Clarity needed over Scottish digital plans

The Scottish Government is still failing to get basic digital contract management right, according to a new report. Gemma Diamond looks at the findings.

Digital technology is an increasingly important part of our everyday lives, transforming the ways we access information and services.

This change is reflected in the public sector, where the Scottish Government has adopted a ‘digital first’ approach. This signals that digital technology has a significant role to play in the future delivery of public services.

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This all means that the way public bodies manage the delivery of these digital solutions is receiving increasing attention.

Many of us can point to public sector IT projects that have gone wrong, and our 2012 report highlighted three such programmes. As well as making recommendations to help address the problems we identified, the report drew out lessons for other public bodies to learn from.

Colleagues and I have returned to this subject again in our latest report on Managing ICT contracts, both to follow-up on the recommendations we made in 2012, and provide an update on how the Scottish Government and central government bodies are coping with the management of ICT.

It’s clear that progress has been made since we last reported, and we share examples of that progress using a range of case studies from across central government.

However, some central government bodies are still not getting the basic programme and management processes right, such as:

  • Fully identifying the proposed benefits of IT solutions at the start, and how they will be measured
  • Implementing effective supplier management processes
  • Achieving these allows bodies to prove that the public are benefitting from digital technology, and that programmes have been delivered in a cost effective way

The key to success lies with having the people with the right skills on the project from the start. We found that central government bodies are still struggling to identify and access the skills they need.

In addition to this, there’s a widespread shortage of these digital skills, and public bodies find it difficult to complete in the jobs market against commercial businesses offering higher salaries. So, it’s clear that a public body can’t fill a skills gap alone; a different solution is needed.

The Scottish Government plans to address this with a new shared service of digital skills for central government bodies. It will be interesting to see how this approach works in practice, and whether it will be effective. Clear plans and adequate resources will be needed to get it off the ground, but it if works, there is real potential to share lessons learned more widely across the public sector.

Central government bodies have something to contribute as well, by completing a skills assessment before starting an ICT programme and working with the Scottish Government to fill any gaps.

And that’s the over-arching message of our report. As the public sector looks for different and innovative ways to deliver public services, digital technology is likely to be at the forefront of ideas. So, working together to prioritise resources, and sharing information to learn from mistakes and support improvement, has to be at the heart of managing ICT projects.

Gemma Diamond is a senior manager with Audit Scotland and worked on both the 2012 report on managing ICT contracts as well as the latest report. This blog first appeared on the Audit Scotland website.

Colin Marrs

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