GovTech: Scotland has what it takes to become a global leader

Paul D Forrest, lead strategist for the Scottish GovTech Cluster, explains Scotland's strategy
Paul D Forrest

Technology has fundamentally changed almost every aspect of our daily lives. From the way we get our entertainment to our shopping and even travel habits. One area that we don’t always think about but where massive technological strides are being made is GovTech.

For those unfamiliar with the term, GovTech refers to digital technologies which aim to help all levels of government operate more efficiently while providing a better overall experience to ordinary citizens. Globally, the GovTech sector is worth hundreds of billions of dollars and, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), is set to pass the US$1 trillion mark by 2028.

That anticipated growth is in no small part due to the immense opportunity to be found at the intersection of government services, citizens, and the private sector. For countries that understand how big this opportunity is and foster strong GovTech sectors, the potential rewards are massive. In the Scottish GovTech Cluster, we believe that Scotland has the tech and innovation talent to become a leading global player in the sector. Getting to that point will, however, require the right combination of partnerships, investment, and strategic prioritisation.

Leveraging existing advantages

Before looking at how those things should happen, it’s worth taking a deeper dive into some of the existing advantages Scotland can leverage in its quest to become a global leader in the GovTech space.

High up on the list of those advantages is a strong appetite for collaboration among innovators. Collaboration is at the core of innovation activity in Scotland and was one of the drivers for the creation of the Scottish Govtech Cluster. This concept of partnership and working together to create new innovative solutions is hard-wired into the Scottish psyche.

Another advantage is the fact that Scotland is a champion of open data. That includes making some government information freely available. This empowers developers to invest in and create citizen-focused applications and helps to build a culture of transparency and accountability, which can only benefit the GovTech sector.

The country is also strong on digital infrastructure. The backbone of digital innovation in Scotland is a reliable and high-speed superstructure. This ensures seamless data flow that powers real-time applications and enables the scalability needed for future GovTech advancements as and when they come online.

Overcoming challenges

Of course, there are still challenges that must be overcome. Take data standardisation, for instance. With multiple agencies collecting data, much of it quite similar, ensuring consistency and standardisation across all formats and use cases is key. Getting this right will empower seamless integration and help avoid information silos that hinder or block innovation.

Other challenges include the digital literacy gap. In simple terms, not everyone is tech-savvy. Scotland must bridge the digital literacy gap to ensure absolutely everyone can benefit from GovTech advancements. Beyond user-friendly interfaces, this might mean introducing targeted training programmes to support those who need them to bridge the gap.

The spirit of collaboration and partnership I’ve already mentioned means those challenges are far from insurmountable, however. The strong partnerships between universities, research institutes and the private sector, for example, have helped create fertile ground for innovation and will aid in addressing these challenges.

The ecosystem also benefits from a network of incubators and accelerators, with CodeBase being a notable example, through its Techscaler initiative. The initiative provides startups with physical space, mentoring and extensive networking opportunities. Regular tech meetups and conferences like ScotSoft and Turing Fest, meanwhile, provide platforms for knowledge sharing and networking and these are essential for the growth and development of startups.

Building on successes

Tackling these challenges will help build on existing success stories that highlight Scotland's potential in GovTech. For instance, Robotical developed Marty the Robot, an educational tool for teaching coding and robotics to children, which was adopted by many schools across Scotland, significantly enhancing STEM education and digital literacy.

Another success is Wallet.Services, which offers blockchain solutions for public sector challenges. Its innovative approach to secure document verification and fraud prevention has led to successful projects with various Scottish councils, improving transparency and security in public services.

Current Health has made a significant impact with its wearable device for remote patient monitoring, which was key during the COVID-19 pandemic. NHS Scotland used this technology to monitor patients at home, reducing hospital admissions and improving patient care.

A bold and ambitious vision

At present, Scotland’s GovTech sector is young and ambitious. It looks up to countries such as Estonia, Denmark, and Singapore, which are pioneers in the sector. I firmly believe that, if the country uses its existing advantages and tackles any challenges and obstacles head on, it could soon find itself spoken about in the same reverent tones as those countries.

Written by
June 18, 2024
Written by
Paul D Forrest