by Edward Qualtrough

Scottish Local Government Chief Digital Officer Martyn Wallace interview – Digital virus for change

Dec 20, 2017
GovernmentIT Strategy

Chief Digital Officer for the Scottish Local Government Digital Office, Martyn Wallace, is hoping to be a “virus for change” in order to transform the culture of local government and realise Scotland’s digital future.

Wallace started in the new role of CDO for the Digital Office in October 2016. The post was created by the Scottish Local Government IT board, which itself had been set up on the back of the McClelland Review of ICT infrastructure in Scotland at the start of the decade.

With a background working at O2, BlackBerry, Capita and in consultancy, Wallace said that the institution “went for somebody who was disruptive – somebody who could stand up and speak, and manage digital transformation”.

The Chief Digital Officer works alongside Dr Colin Burchenall, a Chief Technology Officer who was instrumental in creating the Future Cities Demonstrator project for Glasgow City Council and who is seconded back from the Scottish Local Government Digital Office to Glasgow for half a week.

“Colin is brilliant,” Wallace said. “He looks after the architecture, I do the business piece and the strategy with Colin to push forwards the transformation agenda.”

Digital express

Wallace said that his biggest challenge is working with 32 different councils all at different stages of their technology, digital and IT evolutions. Wallace offered the analogy of different operators running rail services on one set of tracks. The CDO and the Digital Office sets ‘destination digital’, lays down the tracks, provides the timetable and arranges the trains with the high-speed trailblazers at the front and the other councils behind as coaches in a Scottish-led digital starlight express.

“That destination point moves as digital moves; it’s always a never-ending improvement but it’s getting them all aligned to get to that place,” Wallace said.

Mobile flexible working emerged as the biggest priority for all of the councils, and Wallace said that some were deploying Office 365 to enable this but that others were pushing back “because of security concerns” – a source of frustration for Wallace.

“If five of you can do it, why can’t the rest of you? We are working with the security teams to help them upskill to the new digital age,” he said.

The Scottish Local Government Digital Office has two councils leading on GDPR and in liaison with the ICO to better understand the regulator’s interpretation and rules. Indeed Wallace described GDPR as “the elephant in the room” with “quite a lot of snake oil salesmen in the sales community at the moment with the latest offering which is a silver bullet”.

Like mobile working and the other 17 major project briefs the team is working on, Wallace’s strategy with GDPR is to replicate what the leading councils are doing across the rest of Scotland.

“Ideally for all my projects in the Digital Office we do something once and we replicate it 32 times,” he said. Realistically for now Wallace notes this is 30 times however; two of the councils have not signed up as partners of the Digital Officer for Scottish Local Government, which although not ideal provides a benchmark for how Wallace and his team and helping the councils buying into a digital vision for Scotland.

Definition of digital

Defining exactly what digital means for each council has been the first hurdle for Wallace, with each authority not just at its own level of maturity but with different ideas of what digital actually meant for their organisation.

Now moving beyond the experimentation phase having shown the art of the possible is a significant barrier focus. Wallace said that one his biggest challenges was helping councils expand on successful digital trials into broader initiatives – a theme at the recent Gartner Symposium in Barcelona where Leeds Teaching Hospitals Chief Digital and Information Officer Richard Corbridge echoed similar frustrations.

“A lot of them have done pilots and I’ve banned pilots because we’ve got more pilots than British Airways and RyanAir,” he quipped.

Wallace said that the organisation’s major pain points were similar to other public sector organisations in the rest of the UK and indeed the rest of the world – an ageing population, year-on-year reductions in budgets, a lack of certainty about what funding is going to look like after Brexit, and the devolved politics of a possible second independence referendum possibly coming into play.

“We’ve got all this moving political landscape and no money, and we’ve been talking about austerity for years, but at some stage we have to spend to enable and look at the back-end processes about how we can automate things,” Wallace said.

“How can we assist people with better delivery outcomes? We’re not a service-delivery organisation – we concentrate on outcomes. Which is different, it’s about getting outcomes which require interaction with the rest of the public sector ecosystem across Scotland – with health, social care, police, fire and the NHS.”

And it was with a significant culture shift and through collaboration that Wallace believes Scottish councils and public sector organisations will be able to release themselves from legacy systems and legacy thinking and move towards a more digital agenda.

GDS collaboration

The Scottish Local Government Digital Office has been in correspondence with London’s new Chief Digital Officer Theo Blackwell, appointed in August 2017. Right down to each dealing with 32 different councils, Wallace noted that the two CDOs shared a number of similar challenges.

With the Government Digital Service turning its attention to local authorities as well as central government, Wallace’s Glasgow-based organisation had started a direct relationship with GDS.

Wallace is also keen for public sector institutions in Scotland to make the most of the local talent, digital ecosystems and startup innovations available to them. With “masses of small startups in central Scotland” and describing Edinburgh University as “the second-best university in the world for computing science behind MIT”, Wallace sees numerous synergies.

“We have massive FinTech innovation happening in Edinburgh, and renewables up in Aberdeen,” he said. “We created penicillin, television, Dolly the Sheep, deep-fried Mars bars – we’ve got a heritage of innovation. So how do we tap into that to give local authorities and gov as a whole that inspiration to move forward digitally?”

Emerging technology innovations

Wallace noted a number of opportunities with disruptive emerging technologies which Scottish councils can use to really make a positive impact on people’s lives.

“We need to look at getting things into the cloud and web APIs,” he said. “But the things that really excite me more and more are things like AI.

“AI, predictive analytics, drones, IoT in particular. How do we use the internet of things piece for telecare and vehicle tracking?

“We’ve got this amazing technology off-the-shelf like LiFi – so how can we use it to help people?”

Regarding the incoming waves of artificial intelligence and automation, the CDO believes that these technologies and digital in general will have a positive impact on the nature of work people do.

“You don’t get rid of people; you redeploy them to more meaningful work. That’s the beauty of digital,” he said.

However, Wallace acknowledges that none of this technology innovation is possible without a fundamental technology transformation – primarily a cloud migration that enables data to easily flow between different systems.

“There’s a lot that excites me but we have to get the foundations sorted because we can’t really build on a platform that’s not there,” Wallace said.

The Five ‘I’s

Wallace, a skilled bassoonist who studied music teaching for a year, described his overall strategy as the Five ‘I’s, although a Scottish rebranding to the Five Ayes is being considered.

He outlined the pillars thus:

1. Imagination –Having a digital strategy and being creative, asking what good looks like and what the digital world means for your organisation. If you had a blank piece of paper to start again, what would you do?

2. Innovation –What innovations do you have to do with your business, your processes, your technology, your strategy, and your people to get you to that imagination point?

3. Integration –How do you integrate and what else do you have to integrate with? It could be partners, or others in local government, other even local governments themselves, the NHS, police force or fire service? And how does that link into your ecosystem?

4. Investment –What do you have to invest to make this happen – is it people, time, money or a combination? What external help and internal investments does your organisation need to make to help make that imagination a reality?

5. Implementation –What is the minimum you have to do today to start the domino effect, to act as a catalyst that will help get you to your destination? “What is the smallest thing you have to do right now – not next week – what could you do right this minute to start this ball rolling,” Wallace said.

Wallace believes that the Chief Digital Officer thus plays a critical role as a change agent to help Scottish Local Government provide better outcomes for citizens.

“I want to create a virus for change, a virus for innovation,” Wallace said. “If you can make that small step, it will be a catalyst and will just keep going. The failing part will be there, but what is that small nugget you can do right now then test it and innovate through sprints.”