Claude Wangen -

Scottish local government prioritises automation and AI in digital plan

Use of the technologies will be ramped up as part of the next phase of the Digital Office 2.0 programme

The Digital Office of Scottish Local Government has outlined greater focus on robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) as part of the priorities in the business plan it has published.

According to the document, released as the office launched its Digital Office 2.0 programme, the aim is to “inspire and influence” key stakeholders in the potential to use the technologies, as well as identifying suitable training opportunities. Increased use of RPA and AI is expected to increase productivity and reduce costs for councils.

The document refers to the next phase of the digital plan for local authorities, which has concluded its original three-year term. According to the document, all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities are supporting the vision.

Within the next couple of years, the goal is to work with procurement organisation Scotland Excel during the specified timeframes to develop a common approach to buying, implementing and sharing the solutions based on the approach, according to the Digital Office.

The idea is to also build a pipeline of common business issues that the technologies, which would be developed in a collaborative approach, would address. Defining a common set of service design and technical principles and standards for implementing online services is another priority set out in the business plan.

Despite the progress achieved by Scotland's Digital Office so far, such as proving the concept of several programmes with particular success in areas such as GDPR preparation, cyber security and digital telecare, there are a number of challenges. Reflecting on the work delivered so far, the report noted weaknesses around the work delivered by the Digital Partnership.

According to the report, the scope being too large and complex and requires more focus. Reduced funding is among the issues noted, as well as confusion in some local authorities when it comes to the role of supporting agencies in the delivery of digital for Scottish councils.

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A separate report published by Audit Scotland in June 2019 noted that the country needs stronger leadership if it is to further the digitisation of public services and address issues such as lack of clarity in terms of investment required to drive the digital strategy, as well as the absence of a clear picture of money being spent on digital projects across the various departments and bodies.

“Scotland’s relatively small size presents a clear opportunity for the government to move from an operational role to one of strategic leadership, and reap all the benefits that shift could bring to citizens and the wider economy,” said Caroline Gardner, auditor general for Scotland.

Local government in Scotland has “often viewed [digital] as a dark art or an elephant in the room”, Martyn Wallace, chief digital officer for the Scottish Local Government Digital Office, told Computer Weekly in May 2018. He has a mindset change around digital in Scottish councils as one of his key objectives.

“Digital is here and it’s not going away – it’s going to happen. So you must embrace change and get on with it, or you’re going to be consumed by the transformation that’s taking place,” he said at the time.

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