Digital Leaders Blog

The Scottish Government is looking for your thoughts and contributions as it prepares an update of the National Digital Strategy for 2017 and beyond. An innovative example of crowdsourcing/co-creation at its best or a deer caught in the headlights of a digital disruption express train, unsure how to respond? Is there a crisis of digital leadership in an area critical to the future competitiveness of the Scottish economy?

Ideas and contributions are being sought in six main areas: Connectivity, Economy, Skills, Public Services, Participation and Cyber Security. As someone who has worked at the coalface of digital developments in Scotland and internationally for over two decades, I will drip feed my own contribution in a series of blog posts over the next week or so. My interests are mainly the economy and skills themes.

We are not a world class digital nation – nowhere close

The current digital strategy for Scotland was published in 2011. It outlined the steps to be taken to “ensure that Scotland was well positioned to take full advantage of all the economic, social and environmental opportunities offered by the digital age”. The underlying vision was for Scotland to become a world-class digital nation by 2020.

The starting point in updating the national digital strategy should be an honest assessment of where we are, the progress made since 2011 benchmarked against leading digital nations – our digital strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

This is standard business strategy textbook stuff. I see no evidence of such foundation work being undertaken in the context of the updated digital strategy.

The ‘ideas’ web site calling for contributions to the debate states:

‘While the high-level aims of the (2011) strategy are still relevant today, the vast majority of the actions it describes have been delivered over the past five years’.

Where is the evidence to support this sweeping statement? I disagree that the vast majority of actions have been delivered.

Taking just one example, the 2011 strategy had a stated objective that:

‘Scotland’s enterprise agencies will play a critical role in helping us to deliver a world leading digital economy’.

In what way have we become a world leading digital economy? Are we really claiming that this key action has been successfully delivered when the Government’s own statistics show that only 3% of Scottish companies can be described as being ‘Digital Champions’? (Source: Digital Economy Business Survey 2014, Scottish Government).

Yes progress has been made over the last five years and there are exemplars of best digital practice in Scotland. However, we are nowhere close to being a world class digital economy. Despite two decades of digital business support being available to companies in Scotland through the enterprise network, only 3% are championing digital. Why? What are the barriers? What implications does this raise for future SME support policy in this area? More of the same?

An honest assessment of Scotland benchmarked against leading digital nations is also required.

For example, as Scotland procrastinates in developing a digital strategy ‘fit for purpose’ in an era of turbulent digital change, the UAE has just announced a target of becoming a world leader in Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, building on previous government initiatives promoting other disruptive technologies such as the blockchain, smart transportation, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence.

Dubai, in particular, is rapidly emerging as a world class digital nation. Key milestones over the last five years have included:

  • 2011 - introduction of e-payment cards for government services
  • 2011 - e-voting introduced
  • 2013 - all government services to be available through mobile devices and apps
  • 2013 - Smart Government launched – aim to become the world’s smartest city
  • 2014 - Happiness Index launched to measure the happiness and satisfaction of the public with digital public services – aim to be the world’s happiest city
  • Feb 2016 - 1,000 new digital initiatives launched to embrace the Internet of Things
  • May 2016 - world’s first 3D printed office block opened - vision of being a world leader in 3D printing technology
  • April 2016 - 25% of all transportation in Dubai to be smart and driverless by 2030
  • October 2016 - Dubai mandates Blockchain only Government documents by 2020
  • May 2016 - Dubai government services score 89% on the Happiness Index
  • Nov 2016 – become a world leader in Industry 4.0

Will our updated national digital strategy follow the lead set by Dubai? Will it have agreed KPIs and targets covering the latest technologies critical to the successful digital transformation of our eceonomy – IoT, automation, additive manufacturing, the Blockchain, Internet 4.0 and so on? While many 'talk the talk' in terms of being world class digital, Dubai and the UAE appear to be 'walking the walk'.

Other evidence exists to support the view that the UK/Scotland is falling behind in the global digital race.

As we plan Scotland’s digital strategy for 2017 and beyond, we really do need to cut the spin. Stop pretending that we are a leading digital nation. That does no-one any favours.

Research Urgently Required

In addition to the above, there needs to be a realistic assessment of where Scotland is positioned in relation to the rapid pace of digital change currently taking place. A realistic assessment based on sound research.

We live in an era of Digital Darwinism. Digital is NOT a sector. It will disrupt every industry in Scotland. The changes we have seen over the last twenty years are nothing compared to what is coming. No industry, no organisation, no individual will be immune from the threat of being disrupted.

As a nation, are we sleep walking into an on-coming digital tsunami?

While we see frequent forecasts and reports covering the potential economic impact of Scottish independence, the impact of Brexit, the impact of Trump’s election in the US, where is the research looking at the potential impact of digital disruption on the Scottish economy?

With some academic studies suggesting that 40 percent of jobs could be lost over the next decade or so as a result of automation, where is the research concerning the potential impact of digital disruption on Scottish labour markets, skills and employment?

How will the Scottish economy and Scottish jobs be affected by the following?

Broadband + Mobile Connectivity + Social Media + Enterprise Social + The Cloud + Big Data + Predictive Analytics + Algorithms + Internet of Things+ Artificial Intelligence + Robots + Automation + Cognitive Computing + 3D Printing (Additive Manufacturing) + Wearables + Autonomous Vehicles + Drones + The Blockchain + Generation C = The End of Business as Usual

The short answer is we don’t know. Research is urgently required in this area to ensure that the updated digital strategy is built on a foundation of rock not sand.

As always, comments and feedback are very welcome.

More to follow……..

Jim H

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