Scotland's Digital Future: supporting the transition to a world-leading digital economy

Assesses the role that Scotland's public sector is playing in stimulating the digital economy and proposes actions that could be taken.

3 Supporting Scottish Business

Current position

Scotland's enterprise agencies (Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Islands Enterprise) and the local authority-led Business Gateway deliver independent and impartial advice to businesses on a variety of digital topics. This ranges from generic advice to all sizes and types of business on topics such as website development, social media, broadband and e-commerce through to more specialist support focused on digital strategy, cloud computing, inbound marketing, data analytics and customer relationship management (Figure 3). This support is delivered through both on and off line channels depending on the size, potential and preference of the customer.

Figure 3: Existing Digital Business Support

Figure 3: Existing Digital Business Support


We must ensure that Scottish companies, particularly in future growth sectors, lead the world in their knowledge and application of digital technology. This starts with the leadership and vision of those who lead Scottish businesses and flows through to the development of the skills and resources required to drive business efficiency, growth and competitiveness (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Digital ambition


Digital Ambition



Business leaders have the vision, awareness and confidence in using digital technology to deliver business improvement and product development.


The business/sector strategy embraces enabling technologies to drive growth and competitive advantage.

The digital vision is reflected in operational strategy which is owned and implemented by staff across the business.


Resources and Investment

The level of digital technology investment in the business is optimal relative to their size, sector and business requirements.

People and Skills

Staff have the skills and confidence to deploy and utilise digital technology across the business.


Productivity and Efficiency

Clear business efficiency benefits are realised from digitally enabled processes.

Sales and Performance

The success in using digital sales channels to increase effectiveness and drive down the cost of customer acquisition.


Supporting Scotland's 340,000 businesses to fully exploit the benefits of digital technologies requires concerted, joined-up action across all sectors of our economy. Our business base is necessarily diverse and a one-size-fits-all approach to support and advice is never going to be appropriate (Figure 5). Specifically, we need to be able to take businesses on a journey that starts with the basic digital literacy and understanding that is increasingly required for survival, through to the use of technology forecasting and support for the more specialist and sophisticated levels of skills development that can support businesses in competing on a global scale.

Figure 5: Scotland's Business Base

Our support programmes must:

  • Reach across our base of small and medium sized enterprises to create a 'digital buzz' that stimulates innovation, encourages investment in ICT and encourages the use of digital approaches to customer and supplier engagement.
  • Understand and reflect the varying needs of different sectors of our economy and focus support accordingly.
  • Provide in-depth and tailored support for our growth companies so that they recognise the transformational potential of digital technologies and stay ahead of their domestic and international competitors.

By working together, Scotland's enterprise agencies can provide a seamless range of support that reflects differences in business opportunity, the needs of different sectors and the starting point of a business in terms of digital sophistication. Figure 6 illustrates the overarching business support framework and highlights the need to combine breadth and depth initiatives to encourage world-class digital sophistication at all levels.

Figure 6: Business Support Framework

Figure 6: Business Support Framework


3.1 We should adopt a 'Team Scotland' approach to the delivery of business support on digital issues. An agreed operating framework is required that allows businesses to access different levels of support through different channels as their needs change in terms of the skills they require, the sectors within which they work and the extent of their international ambitions.

3.2 There should be a single on-line access point for this support, regardless of which agency is best placed to deliver it. This should aggregate the support that is available throughout Scotland's support agency network and help signpost/deliver this support to a broad range of Scottish businesses. This will enable cost effective and collaborative delivery of self-diagnostic tools, webinars and online advice facilities.

3.3 The reach of traditional support activities through events, workshops, and one-to-one advisory support should be extended. There is a strong rationale for increasing the level of public sector investment in this area.

3.4 We should consider the benefits of a 'digital voucher' scheme to provide financial incentives to encourage risk-averse businesses to invest in technology.

3.5 A 'Digital Excellence' programme of strategic support for companies should be launched. This should provide a highly intensive and bespoke package of support to a small number of existing growth businesses in order to improve their global competitiveness, inspire others and confirm the international reputation of Scotland and Scottish businesses as international innovators in the digital economy. Public sector grant support for deeper one-to-one support should be weighted towards projects that are either strategic in nature or have the potential to make a transformational impact on the company.

3.6 A programme of specific sector based support developed in conjunction with The Technology Advisory Group ( TAG) and Scotland's Industry Leadership Groups should be pursued. A 'Digital Tourism' initiative is already underway with the Scottish Tourism Alliance, the Scottish Government, VisitScotland and Scottish Enterprise as key partners. These programmes may be a combination of breadth and depth interventions.

3.7 A comprehensive programme of digital education and training for advisers should be put in place and enhanced continually. We must ensure that both specialist digital and general business advisers in all of Scotland's enterprise and business support agencies are able to offer the up-to-date advice to companies to help improve their digital sophistication. Particularly for the specialist advisers working on more in-depth engagements with growth companies, their knowledge and expertise must be sufficient to not only respond to digital demand, but also to spot opportunities that exploit emerging digital trends.

3.8 We should further improve our understanding of the current state of digital sophistication amongst Scottish businesses and develop an innovative 'digital knowledge exchange' that brings together experts in government, business and academia. This Digital Knowledge Exchange will establish a robust and reliable 'supply-chain' of knowledge which will enable us to anticipate global trends and ensure that our business support remains current, world class and appropriate to the challenges of a rapidly evolving digital economy.

3.9 We should consider whether co-location of activities to create a Digital Excellence & Demonstration Centre in partnership with industry would have added value. This could be a physical space to share facilities, deliver training programmes, support start-up activities, demonstration facilities, knowledge exchange events and potentially locate innovation centres.


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