Showcasing the Best of Welsh Business


Business News Wales Meets: Dr Debbie Garside, CEO, GeoLang


Business News Wales had the chance to speak to Dr Debbie Garside, CEO of GeoLang.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional background

With more than 25 years’ experience as managing director of my own companies in various fields, I have been described as a “serial entrepreneur”, though I prefer to describe myself as an innovation engineer.

In 2009 I was selected as the first Prince of Wales Innovation Scholar and awarded £100,000 to conduct innovative research into human visual perception in cyber security.

I completed my PhD in Computer Science and Linguistics at the University of Wales, Cardiff in 2017.

My advisory board appointments have included:

  • Knowledge Transfer Network (defence and security advisory board)
  • HPC Wales
  • Wikimedia Foundation

I am an international expert in language encoding and was a BSI and ISO chair and editor of two international standards.

What is GeoLang and what’s your role within the organisation?

GeoLang is an award-winning Cardiff-based software development company specialising in the field of enterprise security and digital resilience.

We offer industry leading information management solutions to help organisations manage and protect their sensitive and high-value information across the enterprise – including on-premise, hybrid or in the cloud.

As leaders in the field of data protection and cyber security, we pride ourselves on delivering elegant and simple to deploy and use yet highly scalable, cost-effective solutions that will protect an organisations sensitive data in real time.

I am the co-founder and CEO of GeoLang, and over the last five years, alongside my engineering team, we have developed our innovative data discovery and data loss prevention platform, Ascema.

What are your plans for the next five years and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?

We are currently working to a product roadmap, which will see us moving into closing the loop around content-level protection and cloud security with the development of Acsema CASB (cloud access security broker).

Our challenges are the same as any SME moving towards enterprise status, which are to put the right systems and processes in place to ensure we can continue to grow and succeed.

For small British companies it is a hard journey, fraught with difficulties, to bring a new technology to market.

We are extremely fortunate that we have recently been acquired by the Shearwater Group who are assisting with our plans to scale. With the support of the Shearwater Group we are confident we can meet pretty much any challenge.

What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?

Honesty is a great quality in business; if you are who you say you are and do what you say you do you can’t go far wrong.

Innovation is another important quality for success. You should never stop innovating.

Having the right staff is crucial for success. I talk about ‘Team GeoLang’ because I firmly believe our staff is our company.

We have excellent technology but it’s as a result of the people working here. Businesses must take the time to get the process right, to make sure they recruit the right people and then do their utmost to retain them.

What does the future of cyber security look like?

When it comes to cyber-attacks we are going to see ever more advanced and insidious threats targeted at all levels – individuals, enterprises, governments and even infrastructure.

Cyber attackers will increasingly use machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to discover and exploit new vulnerabilities.

This means defenders will have to become more strategic in their thinking and combine machine learning with human intellect and intuition to understand these new risks and anticipate where they might come from.

I believe the future of cybersecurity lies in digital resilience, which is an organisation’s ability to maintain, change or recover technology-dependent operational capability.

In a constantly evolving digital environment, organisations must be able to move quickly and seamlessly to adopt new digital technology solutions and then to recover, rebound and move forward if things go wrong.  Getting the simple things right first is a must such as invoking an update policy for software patches and making sure firewalls are up to date – it seems simple but remains highly effective.

Are there any innovations within your sector that you believe should be adopted by the wider Welsh market?

I definitely think every Welsh business and organisation should adopt data discovery solutions.

Many simply don’t have a clue as to where their sensitive data resides and if they don’t know where it is, or even if they have it, they can’t even begin to protect it.

Of course, with the recent focus on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), knowing where data resides has become even more important.

A simple to use, elegant and affordable data discovery solution should be the starting point for every business and organisation.

What skills should the education system be promoting to the next generation?

When it comes to ICT coding should not be the only focus. We have a skills shortage across the board in the sector, yet the focus in schools is on coding, which can be off-putting to many students, especially girls.

Problem solving in context is the key skill that needs to be promoted in the education system. All businesses, not just those involved in ICT or cyber security, need people who are able to map out problems and visualise solutions.

That’s the main skill that’s missing and it shouldn’t be because it is very easily teachable.

Do you have any predictions in regards to the impact of Brexit on your sector?

It’s hard to know what impact Brexit will have on any sector because, despite being more than 18 months on from the referendum result and just six months away from leaving the EU, we are still no clearer on what the final deal will look like.

It is important that UK businesses know that whatever happens the GDPR will still apply.

Even if it hadn’t been adopted as UK law in the 2018 Data Protection Act, it would still affect anyone dealing with EU businesses anyway.

There are concerns that Brexit could have an impact on the fight against cybercrime, especially as it is not clear what the UK’s relationship with Europol – the EU’s cross-border law enforcement agency – will be after Brexit.

But my biggest concern is with skills shortages. There are already shortages in the sector, even before the Brexit vote, and often companies are recruiting from Europe and globally.

Whatever our future relationship with the EU looks like, we need to ensure people of all skill levels aren’t put off coming here to work.

What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?

Wales and Cardiff in particular have a very good profile when it comes to cyber security. I think that needs to be built upon. Although people are hearing about Cardiff being a cyber security hub there’s not much joined up thinking and business going on between the companies that comprise the sector, other than a select few.  So we need something that will bring businesses together to help each other and provide actual solutions to real world problems. It is currently easy to get lost in a lot of hot air. I hope the Cardiff University Cyber Security Centre of Excellence, recently announced, will foster engagement with local SMEs so that research doesn’t sit on shelves gathering dust as is all too often the case with university research in general.

We also need to make it easier for businesses to apply for assistance – grant funding goes a long way to attract companies to Walesbut we need to keep them here. EU and government funding should be utilised more for businesses and made more accessible to local growth businesses.  There is some really good work being done currently in this area by Welsh Government and Innovation Point as well as the Accelerated Growth Programme but there is always room for far more support in terms of access to funding for innovation and bid writing.  Wales’ success rate in terms of H2020 was not good before the Brexit vote and since has reduced dramatically (across the UK too!). This needs to be addressed.  We need to be planning now in terms of how we are going to support innovation within SMEs in the future post Brexit.