Digital needs to be at heart of public service reform, report says

A new report focusing on the digital transformation of public services in Scotland has highlighted the need to accelerate the pace of change to ensure Scotland reaps the opportunities offered by new technologies.

The new report Smart Citizens – Smart City Regions – Delivering Digital Public Services in Scotland has been published in partnership by SCDI, ScotlandIS, The Royal Society of Edinburgh and BT Scotland and calls for distinct and high level leadership through a newly-created Digital Leader for Scotland role. A digital leadership role would provide a driving force and would report to the Scottish Cabinet to ensure that digital transformation gets the high level support and oversight needed to make it successful.

The report makes a number of further recommendations on how to support Scotland and its citizens on the digital journey. It has been estimated that digital transformation in Scotland could see savings of £130m to £200m based on savings calculated for transformation at a UK level. Online transaction costs can be up to fifty times cheaper than face to face transactions.

The report acknowledges that change due to technology will be a constant process but warns of the need to get up to speed now to maintain a steady position in the future. Infrastructure rollout has presented some enormous challenges for Scotland but these are steadily being overcome. There will be a need to apply new thinking around how citizens use services and how data led service design will change the way in which Scotland’s public sector delivers in order to offer more targeted and efficient services in the future.

The recommendations include:


  • The Scottish Government should appoint a high-profile Digital Leader for Scotland to lead Scotland’s digital transformation: to drive public and private data sharing; devise and project a compelling vision for Digital Scotland; progress action towards this vision; and contribute to economic growth through enhanced productivity of public services.
  • The Scottish Government, working with local authorities, should devise a set of metrics that allow for annual benchmarking of performance against the Digital Scotland vision. An annual ministerial announcement of progress would demonstrate leadership commitment.
  • The Scottish public sector must build a relationship of trust with citizens that will underpin faster rollout of digital public services and put citizens in control of their digital lives. The development of a trusted ‘data bank’ mechanism that covers data collection, sharing and storage of personal data of citizens will require top-level leadership.

Pace of Change

  • An audit of local authority functions and public services such as health and policing should be conducted by the service leaders, the recently appointed local authority Chief Digital Officer and Scotland’s Digital Leader to assess the impact of digital transformation on employment and to identify and prioritise the services that can be digitalised most easily and/or that will result in greatest impact.
  • Public service providers must acknowledge that some people will simply never be able to manage their lives in a digital way, so there is a need to create a central complex needs or extra help unit that works across all services to support non-digital service users.
  • To drive the behavioural changes required to make digital public services the channel of choice among users, the Scottish Government should create a programme of citizen digital champions: people who regularly use public services to support their needs and with whom other users can identify. These champions can tell the story of their experience and provide reassurance to those about to start their own journey.

Digital Skills within the Public Sector

  • The Scottish Government, working with local authorities and other public bodies, should establish a digital workforce development programme (similar to the Digital Champions model for top-level officials) that actively supports public sector staff at all levels to invest in their own digital understanding and skills, and apply these to the workplace.
  • The creation of a ‘Public Sector Digital MBA’ would create a pool of talent operating across both technology design and user needs analysis. This should be a flexible programme where individuals would undertake secondments across multiple organisations to progress and advise them on their own digital journeys.


  • The Scottish Government must provide high-level leadership to demonstrate the priority that should be given to embedding digital skills across the school curriculum, and to computing science as a core science. It should work closely with education and industry stakeholders to support and build on current successful initiatives and to further develop close partnership between the private and education sectors.

Claire Mack, Director of Policy & Place at SCDI, said: “Scotland has the opportunity to become a world leader in digital transformation. The investments that have been made in digital infrastructure over recent years need to be fully utilised to help support our economic growth as a nation.

“Business is innovating constantly to respond to digital and technological disruption and users of services are coming to expect the convenience, personalisation and efficiency they get through their digital subscriptions, social media and app based services to apply to all areas of their lives.

“We know the economic challenges that face us are significant and using digital technologies to create a nation of smart citizens and smart city regions in Scotland will help to prepare us for these challenges.”

More information can be found in Smart Citizens – Smart City Regions – Delivering Digital Public Services in Scotland.

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