Scottish Government ‘should appoint a digital leader’

The Scottish Government should make a “high profile” appointee responsible for leading the country’s digital transformation. Reporting to the Cabinet, they would “devise and project a compelling vision for a digital Scotland”.

A report published today, focusing on the digital transformation of public services in Scotland, highlights the need to “accelerate the pace of change to ensure Scotland reaps the opportunities offered by new technologies”.

The report, Smart Citizens, Smart City Regions – Delivering Digital Public Services in Scotland’, is published by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), ScotlandIS, The Royal Society of Edinburgh and BT Scotland, and calls for “distinct and high level leadership”.

The digital leader 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’s recommendations focus on leadership, pace of change, digital skills within the public sector and education.

Its message is that “digital is here and can be an enabler”, but it needs public sector leaders in Scotland to “light the way”. The challenge, as the report sees it, is for the public sector “to take the reins”.

Claire Mack, director of policy and 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.”

Mark Dames, head of policy and public affairs for BT Scotland and member of the SCDI’s ‘Smart Citizens, Smart City Regions’ steering group, added: “In order for Scotland’s citizens to reap the rewards of a digital nation, leadership from local and central government and the wider public sector is required to set Scotland on a course to achieving the vision outlined in this report.

“The foundations are strong, and the integration of digital technologies in the reform of public services offers huge opportunities to introduce new ways of accessing, targeting and delivering public services using new technology.

“Yet, without reform placing a priority on digital, there is a risk that the changes implemented now will not be sufficiently future-proofed for the economy and society we face in the future.

“Simply saving money in delivering the services we currently offer, in the way we currently offer them, will not be enough to meet the inequality challenges in education and health, never mind meet the social and financial challenges of imminent and significant demographic change.

“Building a new model of public service reform, fully embedding digital technologies, could see Scotland take the lead in finding innovative ways to deliver better public services and improve public sector productivity in a time of financial constraint and increasing demand from an ageing society.”

The report’s recommendations:


  • 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.

Download the full report here: