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Dr. Shruti Kohli | Lead Data Scientist | Innovation Lead | Innovation Lab, DWP Digital | Department for Work & Pensions

Dr. Shruti Kohli: Using Digital Skills and Power of Data Science to Make a Difference in Society

Leaders born with a knack to help people with sheer goodwill have tremendous capabilities to impact the lives of millions positively. These leaders are natural givers and understand how their work can create a disruptive transformation with their skills and expertise. Akin to such qualities is Dr. Shruti Kohli, the Lead Data Scientist, and Innovation Lead, who is passionate about helping people. She believes in supporting a significant change in the lives of millions of citizens, taxpayers, using the power of data science.

While Dr. Shruti joined the Civil Service in 2017, her feeling and motivation are as fresh as day one. Every morning there is a spring in her step to do more as she feels proud as a public servant applying her digital skills to make a difference in society. Dr. Shruti works for DWP Digital, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) technology arm. She drives innovative projects to support DWP services. The role involves working in close relationships with colleagues in digital, non-digital, cross-government to support technology-driven solutions that can help them serve better.

We at Insights Success caught up with Dr. Shruti to know more about her journey and her overall contribution to people’s lives through DWP Digital.

Below are the Highlights of the Interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at the company. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?

Overall, I have more than a decade of experience leading digital transformation, data innovation, leadership, and culture change projects. Being an academician in the past has given me a good appetite to learn quickly and share my learnings. I have always taken a proactive approach towards my learning and development, which I’ve brought into every workplace. I create new opportunities for myself and accept every opportunity that comes my way.

My career developments have come a long way in mentoring, leading data and tech-driven projects, and building relationships. I have always taken the initiative and time to enrich myself by using the civil-service learning framework, attending professional training such as the Oxford Leadership Executive program, and doing technical certifications to be a step ahead.

I’m a good listener, effective communicator, and confident individual who believes in the power of teamwork. I encourage my team to make decisions and support them, especially in critical times.

Managing the team has been an enriching experience; it has enhanced my situational leadership qualities; for example, I’ve simply learned when I need to be ‘on the balcony or the dance floor.’ Looking after the well-being and progress of the team and keeping their trust is very important for me. I see myself as an adaptive, but at the same time, authentic leader.

I go beyond the corporate mindset, which helps problem-solving and promotes creative thinking. Plus, over a decade of rich experience encompasses various challenges, e.g., stakeholder engagement, project deliverables, team motivation.

Here are a few highlights from my career journey so far:

  • Volunteering as a mentor in the GDS Data Science Accelerator program.
  • Promoting diversity and inclusion – Had been a Member of the Shadow Board representing the BAME community and participating and influencing the Digital Executive team and their engagements.
  • I’m a member of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) Women chapter. In addition, I’m also a member of our internal DWP Women’s Network. Both of these networks are focused on supporting and celebrating women in digital.
  • Cross-government – Regularly participating, speaking in public sector conferences, mentoring at civil service live events, and organizing meetups.
  • Supporting wider community – Universities on DWP Research interest, charities (e.g., DataKind)
  • Recently, I was shortlisted as the Innovator of the year by Women in Tech Excellence.
  • Initiated SAIL(Synthetic Data Analytics Innovation lab program) in the department and work got acknowledged and further idea got short listed in Civil

Tell us something more about the company and its mission and vision.

DWP is the UK’s biggest public service department. DWP has over 84,000 staff located across around 800 sites, supported by 15 agencies and public bodies that administer the State Pension and a range of working age, disability, and ill-health benefits. DWP provides support to 20 million claimants and customers.

The Departments’ key priorities are:

  • Running an effective welfare system that enables people to achieve financial independence by aiding and guidance into employment
  • Creating a fair and affordable welfare system that improves the life chances of children
  • Delivering outstanding services to our customers and claimants.

Enlighten us on how you have impacted the industry through your expertise in the market?

Leading an Innovation Lab in government is like an entrepreneurial venture, as our goals are different from the regular delivery teams. The projects are generally the first footer, challenging the perceived thinking. I recently triggered a synthetic data project in the lab to innovate the way the department shares and learns through external collaborations.

You can find out more about the work we’re doing at DWP’s Innovation Lab in our podcast episode:

Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.

Our organization uses a structured decision-making framework. Decision-makers work in an agile way and use their team perspectives and more information to distill their judgment. The department garners potential for digital technology to improve governance and decision-making as our ability to aggregate data and make an informed decision has been utterly revolutionized.

Being in the Innovation Lab, I would say, decision-making here is more revolutionary, and scope is more systemic than other businesses that are evolutionary and contained to their deliverables. Leaders are more engaged, communicative, and active listeners. This openness works as a catalyst for transforming organizational culture to accept more revolutionary decisions that would evolve the ways of working.

If given a chance, what change would you like to bring to the industry?

Open Sharing, leveraging Crowd Sourcing innovation.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run and what are your future goals for the company?

I see myself having grown both in expertise in my field as well as with the company. I want to continue to grow in my leadership role, contributing more to the organization’s growth. I want to continue using my technical and data science skills to lead projects transforming our society.

What would be your advice to budding women entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the industry?

Take ownership of your career. Dream big, grow your network, have a mentor at every step of your career. Having humility and strong will is a solid combo. Also, don’t forget to pull up others to grow with you.