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Dynamic Digital Focus Lies Ahead for Scottish Local Authorities

Ross Kelly

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digital office

Artificial intelligence and robotic process automation could play a critical role in boosting digital services for Scottish citizens. 

The Digital Office for Scottish Local Government has announced it will place a stronger focus on emerging technologies, the development of digital transformation capabilities and the delivery of sector-wide digital programmes for local government.  

The Digital Office 2.0 2019-2021 business plan lays out its strategic priorities for the next two years, which include plans to accelerate the use of technology to provide digital services for citizens across the country.  

A key focus of the Office’s new vision will be the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA), which could provide great boosts to council productivity while helping to reduce costs. 

The Digital Office was set up in October 2016 following exploratory efforts to improve digital transformation strategies among local authorities. Since its formation, all 32 local authorities in Scotland have gone on to join the digital partnership and it continues to gain traction, says chief digital officer Martyn Wallace. 

“This was a joint endeavour to create a team focused on accelerating and transforming services across local government in Scotland,” he notes. “We’ve since gone on to implement some of these ideas and, over the past three years, we’ve made great progress.”

Moving forward, Wallace says the Digital Office’s goal will be to develop new common approaches to implementing tech-based solutions for services across the country. A key component to the success of the Office’s programme will be collaboration between local authorities and the private sector – with the former drawing upon innovative technologies developed by the latter to further enhance service offerings for citizens.

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“If we were to look at the similarities between, say, retail and local government, retailers have sites in most city centres – and so do we – and customers expect services when they visit these,” he explains. “However, the online offering in retail has really taken off in recent years because of the demand of the customer, whereas ours hasn’t.

“Having consulted with retailers previously, it’s really about bringing the ‘offline’ online and the ‘online’ offline. It’s almost about thinking ‘well, what would Amazon do to disrupt a council?

Six portfolios for the Digital Office have been prioritised over the next two years, which include:

  • Digital Health and Care
  • Digital Learning and Teaching
  • Digital Place
  • Digital Council
  • Digital Foundations
  • Digital Leadership and Skills

Within digital health and care, more than 1,000 Digital Telecare boxes will be deployed by 2021 amid a planned phase-out of traditional services.

Similarly, the Digital Office will produce a framework agreement with Scotland Excel of three providers for robotics solutions. Councils will be able to sign up to this framework to procure solutions, the report states.

Wallace told DIGIT that digital health and care will be a key focus moving forward, and Digital Office will “push the agenda around that quite heavily”.

The Digital Office has also been in close talks with Police Scotland to establish how local authorities can collaborate more effectively – with a strong focus placed on how data can be shared more effectively to benefit citizens.

“We’ve got new pathways of care we need to look at,” Wallace explains. “Speaking to health professionals, we have big issues around mental health, as well as drink and drug addiction. We’ve got problems with obesity and diabetes or cancer and dementia to contend with also.”

Ideally, Wallace insists, the public sector should be combining forces to help deliver health and care in the community, but also in the home, rather than placing individuals into primary care.

“It’s not about tinkering with a pilot scheme here or there, either,” he notes. “It’s about looking at the full transformation of these services.”

The Digital Office will also continue to build “strong communities of interest” in digital approaches such as user research and service design.

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence, IoT (Internet of Things) and data analytics will play a key role in the redesign of services across the sector and for individual councils.

While the future outlook appears positive and wheels are turning in regards to the transformation of services, both Wallace and the report concede that there are significant challenges ahead.

“The programme of work being delivered within the Digital Partnership has become too large and complex and requires a clearer focus aligned to pan-sector priorities,” the report states.

Reduced funding rates have also placed strain on the programme, while there is a need for clearer information to emphasise the value and benefits of individual projects among councils.

https://www.dataprotectionscot.com/

One of the ‘critical success factors’ highlighted in the Digital Office’s report is funding. To ensure the future success of the programme, it will be critical that the programme is fully resource planned and managed. The ability of individual councils to contribute to the programme is also a key factor.

“We’re going into the next two years in a really good place with the support of all local authorities and there’s never been a better time to do this, especially with a pretty hectic political backdrop,” Wallace insists.

“There’s an opportunity here to accelerate what we’ve already built and our focus will now be on providing sector-wide digital leadership, developing digital transformation capabilities and delivering sector-wide digital programmes.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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