SCOTLAND has a “one-off opportunity” to become a world-leading destination for data science, according to a former IBM executive.

Gillian Docherty held several roles with the American tech giant before becoming head of national data innovation centre The Data Lab.

Now she is calling for immediate action to prevent a skills shortage stifling growth.

Docherty said: “Big data is worth £216 million to the UK and could be responsible for 58,000 jobs by next year.

“Scotland is home to 11 of the UK’s 24 postgraduate data science courses as well as a very healthy tech sector, meaning that we are in an ideal position to become a global hub, in turn seeing considerable economic benefit.

“This is a one-off opportunity and there is a risk that others could take the lead if we do not join forces as a community to ensure we have a healthy and consistent talent pipeline.”

Docherty’s agency aims to create more than 250 tech jobs and boost the economy by £100 million.

Now it will bring industry and academia together with data scientists for Data Talent Scotland, a “collider event” designed to ensure the country does not miss the chance to lead the ongoing digital revolution.

Docherty said: “From research into the performance of elite sportspeople to developing personalised treatment for chronic illnesses, Scotland is home to some incredible data science and analytics projects.

“We are in a global market so we want to open people’s eyes to the opportunities on their doorstep and do more to support international students who are interested in putting their skills to use in Scotland after they graduate.”

Scotland is home to several technology incubators, including CodeBase in Edinburgh, the country’s largest, with TechCube also based in the capital.

The city is also the base for some of the country’s most successful digital start-ups, including travel giant Skyscanner, while Channel 4 games publishing arm All 4 Games recently launched in Glasgow.

There are 11 masters-level courses in data science in Scotland, increasing to 15 in 2016-17. Courses cover a range of domains including cyber security, the internet of things, finance, oil and gas and business.

Docherty says her event will allow representatives from all of Scotland’s existing postgraduate data science courses, plus four about to launch, to meet industry players.

Michael Young, head of digital recruitment specialists MBN Solutions, reports an increase in demand for highly skilled operators.

He said: “Demand for skilled data scientists is only going to increase in years to come so savvy businesses are looking at how they can attract people coming out of academia. However, it can be a time-consuming and challenging task for industry to tap into talent and research pools.

“This is a chance to do things differently so we are extremely excited by the prospect of bringing together the best, brightest and most talented people in our industry.”

Professor David Robertson, of Edinburgh University, said: “Now is a really exciting time to be involved in data science in Scotland and the key to making it work for the future is collaboration between industry, academia and the public sector.

“This event will help to build closer links between all three as well as giving students exposure to the business world as well as giving students exposure to the business world.

“It is also a great opportunity to showcase the collective strength of data science in our universities and encourage partnerships between our courses and industry.”