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Scotland seeks views on digital government

Scottish government consults on how to build a digital Scotland, ahead of plans to deliver a new digital strategy for the country

Scottish government has launched a consultation on a new digital strategy for the country, aiming to renew its “full potential in a digital world”.

The government wants to refresh its strategy to reflect the impact of the current Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and the changing digital world.

The consultation, which is a joint effort by Scottish government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said the pandemic has shown that the public sector needs to act at speed to develop and deliver new services.

“We can and must understand and respond to the incredible opportunity it presents us with, to build a Digital Scotland in which geography, background or ability is not a barrier to getting online and benefiting from digital technology, and we capitalise on digital’s potential to sustain and invigorate rural and island communities,” the consultation said.

It added that public services need to be re-invented to be more personal, accountable, adaptable, efficient and sustainable, and NHS and councils must be transformed into “true digital organisations with digital skills, cultures and operating models”.

Businesses must also be able to embrace the economic opportunities brought by digital, and the government wants to ensure the country’s tech sector is “an innovative one, successful internationally and involving enthusiastic partners in a network of digital and data talent”.

“People and businesses want services that are accessible and simple to use. They want them to be inclusive and designed around the needs of their users, rather than the organisational structures or traditions of the organisations that provide them,” the consultation said.

It added that to achieve this, government needs to collaborate to deliver end-to-end service journeys and create “the right conditions and a shared language”. It recognises that it will take time to deal with the challenges that come with working with and replacing existing systems.

“Modern government and organisations need to work together to reduce unnecessary duplication of work, improve the way they use data, and the way they deliver services to Scotland’s people.

“We can achieve this by working together to adopt shared scalable and flexible systems and processes, building the common platforms, and those that already exist; making them work for many different users and services and overcoming the issues of out of date systems and challenges of data sharing,” the consultation said.

Public services

A key focus is on transforming public services through reform programmes for several areas of government, including the NHS, social care, justice, learning, planning and agriculture and the rural communities.

 In each of these areas, a partnership of central government, local authorities and other stakeholders will work together to deliver a “net-zero society that is centred around the people who use our services to boost their well-being, and ensure it is easier to deal with government, at all levels, online”.

The government is also in the throes of developing a digital identity system for users, which can be used across services.

“This will improve a user’s access to services by providing a safe and secure way to prove their identity, while reducing time and cost for the public sector. Additionally, we will develop an inclusive approach for all users to ensure that offline services are available for those who are unable to use a digital service,” the report said.

The government will also create a digital service hub with a common catalogue of services and components that will be used as a default across the country, as well as a Scottish Digital Academy.

“This will be based on a common architecture, a joint approach to prioritisation, joint design, joint commissioning/procurement and joint governance, delivering efficiencies and simplifying people’s experience of working with and in government,” the consultation said.

It added that it will also explore “the potential for digital technology to better enable parliamentarians and elected council members to engage with constituents remotely to enhance the resilience of the democratic process; assist participation in local decision making and community councils; and to engage with overseas governments remotely to improve Scotland’s international influence”.

Supporting businesses

In May 2020, the Scottish government launched a short-term review of the country’s technology sector.

The review, which was led by former Skyscanner chief operating officer (COO) Mark Logan, was published in August 2020 and called for government to build out “a world-class backbone implementation of core capability”.

“Scotland should create a nationwide network of tech scaler centres. We recommend that these are initially created in six cities nationwide, for example: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling and Inverness,” the review said.

The tech scalers will provide “long-term affordable, high-quality incubation space” and education in a range of areas, including Silicon Valley business models, internet-economy working practices, how to manage people and teams and basic operating hygiene, and the government has already promised funding for five such centres.

The government also aims to attract national and international investment in testing, developing and commercialising new products and services “based on the potential offered by 5G and the internet of things (IoT)”, the consultation said.

The government will also “create a programme of data-driven innovation with The Data Lab, our universities, and the digital technologies industry, to maximise the economic and environmental opportunities presented by the high-quality sources of data that we have in Scotland”, as well as promote Scotland as a European centre for green datacentres.

“This will require us to capitalise on Scotland’s abundant natural resources to promote Scotland as a European centre for green datacentres to improve international and terrestrial fibre connectivity stimulate the market and incentivise commercial investment,” it said.

The government is seeking views and inputs on the consultation throughout autumn 2020 before publishing an updated digital strategy.

“Delivering this ambitious digital agenda is vital as we work manage and mitigate the considerable risks arising from EU exit,” it said.

“The Scottish government is clear about the challenges post-Brexit barriers will create – to trading with the world’s biggest market, to attracting EU talent so vital to our technology sector’s success, to collaborating across borders on research and data-driven innovation, based on shared values, ethics and goals.”

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