Simon Haston 26 July 2018

Matching digital ambitions to community outcomes

Scotland is working to an ambitious digital agenda in the public sector. I’ve seen this myself from the inside. Until just a few months ago I led the digital agenda at Aberdeen City Council, which has all sorts of pilot projects underway related to the Internet of Things. So I understand local authorities’ vision for using technology as a springboard for new innovation.

To create real improvements that citizens and service teams will notice and appreciate in their daily lives, digital transformation initiatives and projects shouldn’t be treated as ‘science’ projects: they must be targeted at specific local outcomes.

Many hands make light work

One stated ambition on the Scottish Government agenda is to develop shared infrastructure – the networks, systems and computers public sector organisations and their partners use every day. One of the obvious benefits of sharing investment and practices is reduced costs and the ability to focus resources on frontline services. In terms of health and social care integration, Scotland is already well on its way towards the goal of designing key public services around citizens’ needs, rather than organisational silos.

To reach more sparsely populated areas with the same range and depth of services as urban areas, Scotland needs to make the most of its connections, and use them in smarter ways. Social isolation is a real issue identified by the Government and currently the subject of a public consultation. One of the goals is to establish what is needed to build stronger social connections between those who feel cut off.

It’s what you do with connectivity that counts

It’s a promising start that high-speed fibre broadband now reaches at least 95% of the population in Scotland. But, more than that, real progress will come from new approaches to connectivity and the services that run over those connections – the ease with which people can find each other, and access online services that increase their sense of belonging.

A lot of this means rethinking the way organisations ‘buy’ connectivity. The days of putting in big network pipes and getting tied into fixed contracts are gone. This is expensive, restrictive and unnecessary in the modern age.

Schools, for example, have high network demands at certain points of the year, especially with increasing use of video and other rich, multimedia-based learning experiences in the class room. But there are also long periods where networks lie dormant, during the holidays. With challenges to budgets, local authorities need to think differently about how they provide for those variances in demand, and how they can meet surges in demand for capacity without driving up year-round costs.

Smarter sourcing

Flexible connectivity-as-a-service options, where capacity can be applied to where it is needed at any given time, are much more appealing now - especially where there is an option to bundle together fixed, mobile and wifi connectivity. This could be extended to other value-added services or applications too, for example video and other collaboration platforms and applications. If schools and local authorities looked at desired outcomes which might include ‘better access to subject experts’ or ‘affordable opportunities to experience other cultures’, it would be easier to assess how intelligent connectivity could best be applied.

Intelligent connectivity is about taking a smarter approach to the way organisations connect people, information, ideas and things. Instead of the limitations of current infrastructure dictating what organisations can and can’t do, organisations use technology to overcome barriers and create new and better ways of doing things – which are more suited to what people actually want and need.

Community planning

Currently there is a lot of excitement at the potential for IoT and its potential to improve local services in towns and cities – for example through smarter planning and monitoring of resources. But again, it’s only by attaching this to specific real-world outcomes (e.g. air quality improvement, safer roads, a lower carbon footprint) that councils will begin to make real progress.

It’s this outcome-based agenda that Scotland’s community planning partnerships (CPPs) were designed for. Whether addressing digital inequality or stimulating economic growth, real results will only come if technology and communications planning is attached to clear use cases.

Connecting the place

Intelligent connectivity will allow public sector bodies to integrate connectivity, meet changing demands quicker, connect to cloud solutions and use data better. Given the geographic reach and presence in communities, public sector bodies can leverage this capability to support businesses, communities, schools and public areas. This lays a strong foundation for smart places and the exploitation for technologies such as machine to machine learning or artificial intelligence.

BT is very good at seeing and converting this potential, because our teams include people who understand the business priorities and considerations, not just the technology. As a former sector insider, I count myself as one of those people.

To find out more about how we can help you deliver tangible community outcomes from your digital innovation initiatives.

Simon Haston, Scotland CIO - Regional Government and Health at BT

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