A changing nation: how Scotland will thrive in a digital world

This strategy sets out the measures which will ensure that Scotland will fulfil its potential in a constantly evolving digital world.

Transforming Government

Recent work around The Promise and the Adult Review of Health and Social Care has reinforced the message that transforming services requires us to transform the organisations that deliver them. This is not simply a question of adopting new or better technology. It requires a fundamental shift in culture, skills, leadership, service design, process engineering, the use of data, collaboration, and investment planning. It requires leaders with the confidence to move away from the approaches, systems and ways of working that have been successful in the past. In short, it requires, the transformation of Government and the adoption of new digital business models based on greater accountability, networking, agility and a relentless focus on improving the customer experience.

Although it can be relatively quick to establish a new digital business, transforming existing organisations to become digital organisations can take time. Public bodies across Scotland are at different stages of their journey, with varying levels of digital and data maturity. However, and particularly at a time when resources are tight, the prize is a great one.

Image of colleagues working at a laptop togetherWhere we are now

The national response to the pandemic has shown that we can spin up new services and scale old ones at incredible speed. It reinforced the importance of collaboration across the public sector and the benefits that can be achieved by working in creative partnerships with businesses and the third sector.

The pandemic demonstrated that good data is essential, and fostered a greater understanding of the value of high-quality data and data analytics. The crisis precipitated data innovation at scale to provide information, products and services to support both government and the people of Scotland at pace, and led to the establishment of a COVID-19 Data and Intelligence Network that provided the public sector with real-time intelligence to make rapid decisions. However, it has also demonstrated once again that not all organisations have the data maturity to optimise their services and that drivers are needed to move organisations through data transformation just as is being done with digital transformation.

Progress in this direction has been made through an acceleration of Research Data Scotland (RDS)[49] and the launch of the COVID-19 data research service in May 2020. This initiative has brought together and re-purposed existing data infrastructure, capabilities, skills and resources so that researchers are able to carry out collaborative research and analysis that provides evidence for important decisions on the lifting of social restrictions and recovery from the pandemic. This service together with the new and emerging RDS will provide a catalyst for change so that Scotland’s data can be organised, collated and curated more systematically and more done can be done up stream to enhance the added value that data can bring to a number of applications. RDS will achieve this whilst maintaining public confidence in the appropriate use of data, whilst ensuring access to data is quicker and clearer for those who want to access it, also through the digitisation of aspects of the data access service.

At the same time, the way in which we responded to the crisis has had some profound effects on the way that national and local government work. It has shown that we no longer need to rely solely on central office locations, but can make greater use of home and remote working and make the most of its potential in delivering personalised services, operating efficiently, reducing carbon footprint, promoting inclusivity and wellbeing and reinvigorating local communities. It has also demonstrated the benefits of collaboration tools and video-conferencing for both engaging with members of the public, increasing the resilience of democratic processes, and for improving collaboration across public bodies.

The governance mechanisms required to transform the way in which government works are already in place. The Local Government Digital Partnership is a partnership of all 32 local authorities in Scotland that was established in 2016 to advance digital transformation in local government. Supported by the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government and range of national partners such as COSLA, Scottish Government, Improvement Service, Scotland Excel and SEEMiS, the partnership provides leadership for digital transformation at a sector level, fosters collaboration across Councils, and promotes joined up approaches and digital programmes across the sector. It oversees the design and delivery of collaborative programmes around digital service transformation, digital leadership and the “digital foundations” of technology enablement, data-driven approaches, and cyber security.

The digitisation of Scottish Government is overseen by the independently chaired Central Government Digital Transformation Board and led by a Digital Directorate which delivers national connectivity, transformation and innovation programmes including R100 and a series of common operating platforms. It also provides shared digital services, such as remote access, networking and security services, to 16,500 staff across 48 separate organisations in the Scottish public sector. The two governance structures work together at both a strategic and programme level.

The Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) provides 94 organisations including all NHS boards and an estimated 300,000 public sector staff, with the connectivity to access digital services and work collaboratively. We are starting to see common services and platforms at work, with work underway at various stages of development on publishing platforms, payments, and Digital Identity.

Where we want to be

We want to build national and local government on digital business models. This means that we need to make progress across each of the factors described by Audit Scotland in their reports (“Enabling Digital Government” and “Digital Progress in Local Government”).

The starting point is to ensure that public sector leaders understand and act upon the opportunities and risks of the digital age. We want to provide them with access to very best thinking around digital information, promote peer to peer networks to share learning and encourage collaboration and change the way we evaluate success to reinforce the expectation that all organisations will adopt common standards, processes, technologies. We want them to be supported in this by a highly skilled and empowered workforce, who understand the benefits of these ways of working and have the capacity, capability and skills to operate successfully in a digital organisation. The shared single Digital Academy for the Public Sector will have a key part to play in this.

Our vision is one in which national and local government play a full and active part in a network of organisations from all sectors of the Scottish economy, each of which focusses on what they do best in order to meet the expectations of our service users. This means finding new ways of tapping into the innovation that flows from universities and entrepreneurial businesses and the trust that people place in third sector organisations to deliver services and enhance our local communities. It means that the public sector will not seek to reinvent commodity technologies but instead focus on accessing them in the most efficient way through common platforms capable of achieving economies of scale and enabling us to focus our efforts and resources on meeting the needs of local people, businesses and communities by improving the quality of services we offer and taking action to prevent issues before they arise.

Once developed, we want Common Platforms (Figure 2) to operate across organisational boundaries and form the basis of an approach to public service reform where individual organisations can focus their staff, resources and innovation on front line service delivery because they don’t have to reinvent or operate back office processes that are best delivered in collaboration and through widely available commodity technologies. This will take time, particularly where organisations have a legacy of existing processes and systems, but by working together we can share learning and boost the business case for change.

Figure 2

Priority Common Platforms

Confirming personal identity securely, to access public-sector services digitally.


A wide range of financial transactions.

Appilcations (Forms)

Online applications and support forms.


Making information about services and functions accessible online.

Customer Relationship Management

Storing customer data and interaction information.

Management Information (Performance)

Data analysis, and publication of performance information.

Cloud Operations

Supporting public sector to make efficient and secure use of cloud technology.

How we will get there

  • Work together on a sustained programme of culture change. We will develop and sustain the cultures and working practices required to be successful in the digital age and enhance wellbeing. This starts with the use of technology to extend and embed the principles of open government by enabling greater accountability and community engagement. In this way we will foster and sustain agile working, greater collaboration and secure data sharing within and across organisations. Leadership Icon
  • Build a suite of common platforms and commit to their rapid adoption across the public sector. The Infrastructure Investment Programme recognises that digital public services are part of Scotland’s critical national infrastructure and identifies a multi-year investment of £110 million to help develop and implement the platforms described in Figure 2. This will be supplemented by investment in transforming priority service areas. Leadership Icon
  • Adopt common digital and data standards: We will develop and accelerate the use of common digital and data standards across the public sector. This will make it easier to join up services for the benefit of the people who use them. We will embed the Scottish Approach to Service Design and Digital Scotland Service Standards and ensure that users are involved in all design decisions, data can be shared where appropriate, teams are resourced and skilled appropriately and that common services and platforms are used as the default. To aid this, a Data Standards community of practice will be formed to develop the ambition, build a roadmap of key steps to be taken and processes to help organisations improve. We will develop a public sector data catalogue, which will make it easier for everyone to see what data is held and to understand how to access it.Technology Enabled Icon
  • Establishing a new public sector centre of excellence for process automation. In line with the infrastructure investment plans to develop a new, system-wide infrastructure investment assessment and prioritisation framework, we will establish a public sector centre of excellence for digital technology and digital thinking to train staff in these techniques across the public sector. This will commission joint projects and share information about ‘what works’ to avoid unnecessary and often costly repetition of work. Collaboration Icon
  • A digital service hub: We will develop a common catalogue of services and service components that will be used as a default across national and local government, including, for example, a common online recruitment service. This will be based on a common architecture, a joint approach to prioritisation, joint design, joint commissioning/procurement and joint governance, delivering efficiencies and simplifying people’s experience of working with and in government. At the heart of this will be a set of common operating platforms as described in Figure 2. We will ensure that all new organisations and services across national and local government are built using these platforms. Existing organisations will aim to move to these platforms as they need to replace legacy systemsTechnology Enabled Icon
  • A new model of commercial engagement: Led by the Digital Commercial Service the Scottish Government will adopt open inclusive approach to procurement which provides meaningful opportunities for small businesses and start-ups and ensure that the public sector secures best value from its long-term strategic relationships with key suppliers. We see the public sector as an integral part of an ecosystem of talent and innovation and will work to ensure that we access the very best ideas and skills from across our economy in order to support economic growth and transform the quality of the services we offer. Leadership Icon
  • Support a Digital Third Sector: We will work with third sector partners and Digital Participation Charter signatories to enable them to develop their digital capabilities as well as introducing new digital business models. This will promote common standards and secure  technologies across the sector and promote interoperability with public sector partners. This will ensure that the third sector remains an innovative partner in the ecosystem that supports people and communities across Scotland. Collaborative Icon
  • Enhance Digital democracy: We will explore the potential for digital technology to better enable parliamentarians and elected council members to engage with constituents remotely to enhance the resilience of the democratic process; assist participation in local decision making and community councils; and to engage with overseas governments remotely to improve Scotland’s international influence. Innovative Icon
  • Develop and implement a Data Transformation Framework to encourage both data improvement and the expansion of data reuse across the Scottish Public Sector. Taking an approach that acknowledges the elements necessary for a successful data ecosystem, the Framework will provide clear data maturity pathways to achieving this, using guidance, resources, standards and principles for each stage, enabling organisations to become data driven. At its core it will deliver a shared vision for data maturity, quality and innovationData Driven Icon
  • Invest in analytical platforms, to increase efficiency, improve the quality of data we collect, share skills and knowledge and enable greater innovation and collaboration. We will leverage the power of our data through our application platforms and build on the Data & Intelligence Network as a model for collaboration, to create communities of practice, address challenges create a trusted and efficient data ecosystem to enable data to be used to help solve some of our most significant challenges. We will further develop Research Data Scotland service which is currently scoping the requirements for new and additional research data platforms. These will be at the heart of data sharing and data access so that high quality research with high quality data can happen in Scotland. Data Driven Icon

Alignment to our National Performance Framework


We will;

  1. develop cultures and working practices required to be successful in the digital age;
  2. build a suite of common platforms to be adopted across the public sector;
  3. adopt common digital and data standards;
  4. establish a new public sector centre of excellence for process automation;
  5. create a digital service hub;
  6. adopt an open, inclusive approach to procurement;
  7. work with third partners to support a digital third sector;
  8. explore the potential for technology to better enable parliamentarians and elected council members to engage with constituents remotely;
  9. develop and implement a Data Transformation Framework;
  10. invest in analytical platforms.
NPF Alignment
NPF Poverty Icon

Poverty - We tackle poverty by sharing opportunities, wealth and power more equally.

NPF Economy Icon

Economy - We have a globally competitive, entrepreneurial, inclusive and sustainable economy.

NPF Communities Icon

Communities - We live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe.

NPF Culture Icon

Culture - We are creative and our vibrant and diverse cultures are expressed and enjoyed widely.



49 https://www.gov.scot/publications/protecting-scotlands-future-governments-programme-scotland-2019-20/


Back to top