Graham Lironi eavesdrops on a roundtable discussion in the boardroom of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh to hear how data and digital transformation can help public services respond to the new economic reality.

In a wide-ranging conversation encompassing such issues as: delivering with legacy systems; data sharing for safer, more effective services, communication, and how to encourage local collaboration, Chair Alison McLaughlin hears a high-level panel arrive at a consensus that a regular series of discussions amongst public sector organisations – such as this – could play a vital role in delivering digital transformation. Here are some of the participants’ key closing points with a link to the full discussion coverage below:

Chair – Alison McLaughlin, Freelance Consultant and former Chair of ScotlandIS/Director of Digital Transformation at the Scottish Government


  • George Boag, Director of Data and Digital Services, Skills Development Scotland
  • John Campbell, Digital Transformation Programme Director, Historic Environment Scotland
  • Keith Dargie, CIO/DO, Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service
  • Zahid Deen, Head of Operational Services & Transformation, Scottish Forestry
  • Chris Gledhill, Chief Executive, PDMS
  • Nigel Ironside, Head of Digital Services, Scottish Prison Service
  • Beth Lawton, Chief Digital & Information Officer, University of Strathclyde
  • Shona Nicola, Head of Technical Data Policy, Scottish Government
  • Tom Wilkinson, Chief Data Officer, Scottish Government
  • Christopher Wroath, Director of NES Digital, NHS Education for Scotland

Nigel Ironside: The appetite for change exists across the public sector. For me the issue is about how we provide accessibility to the information we hold about those in custody to the wider Scottish agencies and public that require it. That’s the driver for us and we need to be able to do that in a more coherent and accessible way. We’re focusing on a data improvement plan to create that, but I do reflect on the maturity of organisations to be able to understand the importance of data and the importance of ensuring that the data we share and provide to others has a quality coat wrapped around it to make sure that it is the right data at the right time and is as accessible as possible.

Chris Gledhill: The whole point of digital transformation is to create better more productive outcomes for people. The challenge is how do we collectively, as suppliers to the public sector, get better and do more in a way which supports agendas around sharing data and continuity of service. This conversation is all about how we do that outside the procurement process, where we can have a general conversation which isn’t either a sales pitch or a very regulated and commercially constrained discussion.

Shona Nicola: I would emphasise the importance of data and data maturity. Where can we find out about all of this? What are the skills we should be sharing? What is the knowledge that we could be putting out there? It’s all about what can we do to encourage skills development and knowledge exchange and using the idea that we can collaborate on many of these issues.

Zahid Deen: This discussion has itself been useful to create a space for spontaneous conversation because collaboration is about building trust and building relationships. More discussions like this are needed so we have to orchestrate that. There is space for government to lead on this because there are many good examples of digital transformation out there, but if other organisations don’t see them then they’ve maybe not fully bought into it. We should use citizen-generated data to improve the quality of the service. We’re here to service the citizens of Scotland and that needs to be front and centre of digital transformation.

George Boag: Digital transformation is about the customer experience. But that’s only one component of it. We really need to think about the total experience and that’s the digital experience. It’s also about the employee experience because a really important part of this is our own staff. What does digital deliver for them?

Tom Wilkinson: It’s about citizen engagement: what technical solutions are there to getting citizen’s voices more quickly into the design of things? If it’s collaboration within or across organisations, what technical solutions are there for us to get people to work together more easily across those organisational boundaries that we can’t knock down easily? We need to make sure that we are not risk averse civil servants. We need to ask for forgiveness rather than for permission much more over the coming years. Try things. Squirrel away parts of our budgets to innovate so that we can address some of the broader issues over which we don’t have direct control.

Beth Lawton: As leaders in digital across the public sector we have a role to play as very visible cheerleaders for a digital way of doing things. Rather than ensuring that all the IT underpinnings are in place, part of our role now is to be digital transformers. We need to work with each other to provide that mutual support as we grow that skillset and share the stories of what has worked within our organisations. Mutual support, encouragement and knowledge sharing is going to be key to delivering digital transformation in Scotland.

John Campbell: Digital transformation is about looking at the common themes that we can fix. Legacy systems and technical debt are the responsibility of individual organisations and it’s difficult to have a common model for that, but there is a lot happening in relation to common themes and that’s what we can tackle together. If we can all share visions of our digital future, and if we can pool our innovation budgets with common themes, then we can do something.

Christopher Wroath: As a public sector we need to address digital identity for the citizens of Scotland but, more importantly, digital identity for the workforce so that they can start accessing systems across organisational boundaries.

Keith Dargie: With regard to how data and digital transformation can support better citizen services, I would emphasise the importance of that strategic vision. It’s about taking digital technologies and innovation and putting that in a strategic, service-driven, outcomes-based vision and whether that’s data, AI process automation, or the cloud, it’s all about making sure that digital is an enabler, is driving the conversation and the strategic direction.

Bringing the far-reaching discussion to a natural conclusion, Alison McLaughlin suggested that that there is a shared purpose across the public sector driven by the needs of citizens, but that while we talk about ‘data citizens’, we sometimes forget that citizens are people who are sometimes patients, prisoners and witnesses and they can be the same person and interact multiple times, so if we are seeking a shared purpose for that citizen, the question is not just about the citizen as it engages with one organisation, but how citizens engage with the public sector – and maybe that’s a starting point of unification.

To read coverage of the roundtable discussion in its entirety, go to – Insight | Collaboration key to digital transformation | March 2023 (