The role of digital technologies has changed significantly over the past year, with the pandemic playing a significant role in driving uptake within many organisations. As we tentatively emerge from the restrictions of the previous 15 months, it’s time to take stock of how digital services have evolved and learn from those that have successfully embraced transformation, to support the creation of digital hubs that will drive further improvements and innovation.
In recent times Wales has accelerated tremendously when it comes to digital transformation, and we’ve seen from our work with Welsh organisations including GPWales, Ogi, ateb and the NHS that there is huge potential for growth in this area.
To explore this topic further Box UK’s Managing Director Benno Wasserstein spoke to two leading experts via a Business News Wales Digital Discussion, covering a wide range of factors including the opportunities and barriers associated with digital transformation, the support available to Welsh businesses, and the potential opportunities for upskilling and employee career progression.
Working closely with his team, Benno inspires clients on their digital journey, ensuring together they develop exceptional software that is used by millions, disrupting industries and improving society.
With a a disciplinary background in computer science and informatics, Professor Tom Crick’s research interests are interdisciplinary and sit at the research/public policy interface: STEM and digital education, curriculum reform, data science, intelligent systems, smart infrastructure, cyber security, software sustainability, digital transformations, public service innovation and skills/infrastructure for the digital economy.
Sally has held senior digital transformation roles in the public, private and third sector for over 15 years. During this time she has delivered a number of highly successful digital inclusion programmes, and is passionate and proactive about getting more inclusion and diversity into the digital, data and technology profession.
Key insights from this fascinating discussion include:
There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for digital change in Wales, driving innovation at a new level of pace and scale as organisations across the public and private sectors rapidly responded to new audience demands and constraints.
Both Sally and Tom also emphasised the progress that had been made in the years before the pandemic hit, with Tom citing the new curriculum for Wales that was published in January 2020, which places digital competence with increased prominence and visibility across the entire curriculum.
Sally spoke about how in her role, conversations had already begun prior to the pandemic about the need for a Centre for Digital Public Services, and the work being done now by this organisation – supported by government ministers and other representatives – to bring together infrastructure, skills, cultural and economic considerations in one space to collectively improve the way digital services are delivered across Wales.
It’s clear that the importance of digital strategy is being recognised at an increasingly senior level, as a cross-governmental, multi-governmental piece that cuts across a range of public services such as education and health and social care. Tom highlighted the power of this recognition in driving continued adoption and uptake, for example by supporting the connection of disparate systems and processes, and enabling data to be shared effectively.
Tom also spoke about the related need to invest in user-centred design to ensure this activity delivers benefits for citizens, which Sally echoed, as a major focus for the CDPS. For Sally, strong leadership is vital to change the way digital services are thought of, create a culture of openness and transparency through collaboration, and build skills and competencies in areas such as service design to support existing technology capability.
With Box UK having been a proponent of these design approaches for many years, Benno commented on the positive movements being made to build these skills into education programmes, to meet the growing demand for talent and solve common challenges around siloed systems, data and user journeys that can block the way towards digital transformation.
Continuing the exploration of barriers faced by organisations in their digital transformation journeys, both Sally and Tom citing funding as a repeated concern, and the conversation covered some of the root causes of this challenge. Sally started by speaking about the need to radically reshape organisations for this new world and to make a business case for this, both by demonstrating the value of digital and by identifying opportunities to drive efficiency – for example by automating elements to free team members up to work on value-add tasks, or benefiting from economies of scale.
Sally also highlighted the need for the leaders of these organisations to be aware that the nature of work has changed, and that organisations must keep up. Tom then spoke about the cultural shift he is seeing in the organisations he deals with, which is moving away from viewing digital systems as a cost centre and towards understanding these as a core part of the business, and understanding that the digital strategy is now at one with the wider business strategy. He highlighted how there are pockets of excellence – for example with the growing prominence of Chief Digital Officers and Chief Technology Officers – and the challenge now is to use these examples to drive improvements elsewhere (for example, where organisations are still hamstrung by legacy systems).
Tom and Sally also shared how many public sector initiatives can be used to inform how SMEs and other private sector businesses work, with the themes of user-centred design and inclusion applicable to organisations of all kinds.
Sally cited the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act from 2015, which is unique to Wales, as something all SME suppliers to the public sector should be aware of, as it promotes service standards focused on improving social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being. Tom also raised the point that while the Act is only legally applicable to public sector bodies, its impact has been clear and as such the principles covered have permeated into the wider private sector, and to third-sector bodies.
Additionally, Tom spoke about some of the specific support schemes available to help private sector organisations grow their digital capabilities, illustrating the work he supports at Swansea University in facilitating knowledge-sharing and providing access to funding, alongside supporting bodies such as the Cardiff Capital Region.
The topic of skills development was referenced throughout the discussion, and is of course tied extremely closely to realising digital transformation opportunities. Tom explained how this is being tackled in compulsory education with the new curriculum, and the positive work being done by Further and Higher Education institutions.
Tom also spoke about how creating a pipeline of skills and building a wide ecosystem of talented people in Wales is key, to avoid a situation where organisations across the public and private sector cannibalise each other for digital roles. This requires work to raise awareness of the different jobs available across a range of sectors and industries in Wales to retain talent, supported by apprenticeship schemes and other routes to work.
Sally also spoke about how Wales needs to shout about its successes to position the country as a digital leader, and give people the opportunity to experience how digital services are delivered in Wales as part of a multi-faceted approach to building skills and capability.
Benno also commented how ongoing work is required to ensure people already working in organisations stay up-to-date with emerging topics, and to put learning and development plans in place to respond to these – citing the example of cyber skills, which is vital to build resilience within organisations and across Wales as a whole.
Talking to Tom and Sally highlighted how exciting the Welsh digital sector is currently, requiring a flexible and agile approach to react to opportunities and deliver sustainable, scalable services aligned with user needs and demands. The discussion also revealed the scale of work being done to build organisations and workforces capable of responding to the challenge, and position Wales as a leader in digital transformation. At Box UK we’re incredibly proud to play a role in this journey, working across the public and private sector to help our clients consolidate systems, digitise core services and bring innovative new offerings to market. Take a look at our case studies to learn more, and get in touch to find out how we can help you.