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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
17 June 2022
Connect: Transforming Scotland

Connect: Transforming Scotland

Holyrood brought together delegates from Scotland’s private, public and third sectors for its eighth annual Connect Conference: Digital Transformation 2022, at Dynamic Earth earlier this month to discuss Scotland's future as it plans to move more of its services and operations online.

In March 2021, the Scottish Government launched its digital strategy, which set out the role digital will play in recovering from the pandemic to deliver better outcomes for people and to provide significant opportunities to improve essential public services.

The event covered several topics such as; deciding the right path for the digital transition, sustainable digitalisation, new ways of working, and lessons that can be learned from other nations.

Head of Digital Transformation for the Scottish Government, Joy Bramfitt-Wanless, was joined by Martyn Wallace, Chief Digital Officer at the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government and Alan Lees, BT’s Scotland Director to discuss how to successfully path Scotland’s digital transition. 

Wallace was clear from the outset that the time to listen to nations further on in their digitalisation should be over, now was the time for Scotland's culture shift in delivery and mindset. He was clear that funding was not the issue holding Scotland back in making the next leap toward digitalising public services. 

He made the point that Scotland’s 32 councils all operate differently, while they all have the same 25 services. Wallace and Bramfitt- Wanless were clear that the next step in creating services in a sustainable and consistent manner would be to build applications with reusable digital components and he was also clear that working with the private sector in doing that was essential.

Ensuring sustainability in Scotland’s transition was discussed between Amanda Brook, CEO of OpenUK, Max Faun, a director at Okta, and Paul Dodd, Senior Associate Director of Scottish Futures Trust. 

Brook was firm that open-source software working would put far less strain on the environment, than closed source software, as it lessens the amount of hardware required. She pointed out that the European Union estimates that there are 230,000 people in the UK working on open-source software.

She suggested the implementation of an open-source centre would produce 70 per cent fewer emissions, as it would reuse and recycle existing hardware. 

Dodd was clear that there needed to be a national approach: “We need a sustainable digital strategy to give us a sustainable environment.”

Dr Lila Skountridaki, Lecturer in Organisation Studies and Director of MSc Human Resource Management at the University of Edinburgh, was joined by Alison McBride of West Dunbartonshire Council, Max Faun of Okta and Ross McCulloch, Director of Third Sector Lab ,to discuss hybrid working. 

Skoundtridaki believes that a hybrid model of working does work for some people and increases productivity in many cases. 

She said she was in favour of legislating for working from home as a right for certain types of people: “In Portugal, it is the right of a parent of young children to work from home. 

“That is a clever idea, at least for some groups of people. Especially if it is to promote equity and consider things like chronic pain and disabilities. 

“It might make a lot of sense, not across the board, but for some protected groups at least to see legislation coming in. I do not think it would be negative at all.”

Faun commented on the social aspect that working from home allows the worker to reclaim, by cutting out things like commuting: “Remote working can actually give you a lot of time back into the diary.”

McCulloch believed that companies’ motives behind hybrid working needs to be better considered: “For me, I ask why do you want to bring people together? What is the purpose?

“Is it to collaborate on a specific piece of work, or it is just something fun and nice, that has merit.

“Rather than turn up to a giant space and there are four of you spread far apart, it is just ridiculous.”

Delegates were also given a taste of the digital public service developments in Estonia and Finland and shown what their plans are for the future. 

Siim Sikkut, Estonia’s former government Chief Information Officer, explained how much money could be saved by the simple implementation of digital tools. When Estonia introduced universal online signatures, they saved two per cent of their annual GDP, which was the same amount of funding they put into defence spending.

Anita Juho, Secretary General of the Finnish Technology Advisory Board, detailed Finland's plans to introduce a single point of contact, so citizens do not need to find the correct ministry. They call it Finland’s Digital Compass. As the government role out this tool in 2030, they plan to have every citizen have a basic level of digital understanding, so no one is left behind.

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