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Can Wales become a Hub for Digital Transformation?

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Last week saw Business News Wales run a fascinating Business Insights Digital Discussion as Box UK hosted a wide-ranging state-of-the-nation conversation with two leading Digital Transformation experts – discussing the rapid development of digital services in businesses throughout Wales, debating the benefits and challenges facing businesses adopting new digital approaches, and scoping the potential for Wales to become a leader in this area.

Benno Wasserstein, Managing Director of Software Development and Digital Consultancy Box UK was joined by Tom Crick, Professor of Digital & Policy at Swansea University and Sally Meecham, CEO of the Centre for Digital and Public Services Wales, exploring why the demand for digital services in Wales has increased so rapidly during the global pandemic.

The discussion covered a wide range of factors impacting digital transformation, including highlighting examples of businesses that have successfully embraced transformation, discovering what initiatives and support schemes are available to help Welsh businesses adopt new digital services into their infrastructure, and discussing the potential opportunities for skilling and employee career progression that a digital transformation can bring.

The digital landscape in Wales is more exciting than it’s ever been

Benno started the discussion by sharing his insights learned from working closely with the clients of Box UK, explaining how the pandemic has reshaped both the appetite for and delivery of digital services, posing the question: “what does the current digital landscape in Wales look like?”.

“The landscape is very exciting” answered Sally “with Covid in many ways easing the way to transformation – because when you simply have to do something, it tends to get done. There were already a great many things happening across the Welsh digital landscape before COVID19; and the pandemic accelerated many existing programmes as well as sparking new innovations. One of those new developments has seen the birth of the Centre for Digital and Public Services in Wales, bringing together best practices and the latest thinking, establishing a common ground for digital strategy, skills, infrastructure and the economy, allowing us to collaborate and achieve economies of scale right across public sector digitalisation here in Wales.”

A declaration of intent to move at scale and pace

Tom echoed the views of Sally:

“These are exciting times, with the new developments across the curriculum and the recently-launched digital strategy for Wales acting as declarations of intent, showing a real desire for digital in Wales to move at scale and at pace. With a new government focused on major change, it promises to be a very positive five years, realising the potential of digital through the right investment and the right interventions.”

Digital is all about delivering a better service for the people who need that service

With such a positive environment for digital services in Wales, Benno asked what needed to happen to fully grasp the opportunity:

“In the past we haven’t given digital the prominence it deserved” said Tom “and that’s now changed. Now we understand that digital is not just a department or a silo – it cuts right across all the public services, from education to patient care. There’s now a genuine realisation that it’s about people and citizens: delivering user-centric services and data sharing that’s transparent and there to improve people’s lives.”

Sally agreed:

“It’s so heartening to hear Tom say that. It’s all about putting the user at the heart of the service. Right now, there are so many large procurement projects going ahead, looking to introduce many new service platforms – and the key question we always ask is ‘where is the user in this?’ Digital is all about delivering a better experience and a better service for the people who need that service. That extends to giving the service providers the training they need to do the best job possible – and again, we now have a much greater understanding of the needs and requirements of all stakeholders involved in delivering a service digitally.”

“Leadership is also a critical factor in moving forward” emphasised Sally. “We need open, supportive and curious leadership that empowers people to learn from mistakes and continually develop a new way of working. We also need to evolve new skills too. We already have the talent in areas such as software and cyber, but we do need to develop more capability in service design and user design, to deliver the best possible user journey. Being open about where we need to improve means that we can work together to make sure we develop all the resources we need to succeed.”

It’s about looking at organisational design rather than tweaking BAU

Benno recognised the scarcity of service and user design skills having experienced this within Box UK’s own recruitment activities – and asked what other potential blockers existed.

“I often hear ‘We don’t have much money and we’ll have even less next year’” says Sally “but this is about taking a completely different view of your organisational design, rather than just tweaking your BAU. It may take years to achieve, but people need to be making the business case for real change. That may mean automating some parts of the service so that your employees can spend more time with service users. Or it may mean diverging resources from operational roles to service-research roles. One thing is clear – the nature of work is changing and if an organisation doesn’t embrace digital to make work more interesting and rewarding for their people, then those people may choose to go and work elsewhere. So a big benefit of digital transformation is becoming an employer of choice, holding on to the knowledge and skills of the people you have, as well as developing the skills and service you need for the future.”

Cultures and behaviours are changing

“Cultures and behaviours are changing” added Tom “with IT departments now being seen as business enablers and drivers of business strategy, rather than just as a cost-base. That’s evident in the way that CTOs are increasingly empowered to drive change; but financial models and budgeting need to evolve too, in alignment with the way that systems and software now require different types of investments, such as SasS-based or outsourced services. Again, it comes down to thinking through the wider cost and impact on the user and people in general – learning from mistakes such as the Horizon system used by the Post Office, where the integrity of the technology over-rode the human experience.”

Investing in skills and cyber to make Wales a place that realises career and technological ambitions

“The whole skills piece remains a vital area for development” stressed Tom. “There’s no point in us cannibalising each other’s workforces – we need to build a wide and deep talent pool here in Wales; making Wales itself a destination employer, a great place to live and work. Likewise, we need to build on the strong foundation we have already built in cyber, to make sure Wales is seen as a place that has minimised and mitigated against risk – a safe place to trust your career and technological ambitions.”

The discussion culminated in a wide-ranging debate around how new skills can be developed and retained in Wales, for both large and SME organisations, with a common agreement that Wales has the opportunity to become a Digital Hub – and the attendant need to nurture a flexible and agile digital skillsbase that can adapt to the changes that are inevitable in the fourth industrial age.

To view the discussion in full, go to: https://vimeo.com/558015452.