Q&A: Ian Watt

Aberdeen City Council’s digital transformation manager talks about his work on digital with other councils and companies.

Job Title/Organisation: Digital Transformation Manager at Aberdeen City Council and Trustee of Code The City (CTC). 

What does your role involve? 

I lead a team at Aberdeen City Council creating a Digital Place strategy for the Aberdeen City region, working with a wide range of public sector and private partners. The strategy will touch on all areas of life in the city and beyond, from health to transport to education to the economy. I also lead both our innovation and GIS teams there.

Outside my day job I am a co-founder and trustee of Code The City which runs open data-based hack weekends across Scotland, and I’ve been on Socitm’s Scottish Committee for a few years.

What do you consider to be the most imminent challenge in your line of work?

The opportunities presented by digital are enormous and growing rapidly. Traditionally, the public sector has been slow to identify how they can make use of new and emerging tech. We need to have a flexible roadmap which will spot opportunities early and plan to bring those into the business sooner.

As an example, which councils have agreed a strategy for using Internet of Things, or have thought of what role blockchain might play in building in security and trust in the way they engage with citizens or businesses? 

What has been the most rewarding piece of work you’ve undertaken?

At Code The City my colleagues and I developed an approach to ideation and rapid prototyping of services over a 36 hour period which works well. I’ve been able to pull some of that into the work place and embed it in how we approach innovation. Having side projects such as these are invaluable, in my view.

How can Scotland bridge the digital skills gap?

We need to work with education colleagues to open up opportunities for youngsters to go beyond what they can do as part of the curriculum. We have attendees as young as 11 at some of our CTC events and it is great to see their natural enthusiasm and ability to absorb new skills.

Which new technology excites you the most?

As an Open Data advocate, and someone who champions master data management, I have to say that we need to get the data right so that tech (in all its forms) can deliver. If we get our data in shape we can reuse it in very innovative ways.  

What’s your favourite app and why?

Outside work I use the mobile versions of Trello for project management and Any.Do for task management. Both work very well and get the job done.

What, for you, will 2016 be the year of from a technology/digital standpoint?

Aberdeen will have a digital strategy which we can all get behind. We’ll have a better grasp of new and emerging technologies and a roadmap for how we adopt those. We’ll have a programme of digital literacy in place – and with the help of the Scottish Seven Cities Alliance we’ll have moved Open Data from a niche side-line to a more central part of how we do business and drive innovation. We will start to democratise access to digital services and we’ll be working toward shifting the balance from citizens being digital consumers toward being digital producers.

For 100 days, PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood Connect is running through its Tech 100 for 2015, profiling the key figures driving the digital agenda in Scotland

Colin Marrs

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