Scottish Government Digital Directorate: “We’ll continue to serve the people of Scotland.”

Colin Cook, Director Digital, Scottish Government. Picture by Hannah Houston

The Scottish Government’s digital services division has vowed to do everything in its power to ‘continue to serve the people of Scotland’ during the coronavirus crisis.

The Digital Directorate, which provides centralised IT services for government, has undertaken to utilise its resources to help staff and agencies to carry on delivering vital public services as the country gets to grips with tackling the unprecedented social and economic effects of the pandemic.

Colin Cook, Director Digital, Scottish Government, said: “In these unprecedented times digital solutions have a huge role to play as critical national infrastructure – in combatting isolation, in healthcare settings, and to allow work and education to take place at home.

“The Digital Directorate’s response to Covid-19 is threefold. First, we provide the technical backbone that allows the business of government to continue. Our systems power the Scottish Government and much of the wider public sector. We’re working to make sure staff are able to work, whether from home or the office, and continue to serve the people of Scotland. We’ve greatly increased home-working capacity, and are supporting colleagues to carry on with the job, wherever they may be. 

“Secondly, we’re looking at how we can provide a channel for Scotland’s innovative tech businesses to help tackle the challenges we now face.  CivTech has proved how businesses and the public sector can work together to improve services and address complex issues and there’s a great opportunity to build on its success.  There has been an amazing response so far, with many businesses coming forward with ideas and offering to partner with us.  

“Finally, we’re aware digital participation is more important than ever. It’s clear that access to the digital world will be quite literally a lifeline for those in isolation, and will help business, education and everyday life in Scotland continue.  We’ve done some great things through the Digital Participation Charter and now we are stepping up our response.  We are working with ScotlandIS and others in the digital sector to see how we can make sure no-one is left behind in these challenging times, looking at what can be done to provide training and devices to those who are not yet online.”

ScotlandIS – the national tech trade body – has issued a ‘call to arms’ with Scottish Government to ensure ‘no one is left behind’ and to help bring digital services to homes across the country, aiming to urgently find, equip, train and support everyone in the country who has no access to internet-enabled devices, broadband or 4/5G, or who may not be able to afford them – and may even lack other vital services such as landlines or televisions. The trade body has pulled together other business resources, which are here and here.

An emergency national aid effort including ScotlandIS and the Scottish Government, SCVO, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, Glasgow Disability Alliance and others has already begun with specialist teams being set up to target a group of 15,000 to 20,000 people who living in poverty and in the vulnerable group for Covid-19.

Meanwhile, even before the announcement that schools and other institution should close, councils and individual schools were co-ordinating efforts to ensure educational continuity, from nursery and P1 classes to students who had been preparing for exams.

Education Secretary John Swinney told the Scottish Parliament: “I am confident that the teaching profession will respond in a variety of imaginative, creative and stimulating ways to support continuity in learning for pupils.”

Students have been using Glow and other online-learning platforms and schools have been emailing links to learning resources and suggestions for activities for the protracted period of closures.

Meanwhile, Sumdog, the Edinburgh-based developer of maths and numeracy-based games, has offered free access to all of its resources for as long as schools are closed, up until the start of the summer break. A statement from the company said: “As a social business it’s our mission to support the ongoing education of children.” Online educational publishers Twinkl, based in Glasgow has also offered parents free access to all its resources for a month, to support continued learning at home. 

Universities had already cancelled all face-to-face tuition and published their course materials online.

Home working

Thousands of private and public sector workers are now working from home following UK and Scottish Government advice. With online platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams to replicate the office. Usage of Microsoft’s Teams group-collaboration platform has grown from 32 million daily active users to 44 million in the past seven days, largely driven by Covid-19, the company said.

IFB, which is on the UK Government’s Digital Cloud Marketplace framework, has launched a free one-to-one remote and home-working clinic service for its customers, to help business planning against the backdrop of Covid-19.

A company statement said: “We know that in these uncertain times, protecting your team’s health and wellbeing while maintaining business productivity and continuity can be challenging. Our purpose is to maximise and support our customers’ uptime.”

Broadband providers have reported extra demand as more people work from home. EE said it has been “upgrading network capacity, increasing VPN connectivity, and implementing extra meeting and collaboration tools to meet this demand.”

Event cancellations

Many events have been cancelled or pushed back to later in the year as a result of the pandemic. FutureScot’s own Digital Health & Care Scotland, which was due to be held in April at Glasgow’s Technology & Innovation Centre has been postponed until September. 

Data protection

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has told public bodies responding to coronavirus they will not face action under the GDPR.

The regulator said it was taking a ‘pragmatic’ approach due to the ‘unprecedented  challenges’ of the pandemic.

In guidance issued to public bodies, the ICO said: “We understand that resources, whether they are finances or people, might be diverted away from usual compliance or information governance work. “We won’t penalise organisations that we know need to prioritise other areas or adapt their usual approach during this extraordinary period.”