Scotland’s tech experts outline their predictions for 2022
There are a few things that we like to do as a species at this time of year, whether it be setting personal goals in time honoured tradition, hitting the gym, becoming a temporary vegan or abstaining from booze.
In that spirit of optimism and looking forward, professionally speaking, we have asked some of Scotland’s leading tech figures to map out what the future has in store for the industry, the economy and wider society.
Undoubtedly, there has been a seismic shift towards technology as a response to Covid, but sustaining that progress across numerous sectors and within tech itself will be the key challenge in the year ahead.
So let us plunge straight in and see what some of our most influential tech experts are saying about 2022.
Data & AI
With the national Artificial Intelligence (AI) strategy published last year, the growing wave of algorithms and automation are already upon us. The public sector is slower typically to introduce new technology but industry will continue to push the boundaries of AI across all fields, whether that’s to improve diagnostics in medical imaging or screening or to fighting climate change through better energy-usage predictions.
Brian Hills, deputy CEO of The Data Lab, the national innovation centre for data and AI, said: “Data is one of the most valuable assets any organisation has, feeding into business plans, automation opportunities, and more. But to unlock its potential, organisations will need to invest in the right skills, whether by upskilling current employees or bringing in new expertise.
“In 2022, we expect to see organisations across all sectors focus their efforts on developing a workforce with the necessary skillset and knowledge to extract meaningful insights from data. These experts will know the right questions to ask of the data and understand how to use their findings to accomplish business goals, as well as know how to communicate their insights to people without a technical background. By doing so, organisations will improve the way they use data and better understand its value.”
2021 was undoubtedly the year of ransomware, and Scotland did not escape the pernicious global trend. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the University of the Highlands and Islands, Glasgow housing charity Aspire and engineering giant the Weir Group all fell victim to the scourge of faceless hackers infiltrating networks, stealing data and trying to extort organisations for cryptocurrency payments. And that’s just the ones we know about, with data held by the Scottish Government indicating a dozen victims among public bodies last year alone, across the cyberattack landscape. This year will be much the same, as our experts point out.
Jude McCorry, CEO at SBRC, said: “2021 highlighted how organisations cannot take their foot off the pedal when it comes to cybersecurity strategy. Doing so could result in dire consequences. As we enter 2022 – a proactive approach to all things cyber is a must.
“Ransomware attacks are a cyber threat which shows no sign of disappearing. With data from Sophos finding that 35% of British businesses were hit by ransomware attacks in the past year; action is needed to avoid becoming a victim. Upcoming changes to ransomware insurance products will shift more onus onto businesses so they shouldn’t depend on insurance as a cyber strategy. Preparation through advanced incident planning around data, protocols and responses are all crucial to staying resilient.
“As online trading and services delivery continues to grow, businesses must guarantee the security of their digital supply chain. Taking a wider look at vulnerabilities within your sector and the organisations you work with, and subsequently seeking expert advice to plug any procedural gaps can help protect against such attacks.”
David Ferbrache OBE, advisor to the Scottish Government on cyber policy, said: “Expect to hear the word “resilience” a lot in 2022 as organisations realise that they need to prepare for the worst — and work through the practicalities of how they would deal with a major ransomware (or other technology disruption) event. Response and recovery will get more attention. The Digital Operational Resilience Act and Network Information Systems Directive version two will hit the streets in Europe as regulators focus on the resilience of a very different world of digital infrastructure — and the systemic risks that come with that dependency. We will also see digital infrastructure fail in surprising ways, exposing links and connections between systems we didn’t know existed.”
The internet of things (IoT) is hardly a new concept, but the need for future gazing has meant the term has been around for several years now without, necessarily, much adoption of the technology, outside the realms of our personal devices and home assistants. But we are starting to see that change, and several local councils in Scotland are now actively using sensors to capture data and using those insights to run services more efficiently and intelligently. Plus, in the wider economy IoT pioneers like IOpt, R3ioT, Beringar, Current Health and Boundary continue to make strides with world-leading products spanning healthcare, security, buildings, sustainability, industrial and edge computing, with more coming up behind them. And in terms of govtech, the private sector is chomping at the bit to start selling the IoT concept into the public sector, so 2022 could well be the year when we start to see the dial shift on smarter public services.
Paul Wilson, CEO of Filament STAC, the accelerator for IoT based in Glasgow, said: “We see a great future for a Scottish IoT sector and through STAC we are striving to position the perfect support model for our entrepreneurs. We have a world-class business accelerator programme, boosted by world-class tech partners. Now we are working hard to excite the investment community, collaborate and get coordination with the gov and private sectors to realise the potential from the Scottish IoT tech being created.”
The next generation of mobile phone connectivity has also long been in the making, but again the use case and expressions of 5G are taking time to make it into real-world applications. The potential is enormous for an industrial revolution of sorts with private 5G networks powering automation on production lines and even robots performing remote surgery in healthcare. Again, there has been commitments to investment in this space from government with a 5G testbed in the offing for Dundee and a concentration of 5G experimentation and commercialisation around the university campuses of Glasgow. The Scotland 5G Centre is coordinating much of the public sector investment in the technology with with more hubs coming on stream to support rural economy innovation and academic partnerships.
As Paul Coffey, CEO of Scotland 5G Centre, explains: “Digital connectivity provided by 5G will continue to gather momentum in the year ahead. It will create new user experiences in consumer and business space across Scotland. Digital connectivity is a key driver to economic growth and research shows that digitised businesses and data driven companies are 10% more productive. The Centre has already delivered a significant return on investment from its founding projects and going forward, there will be a focus on new operational models, such as private networks for key verticals, new models to make rural connectivity more commercially viable and sustainable, and embracing new technology, supported by shared spectrum.”
There has been an explosion of Blockchain-based technologies in recent years, particularly across in the financial technology (fintech) industry. The national Fintech Scotland cluster has grown to almost 200 companies in just four years and the decentralised ledger technology is fuelling a wave of innovation in computing, from cryptocurrency to cybersecurity. However the technology is limited by its scaleability, in terms of its ability to facilitate high volume transactions, such as in banking, which is why institutions like the Moshan Blockchain Lab at the University of Glasgow is allowing researchers from the university’s James Watt School of Engineering and Hangzhou-based Victory Bench (VB) Hyperledger to explore ways of making blockchain technology better-suited for high-volume applications and more environmentally-friendly. But 2022 could prove to be a big year for one particular startup, founded by former Fanduel CEO Nigel Eccles. BetDEX, which announced the largest ever seed investment into a UK startup in November, is looking to launch in the first half of this year and has big ambitions for the sports betting market.
Varun Sudhakar, CEO and co-founder of BetDEX, said: “2021 was the year blockchain exploded into the public eye. Headlines seem to sprout out every morning about a new Company which had raised millions of dollars to build something new and innovative on the blockchain. However, if you look at the actual usage, a majority of the products which were released were ones geared towards decentralised finance – an industry ripe for disruption but geared towards relatively sophisticated users. For the blockchain to truly benefit everyone, consumer applications which bring onboard the next 1bn+ users will be key. It is my belief that 2022 will be the year of the consumer as it relates to the blockchain. You will see an exponential growth of consumer use cases on the blockchain – gaming and sports wagering will serve as two key on-ramps to the blockchain as usage becomes prevalent. UI/UX excellence as well as mobile applications will be critical to bring customers on board to a new technology such as this.
“Lastly, I also believe that the industry is moving towards a future where there are multiple different successful blockchains – in 2022 you will start to see solutions take off which enable inter-blockchain operability, wormhole is a good example of an existing solution which allows you to transfer assets between various blockchains such as Ethereum, Solana, Terra, Polygon, etc. However if you take this a step further, imagine a future where not only can you transfer assets across different blockchains, but applications on different blockchains will be able to talk to each other. This is the equivalent of gamers on Playstation being able to play with gamers on Xbox – I believe this is the future towards which we are headed.”
And now for the vertical markets, for public services, which are some of the biggest consumers of technology in the world. Tech-led disruption will continue to change the shape of how we interact with our services, much of which has been sped up by the public response to Covid. In healthcare, the development of the first-ever digital health record carried by citizens in Scotland was released into the wild last year as Denmark’s Netcompany brought its ‘coronapas’ to our own national Covid passport. Although a relatively simple application, a lot of work went into synchronising the technology with the NHS community health index (CHI) system which provides a unique code for every patient in the country. This innovation could bring about a wave of new services – such as citizen records for all vaccinations of whatever type – and it will surely guide the thinking towards how a new ‘digital front door’ programme sponsored by the Scottish Government will take shape, a commitment which is guaranteed by politicians to happen by the end of the current parliament. So, 2022 is likely to see policymakers and technologists come together to crack that task, and much more around improved access to data and automation.
Dr Andrew Winter, vice-chair of the Scottish Digital Health and Care Network, said: “The digital response to Covid-19 has shown that the health service can deploy new technology at scale and pace. We all now expect to be able to book Covid-19 vaccination slots online and have the vaccine dose recorded and available for certification on our mobile devices. None of this technology existed just over a year ago. Underpinning this has been a shift to ‘platform technologies’, common data standards and proof of digital identity. People also expect the health system to identify those with health vulnerabilities centrally, be that for shielding or booster doses or to offer Covid-19 treatments, even though that data is held across multiple systems. In 2022, we will consolidate and build on these tools, and the engagement work with the Scottish Government’s Digital Health and Care Data Strategy gives everyone a chance to shape this future.
“We will also see improvements in the ‘digital front door’ to health services and in handling prescriptions and medicines. There is a sense people care a lot less than professionals do about organisational boundaries and just want things to work seamlessly and without friction. These two areas were highlighted in the Programme for Government. The health service has also shifted quickly to remote care and assessment using video consultation, and 2022 will see expansion of Hospital at Home, self-monitoring for Covid-19, digital submission of photographs such as for dermatology.
“While there is much hype around AI and machine learning, Scotland is in a very strong position with the Industrial Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research in Digital Diagnostics (iCAIRD). In 2022 we are likely to see AI coming into use to support diagnostic radiology and to help clinicians take better decisions.”
Scotland’s education sector is undergoing something of an upheaval, with the reform of the national education body Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority likely in the coming months. The pressures of a pandemic have nonetheless caused a wave of innovation in teaching and learning, with conventional pedagogies upended by the crisis. Remote teaching and learning – supported by the National e-Learning Offer (NeLO) is now embedded in the system, with live lessons delivered by e-Sgoil – the Western Isles based platform – and recorded video content on the WestOS platform. Technologies are being refined all the time to support remote and ‘blended’ learning and it is likely that there will be no one size fits all solution but even as the Covid restrictions ease, it is unlikely there will be a return to the old way of working any time soon.
Paul Downie, West OS Coordinator and Royal Society of Biology Teacher of the Year 2021, said: “Teachers and learners across Scotland have had to overcome significant challenges during these unprecedented times in education, and have relied on digital learning more than ever. Lessons have been learned by both students and teachers which will undoubtedly shape the future of education in Scotland as we move into 2022 and beyond. However, digital must never be seen as the sole solution to anything in education and as we continue to reconnect and recover, I believe that practical, hands-on learning should be more important than ever across the curriculum.
“In April 2021, the Government manifesto promised to establish a ‘National Digital Academy’ which would allow learners to access the full higher curriculum – any day, any place, any age. West OS has, since then, become firmly cemented as the recorded element of the National e-Learning Offer in Scotland and is increasingly providing free, open access for learners of all ages and their families to ‘Curriculum Collections’ including recorded video lessons and a range of additional learning resources including summary notes, Questions, podcasts and more to support learning. Moving into 2022, West OS will provide a wider range of these Curriculum Collections to support learning and continue to develop its overall offer. With eSgoil and a number of local authorities and Regional Improvement Collaboratives already offering a range of live online support for young people, it would seem that the foundations are already in place upon which a ‘National Digital Academy’ could be built and developed.”
Education technology consultant Andrew Jewell added: “In 2022 the ‘pandemic years’ will continue to impact the interweaving and integration of technology and learning. Powerful technologies which are not new will make further inroads into school life; VR and AR will open new digital worlds for learning, and allow creativity and digital content to be overlaid on the ‘real’ world – these technologies can help engage learners and are increasingly built in to the mobile devices in every learner’s hands. The stars align with the government commitment to a device for every learner, the impact of the OECD report and reforms and changes to both senior phase learning and core education bodies.
“Content will continue to be curated and shared in powerful and accessible ways from bodies such as e-Sgoil, West OS and others. In addition, more subjects will be taught by amazing local authority teachers and opened to students from other schools and even perhaps other part of the country of world. The curriculum will continue to evolve and key digital skills will be developed as computer science, coding, robotics, data and AI and other subjects become increasingly legitimate and attractive areas of study for young people. Teacher professional development will continue to be vital, with the trend for recognition programmes from technology providers and apps adding immense value. This year will see some of these programmes focus on school leadership of technology, leading meaningful strategic change in schools. In addition, the moves towards personalisation, accessibility and equity will continue, alongside the drive to ensure that young people can be kept safe and taught to develop skills that will help them thrive in an increasingly digital world. 2022 is already an important year for technology and education.”
The push to ‘democratise data’ and create more citizen-focused and friendly services is apparent across all realms of government, especially for cash-strapped local councils. People now expect to be able to interact with public services more fluidly and interactively than ever before and local authorities must embrace change if they are to justify predicted council tax rises, which may come after local elections in May. Technology could and should be used to increasingly automate back office functions in order to save money and increase efficiency, but there are also real benefits in harnessing data to better integrate and join up services, whether that’s in residential and community care or developing new smart services to improve the flow of transport and people in urban settings. The same goes for buildings where data holds the key to the better management of public assets, which can drive carbon savings and provide real-time alerts for when things need fixing. Remote inspection and servicing of heating, lighting and ventilation systems will also allow for fewer vehicles on the road and embedded sensors can help deploy gritters on frozen roads. All of these developments have been trialled in Scotland but the onus now is on more widespread adoption and daring to do things differently – whether that’s increased use of AI and machine learning, consolidation of apps, finally upgrading legacy IT and maximising the use of cloud.
But none of that can be done without senior political buy-in from councillors. As Jos Creese, associate director of local government tech body Socitm, notes: “In 2022, political leaders must be at the heart of digital planning – understanding how ‘digital’ affects policy delivery, risk management, equality, and service performance. Topics such as data ethics, trust models, cyber risks, and digital inclusion, all require political oversight and understanding more than ever before, with regular Cabinet-level discussions. This includes how digital trends can drive innovation, disrupting traditional methods of service design and delivery in ways that truly benefit citizens. In 2022, politicians cannot be bystanders in digital planning and execution.”