User research, service design, skills and building ‘our technical architecture’ – Digital Directorate lays out its next phase of development

Colin Cook, Digital Director, Scottish Government, speaks at Digital Scotland 2019 on May 30 at the University of Strathclyde’s Technology & Innovation Centre in Glasgow

The Scottish Government’s Digital Directorate is set to focus heavily on expanding its service design and user research capabilities whilst building a broader skills base and investing in a “coherent” technical architecture.

The Directorate – which has responsibility for providing a foundation for the delivery of digital public services – will increase the emphasis on finding out “what people want” as it seeks to put technology at the forefront of improving the experience and delivery of government policy. His message reflects a growing sense within government that technology is helping to influence the way policies are constructed and then delivered as ‘digital public services’.

Colin Cook, Digital Director at the Scottish Government, laid out his department’s next phase of development in a pro-business message at last week’s Digital Scotland public sector ICT gathering in Glasgow; Mr Cook said he wants a new Chief Technology Officer in place this autumn with a remit to ensure any products and services it brings into the heart of government digital services are a good “fit” within that architecture.

Speaking at the event at the University of Strathclyde’s Technology & Innovation Centre last Thursday, he said: “We’re going to build up our capability in user research and service design. I think it is right that the government is very much at the forefront of understanding what people want and using that understanding to shape not only the services but also the policies which we deliver.

“We’ll ensure that we have the skills within the Scottish Government to develop and maintain a coherent technical architecture. We’re therefore looking to build our technical architecture going forward and we’ll shortly be appointing a new Chief Technology Officer, hopefully in the autumn, with a remit of ensuring that products fit within that architecture and that we as a government look outside and see what’s coming next and try and understand what the implications are for all our parts. And we’ll continue to invest in programme management capability.”

Mr Cook spoke alongside Scotland’s first Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, Kate Forbes MSP, who recently described her post as the “best job in government” and insisted digital can be the solution to some of Scotland’s “thorniest” social issues. Mr Cook reiterated that message by stating that digital plays a role in the delivery of outcomes within government’s National Performance Framework, and will help government respond to the “competing pressures that we face in areas like health and social care, of increasing demand and increasingly constrained resources”.

In a wide-ranging speech to over 300 delegates, Mr Cook insisted also that Scotland needs to be more “confident” of its place in a digital world, in the way that leading digital nations like Estonia have carved a reputation for innovation and digital delivery.

Sharing a platform with tech supplier Leidos, whose Davie Gow was seconded within government for six months last year as a ‘digital fellow’, Mr Cook said also that there was “major role” for its partners in helping to build up government’s digital capabilities and expertise.

He said: “We have fantastic dev capability already in government but I’m looking to build that in partnership with external organisations and not build that necessarily and exclusively in-house; Davie Gow from Leidos joined us as a secondee under our digital fellowship programme for six months last year. That’s the kind of investment that I want to see more of from Scottish technology industries. Making a tangible contribution to the process of driving digital change and transformation in government.”

However, he struck a note also of urgency, that digital public services must keep pace with the innovation that is driving ever higher the expectation levels that the public have from technology platforms in their day-to-day lives; he said the government must work more closely with business to “add pace” to its digital transformation journey and to share talents and resources where it can.

Breaking down the physical barriers between government and the tech community was well-illustrated, he said, by the creation of of the tech procurement programme CivTech, which is set to launch its fourth set of challenges in September. CivTech has spearheaded a new approach to the buying in of services, which is more dynamic and collaborative than traditional government tender processes. Mr Cook said government needas to continue to “sharpen” its commercial skills and the work towards a shared set of standards, approaches and greater interoperability will underpin how his department moves towards its goals of redesigning public services for the better and cited the remarkable achievements of organisations like Registers of Scotland and Disclosure Scotland, which have transformed the way they serve the public.