Transforming Digital Public Services: Working with the Digital Technologies Industry Conference
Attracting around 150 people from Scotland’s vibrant digital tech and ICT industry, this event explored the opportunities and challenges in transforming digital public services through collaboration with the industry.
Everyone was encouraged to share their ideas on how government, the public sector and industry can work more closely, and strategically, in delivering this important agenda, thereby unlocking hitherto untapped synergies.
Sarah Davidson, SG Director-General for Communities, set out the Scottish Government’s vision for digitally-transformed public services designed with users and based on their needs. As a driver of public service reform, digital transformation is already underway but there is scope to go much further and faster. The priority is therefore to accelerate the pace of transformation.
The aim was to engage industry on the big challenges. By harvesting their ideas and expertise, we can enhance public services and tackle common challenges such as closing the digital skills gap.
With challenge panels and interactive workshops on a variety of themes, the event was highly interactive and often challenging. Thematic workshops focused on: the Scottish Approach to designing with, not for, citizens; achieving collaboration and value for money through the cloud; procurement reform; embedding a culture of cyber resilience across the supply chain; and disruptive technologies and innovation in the public sector.
The morning speakers outlined the approaches to digital transformation in health, local government and central government sectors, distilling the insights and lessons learned. Challenge panel themes focused on maximising the skills base and adopting a multi-agency approach to delivering transformation.
As expected, the skills agenda was a common thread throughout the day. The criticality of growing and retaining talent within organisations was underlined as essential for public and private sectors alike, as was having a good balance of skills – not just coding skills, but service design and the range of soft skills as well.
The case was made for building a skilled workforce by up-skilling and re-skilling existing staff for digital roles, combined with modern apprenticeships and graduate recruitment, across both sectors. Also, we need to think harder about, and plan for, future skills requirements.
Growing a pipeline of young talent, greater engagement with school-age children and the need to ensure the education curriculum is constantly updated to keep pace with fast-changing digital technology were identified as priorities.
Among issues raised in discussion were: how can the public sector support SME’s and start-ups in competing for their business? Engaging industry “upstream”, to build awareness of opportunities and potential solutions before the procurement stage could be beneficial. On the theme of procurement, how do we promote innovation and flexibility in this field while also working better within the existing framework of rules and regulations?
Reflecting the primacy of user needs, the audience’s thoughts turned to how you engage users in digital service design. It was recognised that digital transformation can play an important role in supporting citizen participation through co-production with users.
Optimising the value of data also exercised minds. It was acknowledged that ownership of data often presents a barrier to data sharing. As the public sector holds a huge bank of data, how do you maximise the value from this? What are the opportunities for business from the public sector opening up the data it holds? And how can the public sector generate income from this important asset, rather than simply focusing on cost savings?
Constrained resources necessitate imaginative solutions. One potential solution could be the public sector adopting a spend and save approach. Building digital platforms that can be shared and re-used offer the potential to drive down costs over time, allowing the public sector to re-invest resources in improving front-line services.
There was also general agreement that the public sector needs to continue to develop its approach to disruptive technologies, push the boundaries of innovation, embrace lean and agile working structures and challenge a culture of risk-aversion where it exists.
So overall, a highly productive day for participants, as well as an excellent networking opportunity for all. And while there are a host of challenges ahead, there is, reassuringly, the collective will to work together to address these.
The priority is now to build on this momentum; to sustain and deepen our engagement with industry, so their expertise is utilised more within the Scottish public sector. The ScotlandIS LinkedIn sub-group will be used as a liaison forum for public sector organisations and businesses. If you have an interest, feel free to join this group.
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