SOCITM Scotland conference report: boundary-crossing digital leadership

Written by Jenni Davidson on 1 December 2016 in Feature

A key thread at this year’s SOCITM Scotland conference was being fit for the future in terms of digital skills and leadership

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay speaking at the SOCITM Scotland 2016 conference

“As the Government approaches our refreshed national strategy, it is not, and it will not be, just a strategy for government. It is a strategy for everyone in Scotland, including the private sector as well as the public sector, because we need to cross the boundaries to be able to deliver on our digital ambitions,” said Derek Mackay, in his opening address to this year’s SOCITM Scotland conference.

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, who also has responsibility within the Scottish Government for digital, said change needs to be “not just incremental progress, but actual transformation of our services”.

He also drew attention to the vital role of digital inclusion and participation in reducing inequality, calling for a ‘citizen-first’ approach with “far more collaboration, far more joint planning [and] far more co-production”.


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Inclusion was also a topic that was raised by Louise Macdonald, CEO of Young Scot, who noted that “digitally connected does not mean digitally competent,” as she talked about digital engagement and skills for younger people.

Macdonald encouraged organisations to engage with young people where they are, explaining that the approach Young Scot takes is: “What is it young people are doing? Okay, let’s work backwards, how do we connect with that?”

She also noted the positive feedback the Young Scot Digital Academy had received from participants for the fact that it straddles creative industries, digital and ICT. “Don’t forget the creative,” she said. “If you like the ‘a’, rather than STEM, make it STEAM. Give the arts a space.”

Colin Cook, head of Digital Public Services and Digital Transformation at the Scottish Government, noted that the profession and its reach into the organisation is broader than it’s ever been before, which brings greater pressure to find the talent needed, starting with leaders who really “get” digital.

“What made a top leader of the past is not going to make a top leader of the future,” he said.

It will only be possible to deliver public service reform and business transformation on the scale required if the people at the top of the organisations are “enthusiastic advocates, who want to challenge the boundaries and recognise that silo working is a thing of the past”, he continued.

However, Cook added that senior leadership alone will not be enough and digital skills are needed at every level in all disciplines. With the public sector unable to compete with large tech companies on pay, he suggested the key to attracting the right talent lies in selling the kind of organisation you are.

“Make a bold and confident statement about the nature of the work we do,” he said. Referring to feedback quoted by Louise Macdonald about the characteristics of organisations young people want to work for, Cook said public sector organisations should show they have “open arms”, are “morally good” and “don’t accept inequality in the workplace”.

A panel discussion at the end of the day, with NHS Education for Scotland’s Caroline Lamb, digital expert Dr Jim Hamill, Local Government Chief Digital Officer, Martyn Wallace, and Scottish Government Chief Information Officer, Anne Moises, also focused on digital leadership, as well as the challenges of agile working and fear of failure within the public sector.

Wallace noted that leadership has to take the customer’s point of view. “Gone are the days when we create a service and the person has to be that square peg in a round hole. It has to be customer-centric-led digital experience all the way, from the top all the way to the bottom and back again.”

Digital leadership “should be right across the board, it shouldn’t be one person in an organisation” and is not just about digital or technology, said Hamill.

“A good digital leader needs a range of hybrid skills, which are more soft, empathetic type of skills to drive transformation.” Transformation that needs to move even quicker, he suggested. “We are making digital progress, but the pace of digital change is moving even faster.”

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