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Five minute profile: interview with Hugh Wallace

Selfie of Hugh Wallace and his two children with a blue sky background
Five minute profiles

Research Data Scotland

22 Mar 2024

We spoke to Hugh Wallace, Chief Information Officer, to find out more about his journey to RDS and what his role entails.

What’s your role at RDS and what does your typical workday involve?

I’m the Chief Information Officer at RDS, a role I’ve occupied since August 2022. Is it a cop out to say there is no typical workday? Because we’re still a relatively new organisation, it means there’s a bit of a movable feast when it comes to what happens on a day-to-day basis.

I have oversight of our digital service development, information governance, and our technical infrastructure. Any one of those areas can mean I’m immersed in the throws of delivery, or planning our strategic direction, or getting my head round a specific problem (given our newness, this often means things we’ve not encountered before), or in discussions with our wide array of partners. Variety is the spice of working life, although a few less Teams calls wouldn’t go amiss 😊 

What’s your background and how does it give you additional insight to your work at RDS?

I’ve been in digital roles since 1996, which makes me either a bit of a dinosaur or vastly experienced – you decide!

My career actually started in book publishing which gave me a brilliant grounding in (what we now call) content and design – and there are still elements from my time in publishing that come into my working life every day. The finality of having had to send a book off to print means I can be quite nerdy around details.

My digital roles span the education, charity, and arts and culture sectors, and I also spent four years in a commercial digital development agency. Before RDS, I was in a digital transformation role in Scottish Government for six years.

I’ve not deliberately flitted from one sector to another, and I’ve found that my roles have naturally blended in terms of responsibilities and ethos. I can draw a really strong line between those different areas and see how different approaches have (and sometimes haven’t) worked depending on how organisations are set up and how they function.

In my time I’ve worked with both extraordinarily large and ridiculously tiny budgets, and it’s always interesting to see the difference this can have on an organisation’s culture and output. It’s surprising what can be delivered when your cash and resources are relatively constrained.

“There's a huge amount of passion and commitment to developing new and groundbreaking ways of doing things”

What’s a highlight and a challenge of your role?

So many highlights. I genuinely love my role. And I’d say a big factor in this is having the autonomy and influence that, perhaps, hasn’t been as much of a factor in my previous roles. Another highlight is the team of people within RDS. There's a huge amount of passion and commitment to developing new and groundbreaking ways of doing things, and to ultimately make positive change happen.

The challenges are similar to aspects of every role I’ve had – working across lots of organisations, who each have their own baked-in ways of doing things, means there’s a fair amount of persuasion required and you have to be mindful of different risk tolerances and the impact of change. On saying that, there’s lots of support for RDS to help transform the way the data landscape looks in Scotland. 

What difference do you hope RDS will make? 

We focus a lot of our communications around speeding up and simplifying processes, so I hope that will be achieved in a way that’s genuinely embraced by the partners we work with, and the user base we’re trying to serve.

The long term difference, where there’s a tangible impact of the changes we’re making and how those play a part in developing new thinking, innovation and ultimately improvements to people’s health and wellbeing – is something I truly hope will transpire. 

What would be your "Mastermind" specialist subject?

I love music in general, and have a particular penchant for 80s electronica. So my specialist subject would probably be the enormous and underrated cultural impact of the Pet Shop Boys. 

Who, real-life or public figure, has inspired or motivated you in your career or life?   

Maybe a bit corny, but my mum and dad have had a huge influence on my day-to-day outlook. I maybe didn’t fully appreciate being dragged along to protest marches in my youth, but their commitment to social justice, and fairness, and for taking time to consider things from all angles has made a massive and ongoing impact on me. 

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