‘Pilot’ is a Dirty Word in Scottish Digital Transformation

Martin Wallace has banned the phrase “pilot project” as he drives the digital transformation of Scottish Local Government.

Wallace, who has been Chief Digital Officer at Scottish Local Government since late 2015, has urged the 32 local Government authorities who make up the organization to move forward with projects by creating the minimal viable product, and as rapidly as possible.

“Don’t wait for the next big thing in technology,” Wallace said at a CDO Summit in Sydney recently.

“You can start things with text messages reminding people of appointments with doctors and social workers, and get value from that. I banned the word ‘pilots’ and joked there were more pilots than British Airways in some instances. I urged them to create a Version 1 of the product, solution or service and continually iterate and improve using agile and scrum methodologies.”

Wallace's task is a complex one. Scotland has 5.2 million people, 32 local authorities, and over 1,200 councilors.

There are 14 different health boards which have been going through an 18-month integration of health and community service deliveries.

Although it has a small population, Scotland also has major coverage issues and faces challenges in backhaul infrastructure to deliver broadband to remote communities.

 “When you talk to some of these people in councils they think they are digital because they have a website or they talk about how they need superfast connectivity for their constituents to be digital,” said Wallace.

“Others don’t appear to understand the benefits of potentially having external companies host their data center or cloud so they can concentrate on services while others do.  So it has been challenging to get everyone on the same journey, but we are getting there now.”

When he took on his current role as CDO, Wallace was told the program had six project priorities. He then spent the next three months in consultation with the Councils and came away with 58 suggested work projects.

“We then went away and grouped comments and interests and asked each council to nominate themselves as either a leader, part of the Working Group or a Follower to each project," said Wallace.

In this patchwork of stakeholders and priorities, Wallace tries to keep to the principle of “user first.” He understands that long conversations are required with both internal and external users, in which the central message was that “digital is now.”

“I also worked to dispel the myth that digital was some bolt on or ‘dark art’ to business transformation,” he said.

“The overall message to all stakeholders has been that digital is the last lever you can pull in the Local Authority which will give you the frontline services you need, and users expect, while at the same time reducing costs to help you balance your budgets."

His vision borrows from the digital economy and translates it into local government services. For example, he is enabling the ability to call up a rubbish collection as you would book an Uber ride, and hire a school hall for a function as you would rent an apartment on Airbnb.

Such is the legacy of council jurisdictions and their legacy systems that this may not all be easy to achieve in a short period. But regarding delivery, Wallace’s guiding principle is that the best time is now.