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by Holyrood Magazine
01 February 2023
Associate Feature: Digital future

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Associate Feature: Digital future

Recent years have reminded us singularly that the world we live in can be a harsh one – but with challenges come opportunities. Across many sectors, the health and economic crises have radically changed the way in which we work. There has been a dramatic acceleration in the pace at which digital technology has been adopted, as Scotland moved swiftly to an online world with remote working and teleconferencing replacing traditional office practices. 

Scotland’s public sector, which employs almost 600,000 people, faces the same hurdles and uncertainties as private companies. Like them, it must ensure the continuing momentum of digital transformation that allows us to make our public services more personal, accessible, efficient, and accountable, says Alec Harley, Portfolio Director for Devolved Government at Leidos.

Having been in leadership roles at the company for more than 25 years, Harley is based at the company’s UK headquarters in Glasgow, and he’s encouraged by the remarkable agility the Scottish public sector has adapted to how it works and interacts with the public.

Leidos is a Fortune 500® technology, engineering, and science company with a 30-year heritage of supporting Scotland’s public sector and its critical national infrastructure to improve services, introduce innovations and drive efficiencies through technology.

Harley’s remit, he explains, takes in the Scottish Government, its directorates and agencies and the Scottish Parliament itself, providing IT services and technology solutions. It’s an extensive portfolio: “It includes infrastructure services, support services, application development services and cyber services.”

The Scottish Government has long stressed the need for a collaborative effort to create a more productive economy, tackle climate change and build a healthy and more equal society and Harley notes that during the pandemic several areas of the public sector “have delivered online platforms in just weeks or months that may otherwise have taken years to design and deliver. The necessity to continue to provide vital services showed what is achievable’.

 “We aim tackle projects that allow the Scottish Government to deliver what it sees as its key national outcomes. We have a dedicated group of people focused on that every day and they’re all incredibly proud of what they do. 

The major focus in the industry today, he says, is the move from on-premises to cloud-based solutions – which are critical in today’s fast-paced, competitive marketplace and help organisations reduce expenses and expand resources, though this presents other challenges.

“When you’re migrating data – especially government and potentially sensitive data– there are important decisions to be made about where that resides. You must ensure that the sovereignty of the data is considered – for instance, you don’t want to take core, personal data about UK and Scottish individuals and host it in the US or elsewhere.” 

Accessibility to data will be key to this digital transformation and Harley believes the government must put digital inclusion at the top of its priorities. “There’s a major push to give everyone accessibility to the Internet and that means moving digital equality up the list, providing devices and developing digital skills while ensuring connectivity to every part of Scotland.”

Harley believes that the pandemic has taught us that people and organisations are more adaptable than we have perhaps given them credit for in the past.  “For the most part, there is a visible appetite for transformation and Scotland will never again have this opportunity to create such fundamental improvements to its public services and society as a whole.”

Leidos worked in collaboration with ScotlandIS, the country’s digital economy membership organisation, and other technology businesses on the Connecting Scotland programme at the start of the Covid pandemic, which helped thousands of vulnerable people in society get online to access vital services and stay connected to friends and family.

“The levels of accessibility currently vary,” he says. Younger people are generally savvier, whereas people in their seventies or eighties might have a computer in the house but have limited knowledge and ability about how to interact with those systems. Also, if you have systems that are solely internet based you must be careful that you’re not disenfranchising people who can’t get online to access these systems or have the know-how or capability to do it.” 

Harley has previously said that Scotland needs to harness the wealth of data we have from both government and public sources more effectively to ensure that public services are tailored to the current and future needs of society. So, what’s his verdict on how successfully we are making these strides?

“We’re certainly moving in the right direction,” he says. “There’s a massive spotlight now on data and how we turn that data into information. It’s about how you slice and dice it and use it not just singularly but in interacting with other pieces of data to give you structure and pointers to what’s going on within the country to ultimately deliver better services to citizens.” 
What is now needed, though, is a drive for more cohesion in the data space. He says that currently public sector data sources are too fragmented which is understandably frustrating for people who are consistently asked for their details by different departments and bodies, while this is also inefficient for the departments themselves. 

Ultimately, he is looking toward the creation of a National Data Platform, supported by a secure, reliable, and scalable infrastructure, which will make Scotland a fully integrated, connected nation. 

  For the most part, there is a visible appetite for transformation and Scotland will never again have this opportunity to create such fundamental improvements to its public services and society as a whole.”  - Alec Harley, Director for Devolved Government

“We’re interested in smart technology and Scotland has some really smart people in the IT sector. That’s why we have built relationships with universities, SMEs, and the public sector so that we can take that technology and deliver it to our clients in different parts of the world – and we’ve been consistently and successfully doing that in Scotland for 30 years.

As a global organisation, Leidos also takes a keen interest in its engagement with the local communities in which it works. “We have a graduate programme within the business and interact with universities – I sit on the computer science programme advisory board of the University of Glasgow – and we have established partnerships in STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics) subjects with Scottish universities that include Glasgow, Strathclyde and Napier to address the digital skills gap.

“Through ScotlandIS we’ve provided volunteers who go out to visit schools to talk to the children about the amazing prospects available in the IT industry as Scotland has an urgent need for recruitment, with much more work here than there are people to do it.”

The company also places graduate apprentices – and staff at a more senior level – in other organisations. “For example, we’ve had a long-standing relationship with the Scottish Government; we support the IT in the Scottish parliament, an arrangement that has recently been extended for another five years and have seconded staff to the Scottish Government for a 12-month period after which they return to Leidos, which allows the private sector to actively contribute to the public sector and share knowledge,” says Harley.

Looking ahead to 2023, there is reason for measured optimism. At a corporate level, the company was named the Scottish Large Employer of the Year last October at the Herald Top Employer Awards 2022. Leidos see itself as a key employer in Scotland and a pivotal part of the community. Looking to the wider horizon he believes the adversities the past few years have visited on us have sharpened our appetite for change, and that includes the impetus toward digital transformation in what is not just a new normal, but the next normal.  

 

This article is sponsored by Leidos.

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