Since Kate Forbes took up the role of Scottish Finance Secretary, the world has been turned upside down by a global pandemic and the worst economic crisis for a generation.
It will be a difficult road ahead, and what is certain is the way we worked before will not continue in a post-Covid future. We need to be looking forward towards technology to help us to recover.
Forbes has previously spoken about the importance of digital transformation (DT) and Scotland’s ambition to be a leading digital nation, but nobody could have predicted the situation we now find ourselves in.
“We couldn’t have predicted that in the intervening months and in the year ahead of us we would see such immense challenges as the one the current pandemic has brought,” Forbes said in the DT summit’s opening address.
“Yet because of the pandemic and the challenges that that has brought, we have seen the use and importance of digital tech increase at a rate that we could never have imaged.
“In the last two years, I have spoken about the benefits and advantages to the Scottish economy, to Scottish businesses and to wider Scottish society of accelerating digital adoption.”
The pace at which firms have had to pivot their organisations to adopt digital procedures has been unprecedented due to Covid-19, and the potential of DT has now become increasingly clear.
“What we have seen in the last year is that by necessity and by requirement, that pace of change and that rate of adoption has far exceeded anything that we have seen in the preceding years,” Forbes commented.
She has been working hard since taking up the role of Scotlands Finance Secretary in February 2020 to champion Scotland as a tech nation, which could lead the charge around the world for digital adoption.
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“I have already been involved in DT projects which are supporting Scotland’s journey to becoming a digital nation, but what is different today, probably compared to last year, is that we have seen that DT cut across all areas of society,” she said.
One way that Forbes has tried to boost this adoption is through Mark Logan’s tech sector review, which highlights Scotland’s need to create a blueprint for building a stronger tech ecosystem country-wid, as well as helping to promote Scotland as a world tech leader.
“It has been great to see that that blueprint and its recommendations have been positive, and you see it right across Scotland, not just amongst those that are self professedly part of the tech sector,” Forbes commented.
“We are working hard to implement those recommendations, announcing an initial £4 million of funding towards a national tech scaler network and that funding will help establish five tech scalers and will support 300 – 500 high-quality startups over the next five years.”
These scalers will enable entrepreneurs to meet, share ideas, and access mentoring, which aims to ensure opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship are available across Scotland.
And the Scottish Government isn’t stopping there. Forbes said she moved quickly to “accept the recommendations to build that momentum and to drive that forward”, and to drive what she believes “will be the greatest driver of growth in Scottish economy over coming years”.
Alongside the tech scalers, Forbes also announced an ecosystem fund which she says will provide “strategic investments in the organisations and the activities that create the best possible environment for our startups to success”.
It is no secret that implementing Logan’s recommendations will not be an easy job. “One of the core principles running through the Logan Review is that if it were easy, it would already have been done, but it is not,” Forbes noted.
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Organisations and government will need to work together, building partnerships and collaboration, and also just as importantly, working alongside Scotland’s education system.
Forbes believes that educating the younger generation early will boost tech adoption later down the line, but that is also not something that can happen overnight.
“It is challenging to figure out how we increase the number of students coming out of university, college and even school with computing science qualifications,” she said. “It is challenging making sure we have enough computing science teachers.”
However, she says it is heartening to see the Scottish technology sector thriving and working closely with sectors outside of technology, particularly during these difficult times.
“The willingness to try new things and, more than anything else, the willingness to share expertise beyond the tech sector with the wider Scottish economy. I think that this report and review builds on the amazing success of the tech sector, but also creates a clear pathway for Scotland to be a global player.”
Despite these positives, Forbes recognises that Scotland can still do much more to ensure digital technology is being adopted across the country.
“We have seen more businesses recognise that over the last few months because by necessity they have had to accept digital ways of working, but we know that tech has made businesses more competitive and resilient,” Forbes commented.
“That principle has to take us through the next few months and the next few years because there are too many that are not taking advantage of DT and that means that they lose out, their employees lose out, their customers lose out, and with a view to Scotland’s finances, I am also aware that our economy loses out as well.”
And while there has been much to celebrate, Forbes believes Scotland is at a crossroads, “There are choices that we make now that will deliver results, not just next year or in five years, but in 10 years’ time,” she noted.
“That has to be underpinned with a clear vision, a clear blueprint, a clear plan for where we are going, and I think the Logan Review provides a very helpful starting point for that,” Forbes said.