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Laying the foundations for innovation

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Blog posts

Hugh Wallace

06 Dec 2023

Innovation can only happen after solid foundations have been built. Hugh Wallace, Chief Information Officer, reflects on Digital Scotland 2023 and developing RDS's digital platforms.

I recently spoke at Digital Scotland 2023, the annual conference that focuses on big picture digital thinking in the Scottish public sector. It was a wide-ranging and thought-provoking day – a selection of great speakers and topics, with a buzz that I’ve not felt for a good few years.

Highlights for me came from the conversation between Megan Lee Devlin, the Central Digital & Data Office Chief Executive, and Geoff Huggins, Digital Director at Scottish Government, who discussed a variety of topics including UK Government’s excellent, to-the-point Transforming for a digital future and SG’s continuing focus on strategic digital services such as Cloud, Identity and Payments.

There was further stimulating discussion between Professor Shannon Vallor, Baillie Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence at the Edinburgh Futures Institute (and advisor to RDS’s Board), and Tom Wilkinson, Scottish Government's Chief Data Officer, on some of the foundational and ethical issues around AI (artificial intelligence). Tom’s recent comments on the Futurescot website came to the fore, as he underlined the fact that “we won’t be able to make full use of AI unless public data is in a good place in the first place”.

The Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary, JP Marks, rounded the event off and spoke of some of the successful digital approaches he had witnessed happening in Scotland, and how critical technology is in public service delivery. It was refreshing to see a public sector leader put digital so firmly in the frame.

Getting the foundations right

I presented as part of the ‘Innovation’ stream, which was a nice opportunity to see some fantastic initiatives at work from Edinburgh Innovations and Codebase, and also pitch some of the thinking that’s shaping the approach we’re taking in Research Data Scotland. I’ve blogged previously about my slight aversion to the word innovation, so I underlined the importance of getting the right context and structure in place for innovation, and not to distract from the (sometimes) less exciting stuff that actually holds everything together.

As well as highlighting some of the groundbreaking work we’re doing in developing our Researcher Access Service, I also talked about the opportunities we have – once there is a finely-tuned service in place – to start benefiting from automation and rapid prototyping, and to make sure all of the services we develop benefit from common standards and flexible technology to allow us to do interesting, innovative work in the future.

A running theme of the conference was about getting solid foundational work and processes in place, which felt both reassuring in terms of RDS’s own developments and a refreshing counter to some of the hype that’s all around us. As JP Marks said from the stage in his closing remarks: “Building the capability and community to drive change is probably the most important thing long-term”.

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