When she’s not totally tied up militating against Theresa May’s cold-shouldering of her party when it comes to Brexit, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon does quite a lot of actual work running her administration.
And high up on the Holyrood agenda – due, no doubt, to considerations of a future outside the EU and maybe Westminster’s grip, too – is the contribution that a digital economy could make to life North of the Border. Actually, that’s a little unfair, as Scotland first published a Digital Strategy white paper well before Brexit was even a gleam in Nigel Farage’s eye – in 2011, in a document that set out how it wanted to “extend connectivity, promote the digital economy, digitise public services and promote digital participation” by putting “digital at the heart of everything we do”.
“We are making sure that Scotland’s digital public services are high-quality, continually improving and responsive to citizens’ needs,” states her government’s online policy statement on all things ‘digital’. To support such moves, Edinburgh has a set of guidelines and lofty statements of principle, sure – but it also offers a concrete set of public sector tech ‘assets’, like telecoms and website services. to assist local authorities, health ‘boards’ (the Scottish version of Trusts) and other public sector bodies try and achieve its stated aim of “delivering digital public services that meet the needs of the public”.
While these words say the right things, what kinds of projects are actually becoming a reality?
Scotland’s CivTech initiative – part of the overall national Digital Directorate – brings together public sector expertise and private sector creativity to look for answers to real problems. Its Local Government Digital Office has been set up to work in partnership with Scottish councils to try and deliver a ‘Digital First’ approach that might enable authorities to provide better services to residents.
An example is The Albyn Housing “Fit Homes” project, which is transforming the lives of people with complex health needs. By installing sensors in homes to capture data and by extensive use of predictive health analytics, the scheme enables tenants with chronic or complex health needs to be cared for in their own homes. The technology used is the result of a collaboration between Albyn Housing, Censis, The Data Lab, Robert Gordon University and NHS Highland.
Dundee and new care pathways
Again, as part of the Scotland Digital Future mandate, Dundee City Council claims to have transformed the delivery of its social care and health services via a new case management system. Now, information for service users is held in one place – reducing the amount of time social workers spend at their desks, inputting and connecting case information; team members also now have access to the right information at the right time, says the Town Hall.
To do this, Dundee replaced its legacy in-house system with a new case management system across Children’s, Adults, Finance, Criminal Justice and Education Services with new technology called Mosaic from a vendor called Servelec which provides a set of forms, workflows and statutory reports to speed up and simplify implementation that is streamling day-to-day interaction between staff and service users.
Functionality around relationships and chronologies, enabling a deeper connection between cases, is also proving helpful, states the council, while ensuing all council’s processes are fully aligned with the relevant timescales of Single and Multi-Agency Protection investigations also procedures are tighter and easier to navigate for service users and Council staff. Finally, Dundee says it’s able to customise quickly whenever the Scottish Government makes changes to legislation or requirements, shortening any delays for service users and minimising strain.
A new WAN way of working
In September, Perth & Kinross Council upgraded its Wide Area Network (WAN) for the region’s schools and public services – transforming all existing local network infrastructure so as to increase bandwidth and connectivity, replacing point-to-point connections from multiple providers with a single, centrally-managed solution.
When fully online in mid-2019, the project – being delivered by MLL Telecom, provider of secure managed network services for the UK public sector – will deliver a new WAN to the 100+ public sector sites in the area. As part of the project, 70 primary schools are set to benefit from the new WAN, allowing local schools to deliver new digital services, such as joint and remote teaching, via video conference and in-class video streaming.
Plus, the region’s museums, libraries and other public sector sites will also benefit from the new WAN, enabling the emergence of a fully digital society throughout the county.
‘£6m savings over ten years’
The third largest council in Scotland, says that it has built the perfect platform for future digital transformation via a carefully managed, ten-year partnership with Canon to completely re-do the way it prints documents internally.
If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, be aware that that means a £6m pound reduction in printing cost over the decade the project’s been running, and 2.5 million fewer documents a year – which, as you might not be surprised, has taken a big lump out of its carbon debt – 139,000kW of power is being saved per year, which allowed it to become the very first UK authority to attain Carbon Trust Standard certification, an independent kitemark of an organisation’s environmental impact verifying measurable carbon, water and waste reduction.
Scottish Digital Identity
The Scottish Improvement Service has turned to digital identity platform Yoti to provide digital services to Scottish citizens. The idea: have the freedom to prove who they are with a secure app instead of multiple forms of other (paper) ID.
This will also help the Service itself, which wants to increase numbers of participating organisations and registered users – surpassing the 500,000 accounts it achieved last June, with its interim CEO, Sarah Gadsden, claiming, “As technology evolves and mobile usage increases, we’re committed to maximise the use of secure mobile and digital technology to deliver information and services to citizens.
“Yoti will help us and our partners in the drive to transform essential public services and improve outcomes, meet our own and wider aspirations to deliver more information online, and give individuals a safer and more convenient way to prove their age and entitlement to access services,” she adds.
Aberdeenshire Council has recently overhauled its service management operations to transform processes, reporting and improve customer portals – a project that impacts no less than 10,000 staff, 250,000 residents and over 650 sites. The Council says it did this by implementing Cherwell Software’s IT service management solution in just 90 days.
The evidence is promising
In 2017, Scotland published a follow-up paper to that original Digital Strategy vision statement that quoted evidence that becoming a “world leader in digitalisation could raise the nation’s overall Gross Domestic Product by £13bn by 2030 – and that a 10% increase in broadband penetration also boosts that same marker of national wealth by between 01.0 to 1.5 percentage points.
It’s not that easy as yet to see if the ambitions set out in realising Scotland’s digital potential are being realised.
But what we can be sure about is that the breadth and success of the projects we have outlined even in this brief overview of some of the local government success stories Scotland is beginning to see from its openness to all things digital and transformative suggest it’s definitely going in the right direction.