Home  /  Meet our people  /  Meet Ivana Ilic Mestric, a Senior Data Scientist at the NCI Agency

Jun 28 2022

Meet Ivana Ilic Mestric, a Senior Data Scientist at the NCI Agency

As the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency) celebrates its 10-year anniversary, Senior Data Scientist Ivana Ilic Mestric is reflecting on her work as one of the founders of its Data Science and Artificial Intelligence team.

Ilic Mestric is a Croatian national based in The Hague, Netherlands. She joined the Agency as a Senior Data Scientist in 2016, and has since been involved in a range of data science projects across NATO. She has authored multiple scientific papers and actively participated in specialist conferences in the data science field to represent the Agency.

Meet Ivana Ilic Mestric, a Senior Data Scientist at the NCI Agency

Ilic Mestric brings eight years of industry experience to her role at the Agency. After completing her Masters in computer science in Zagreb, Croatia, she worked on projects related to data analysis and business intelligence across a range of industries, including finance, telecommunications, retail and defence. Later in her career, she focused her area of expertise on advanced data analytics and machine learning.

We sat down with Ilic Mestric to learn more about her impactful work and the role of data science in the future of the Agency.

What is your role at the Agency?

I focus on applications of data science. I make sure that the work we deliver within the Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) team brings value to end users across NATO. My role is very interesting, yet challenging, because it deals with the two key emerging and disruptive technologies of data and AI. I apply innovative approaches and complex algorithms to capture emerging technology trends and sift through large amounts of information to generate insights.

Data science wasn't yet an established function in the Agency when I joined, so I had the opportunity to be part of the creation of the Data Science and AI team. I was one of a few people that led the effort to bring this capability not just to the Agency, but also to NATO. We provided support to the operational community, for example, by using machine learning to extract insights from unstructured data and create a user-friendly dashboard for them. Our initial focus was on advanced data analytics, later machine learning and now AI.

What do you enjoy most about working at the Agency?

I enjoy the opportunity I have to apply my knowledge of data science and AI for the benefit of NATO and the Alliance. Data science is critical to helping maintain NATO's technological edge, so it is very rewarding to know that my passion for the field and my work directly contributes to this. I am also able to share my team's latest developments with the wider data science community through technical papers. This is a great opportunity to engage with and get feedback from other experts, which is important in such a fast-changing field.

Most of all, I enjoy shaping the next generation of NATO's data science and AI professionals. Through a combination of my technical knowledge, its application within NATO, and my leadership skills, I am able to effectively help lead and guide the young professionals in my team. We have some very exciting talent in the team and I enjoy working with them to produce innovative solutions and deliver knowledge and great results to NATO.

What has been your biggest contribution to the NATO mission?

My biggest contribution to NATO is spreading awareness of the importance of data science and data-driven decisions. As one of the founders of the data science and AI team, I have been working for many years to show how this technology can help NATO in different aspects of its mission. We are opening the eyes of the operational community to what data science can do, for example, operational readiness assessments, understanding the impact of future technologies, and visualizing resilience measures.

We now have a large team and the necessary tools to provide an effective service to many NATO bodies. As a result, we are part of a number of initiatives covering various aspects of data science such as imaging technologies and AI. These projects will be a significant contribution to the future strength of NATO and the Alliance.

Most recently, I led a project to identify the "weak signals" of new and emerging technologies that could be of interest to NATO. A weak signal is the first indicator of a change or an emerging issue that may become significant in the future. The findings of this project will be used to inform the North Atlantic Council, as part of the Chief Scientist's mission. This work will help detect future technological changes, which is crucial to making informed decisions. Early detection of new technologies enables NATO to prepare for the opportunities and threats they present.

Where do you see the Agency going in the next decade?

In the next 10 years, NATO will increasingly digitize and automate its activities. It will make use of technologies such as AI and automation tools to speed up its activities and make use of the data in its systems.

NATO also has an incredible amount of data at its disposal that must be put to use. That data will give decision-makers and staff additional support to better perform their roles. Easily accessible, accurate data is essential for Commanders to make the right decisions at the right time. As NATO's Agency for digital technology, the NCI Agency will be fundamental to making this happen.

Find us on