projects, we always start off with descriptive statistics to make sure we understand the data set, have made the right assumptions, aggregated the data in the right way and we don’t have anomalous data. We then run through diagnostic analysis to understand relationships in the data, and where one factor may be influencing another. Once we’ve done this, we then carry out predictive analysis to help us to identify any potential future impacts and suggest the next best action to improve efficiency, reduce risk or enhance performance.
Is there anything you wish you could do more of in your work?
I’d like to play around with data more, but that sits with my team and my role is in setting the strategic direction then guiding and reviewing the analyses they do.
I am delighted with the impact my team is making and the value we are adding to Aggreko, however we continue to learn and adapt to do things better. For example, we are investing significant time with our various business SMEs to help us better understand their business processes and where a potential analytics solution can enhance their decision-making process. This makes sure that whatever analyses we produce is helpful and can accelerate delivery of value.
Is there anything that you would change in relation to gender representation and the challenges and opportunities that women and girls have in the field?
There is change but it is not yet at the pace it should be. We need to see further examples of strong female leaders in the analytics space, and better representation in general across senior roles and in the boardroom.
From early education, we need to show females that there are places for them in technology roles, providing encouragement and showcasing role models. Mentoring networks, exposure to successful females or ‘people like me,’ and advice in how to get there is essential for accelerating that gender balance. Throughout my career I have been lucky to have had excellent female mentors to look up to and help guide me to where I am now.
To finish up, do you have any heroes or heroines?
I recently read Michelle Obama’s autobiography, which was fantastic. She is incredibly honest about her life experiences; how she achieved the success she did; and what was difficult along the way. She is someone I look up to as an example of a strong female leader who has achieved great success through hard work and determination, and has managed to do so while maintaining authenticity and integrity.
The Women in Data campaign will release a report on the project and its major findings from the interviews, situated in a literature review of research on STEM gender equality in a Scottish and Edinburgh context. This will be available in December 2019 on the DDI website.
For more information and to read the interviews, please visit the DDI website.