Tech 100: 'If the public sector does not disrupt itself, it will be disrupted'

Written by Staff Reporter on 26 October 2016 in Comment

Colin Birchenall, chief technology officer for the new Local Government Digital Office and the latest to feature in our Tech 100, on the chance to transform public sector services 

Over the last several decades we have seen an exponential growth in the evolution of digital technology and with this we have witnessed the devices that we use getting smaller, more connected and smarter.

However, we have now reached a pivotal point in history where, through the Internet of Things (IoT), the range of devices are becoming more diverse, embedded into everyday objects and becoming increasingly intelligent, from smart watches through to autonomous vehicles.

We are entering a new era of the information age.


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The digital opportunity to the public sector is much more than reducing the cost to serve through better websites and online transactions. The new era of digital will be more focused on place rather than any single organisation and how it individually transacts with its customers.

It will be fuelled by better access to and more intelligent use of data to help us all make better, more informed decisions. The opportunity is to use digital to deliver better outcomes for the people of Scotland.

From telecare and telehealth to smart cities, smart mobility and digital learning, technology now provides opportunities to re-design services around citizens, empower communities, improve partnership working and deliver services that are more tailored to the needs of citizens as well as being more proactive and preventative. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform public sector services.

We have all witnessed the disruptive force of digital in other sectors such as music and entertainment, tourism and retail. It has allowed rapid growth of new business models and world-leading organisations that haven’t embraced digital have disappeared into the history books.

The public sector is not immune. If it does not disrupt itself, it will be disrupted.

However, we do not have to face this alone. There is a real opportunity to create an environment where the public sector can collaborate with the private sector, academic sector and communities to innovate, co-design and co-produce new digital services that deliver better outcomes and at the same time provide new economic opportunities for Scotland.

Colin Birchenall (@colinbirchenall​) was last month appointed chief technology officer for the new Local Government Digital Office, a consortium of 28 Scottish local authorities designed to drive digital transformation within local government. He was previously the lead architect for the £24million Glasgow Future Cities Demonstrator, the UK's largest smart city test-bed funded by Innovate UK.

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