Tech 100: 'Scotland must raise its sights to become a digital world leader'

Written by Polly Purvis on 24 November 2016 in Comment

Polly Purvis, chief executive of ScotlandIS, on steps needed to become a world-class digital nation

Polly Purvis

The Scottish Government digital strategy, launched in 2011, set out a vision for Scotland to become a world-class digital nation by 2020.

Five years on, significant progress has been made in many of the areas outlined in that strategy but the digital world has moved on apace, creating new challenges and opportunities.

Earlier this month, ministers launched an interactive discussion to refresh their digital strategy seeking thoughts and ideas on six key themes: connectivity, economy, skills, public services, participation, and cyber security and resilience.

We are encouraging all our members to take part in this consultation and use their expertise and knowledge to help to shape Scotland’s digital priorities for the future.


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The world is on the crest of a disruptive wave with a whole range of developing technologies impacting medicine and healthcare, financial services and education through the application of data science, sensors,  robotics, automation and augmented reality. At the same time, productivity gains from digital transformation will enable greatly reduced working hours.

Meanwhile, the combination of data science and the internet of things provides a wealth of opportunities ready and waiting to be exploited by innovative companies, experienced entrepreneurs and start-ups. It is an exciting time to be part of our sector.

Scotland needs to be ambitious. Can we increase our tally of billion dollar ‘unicorn’ businesses from two to 15? Can we take what we have learned from hubs like Edinburgh’s CodeBase, TechCube, Glasgow’s RookieOven and Aberdeen’s Elevator Centre and apply it to building vibrant tech incubators in every city in Scotland? Can we overcome the current lack of access to growth capital?

If we get it right we have the opportunity to deliver a healthier and wealthier nation, to reshape our society, to deliver highly skilled and fulfilling jobs and to drive efficiencies and productivity gains in our public services and established businesses.

To make Scotland a digital nation, held up as an exemplar by other countries and the location of choice for digital businesses to base their European headquarters, requires political leadership.

Public services need to be transformed and made more efficient and accountable. Digital voting and citizen engagement needs to become the norm. Our own parliament needs to lead by example and become a model of efficient administration based on digital technologies.

It is time to get serious about our digital infrastructure and drive through universally available, internationally competitive connectivity against an aggressive timetable.

Connectivity underpins all elements of a digital economy and society while fuelling innovation through the creation of new products and services. There is still much work to done to make our infrastructure world class.

As a minimum we should aim to double the size of the digital technologies industry over the next five years. This requires a programme of focused interventions to harness ambition, set targets for growth, and excite and celebrate the new generation of entrepreneurs.

It is not just about creating innovative start-ups but scaling those businesses so that they achieve their potential.

We also require a vastly increased supply of talented and skilled individuals. In Scotland, the ICT & Digital Technologies Skills Investment Plan, published in 2014, has provided a much-needed framework to address many of our skills challenges: from early years teaching within primary schools, through an increasing range of apprenticeships and adult training, to encouraging diversity and improving the awareness of careers in our sector.

It’s great to see delivery now under way but this momentum must be maintained and the plan implemented and arguably expanded in full over the next decade.

This is key to the continued success of the industry and failure to address the sector’s skills issues will damage the international competitiveness of the whole Scottish economy.

Scotland is a small country with outstanding capabilities in key sectors. By harnessing these and developing internationally competitive products and services in specialities such as data science, machine learning, robotics and cyber security, we can generate additional export earnings, research funding and inward investment.

It is essential we eradicate the productivity deficit that we face compared to our European and US competitors. Espousing the successful adoption and exploitation of digital technologies in all parts of the economy and society is a key enabler in addressing this challenge.

We must also work on digital inclusion, an issue that is about more than lack of access to an internet connection in the home. At present, one in seven Scots is digitally excluded. We have to change this as not only are their lives disadvantaged but also we lose the opportunity for them to contribute positively to the digital economy.

The prize for delivering an effective digital economy is calculated as being worth £13bn but each part of the puzzle needs to come together if we are to achieve it.

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