Exclusive: Scottish Government to create new ‘digital commercial service’ to enable better access to tech market

Colin Cook, Director Digital, Scottish Government

The Scottish Government is set to create a new ‘digital commercial service’ in order to improve its market engagement with tech sector suppliers.

The new unit, which will sit within the Digital Directorate, is designed to enable government to bring in specialist procurement knowledge and engage with the market in ‘new ways’ which builds on the success of its CivTech programme.

Plans were also unveiled on Thursday to create a ‘security centre of excellence’, which pools and share cyber security expertise and knowledge across government organisations in Scotland.

Colin Cook, Director Digital, Scottish Government, announced the measures at FutureScot’s Cyber Security (Public Sector) 2019 conference, at the University of Strathclyde’s Technology & Innovation Centre in Glasgow.

He said: “Within government, we are launching a digital commercial service internally so that we bring expertise in procurement and market engagement much more closely at the heart of the digital operation. Digital procurement – and CivTech is a reflection of that – brings new challenges. If you don’t know precisely what you want, and it’s very difficult in emerging and new technologies, to specify exactly what you want up front, it requires a different approach to procurement.

“And that goes for how we engage with small businesses and it goes with how we engage with large businesses. So, we’re bringing in expertise within the digital directorate to engage more widely and in new ways with the external eco-system. And part of that is ongoing market engagement so we know what’s out there, and we know what the strengths are and we know who to turn to when we have opportunities.”

He added: “The other thing we’re going to be doing this year – and this is very much at the heart of what I do – is looking at the way we deliver all digital shared services across the Scottish Government landscape. That’s 130, 140, depending on how you cut it, organisations and we want to develop centres of expertise and excellence, one of which will be our security centre of excellence in Scottish Government, so we can pool our talent, share our resources, share our knowledge. And to take that consolidated understanding and engage more widely with the health service and local government and beyond into the Scottish economy, so we’re creating a network of people who are sharing good ideas and good practice.”

Cook said that he was pleased to see the creation – by ScotlandIS – the tech trade body for Scotland of a new cyber security ‘cluster’, which was launched at an event at The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh on Wednesday evening. Similarly, he said he wanted that cluster approach to underpin how Scottish Government delivers its digital services.

He said: “What I want to see is a new cluster emerging, emerging from our commercial service, emerging from CivTech, emerging from some of the successes that we have already had in digitising public services and putting things online and service design, a new cluster that’s about public sector technology, about GovTech, about CivTech, where Scotland I think can rightly have a leadership role in the world and we want to build on that.”

At the beginning of his address to more than 100 delegates at the event, Cook said that he wanted Scotland to build a reputation as a leading ‘ethical digital nation’, which increasingly has a moral and commercial advantage in the international tech landscape. He said building trust in digital services – particularly with the advent of AI and IoT – was critical to delivering on that ambition and that a successful national strategy for AI, announced recently by Digital Minister Kate Forbes, would be key to that moving forward.