Q&A: Sally Kerr

We talk to City of Edinburgh Council’s digital services manager about the opportunities presented by the speed of technological change.

What does your role involve?

My current role within ICT solutions includes being the product owner for the council’s primary website, leading the ICT digital team and strategic responsibility for the council’s digital services. I also have the lead role for the council’s open data programme and related digital developments.

I manage EdinburghApps, our civic challenge programme, which encourages use of open data and supports start-ups and SMEs, and work with Edinburgh Living Lab to investigate city problems and identify potential solutions utilising open data.

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

The speed of technological change is particularly challenging for the public sector, but also provides huge opportunities for new approaches and improvements. In Edinburgh we are exploring new technologies to identify the value they may offer to inform our future ICT strategy.

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

Leading the development of a number of open source and open data products which have not only delivered innovative solutions for the city but are also demonstrators showcasing the power of open data e.g. Edinburgh Outdoors and Edinburgh Collected.

In addition, the projects had wider impact for the council, introducing new ways of working, digital champions and wider awareness of the value of digital innovation.  

How can Scotland bridge the digital skills gap?

This is a major challenge but opportunities are being made available to help people of all ages gain core digital skills, with solutions built on locally based projects and programmes, such as in Edinburgh Libraries, and nationally through the Digital Future programme, which has recognised the need to provide a robust infrastructure to help increase digital participation and grow the digital economy.

There is also a need to support young people as they learn to code by offering creative opportunities beyond school such as taking part in hacks and competitions. I’m delighted to see young coders at EdinburghApps events. It’s essential to help them find their own way of thinking and problem solving in preparation for working in the ICT industry.  

Which new technology excites you the most?

The opportunities offered by IoT [Internt of Things] technologies are very exciting but we need to explore their use to uncover where they will be of most benefit. Edinburgh Council has already carried out some exploratory projects using sensors, 3Drendering and drones.

What’s your favourite app and why?

I have apps I use every day but I’m excited about two new digital products from last year’s EdinburghApps winners: RuntheCity, which is about to be delivered and will target business visitors looking to get their run in whilst visiting Edinburgh; and ARC-Edinburgh, which is an app to support those in addiction recovery.

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

I have to say open data. The more we share our data, the more we will wonder why we didn’t do it before. We’ll be working in the Seven Cities Alliance to move open data into a wider arena in Scotland.

In order to use open data well though, it is so important to understand and manage data efficiently to ensure it is ready for opportunities that become available so the role of big data will be key. 

For 100 days, PublicTechnology’s sister publication 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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