Gamma: Navigating the Digital Future #techUKSmarterState
We live in an era of relentless change and unimaginable possibilities. In this Brave New World, businesses and governments alike must adapt, scale, and flex to stay competitive. The shift towards hybrid working and digital transformation is a seismic change redefining the contours of our world. With the UK aiming to become a Science & Technology superpower by 2030, let’s delve into some of the most crucial themes of our digital age: Innovation, Emerging Technologies, Legacy IT, Data, and Skills – and what our approach needs to be.
Innovation: Cornerstone of a Smarter State
Innovation isn't a buzzword. It should be the backbone of any thriving entity—be it a business or a state. In a smarter, forward-looking state, innovation has the power to solve some of the most pressing challenges and transform outcomes for citizens. The most valuable asset that any state can possess is the ability to think creatively and implement new ideas. It's not an accidental byproduct; it's a deliberate and disciplined process, powered by a culture that encourages constant evolution and calculated risk-taking. Newcastle provides a powerful case in point. Smart waste management systems in the city have cut carbon emissions by a staggering 49%, chiefly by reducing the number of waste collection trucks by half. Imagine the implications of such innovation when scaled up—it has the power to solve some of the most pressing challenges and transform outcomes for citizens globally.
Emerging Technologies: The Path to Becoming a Science & Tech Superpower
In the UK's pursuit to dominate the Science & Technology sector by 2030, the role of emerging technologies is key. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Blockchain can seem like jargon to the uninformed, but they're tools that have the potential to redefine our lives. Remember: as much as it’s a ‘thing’, technology is also a mindset, a skillset, and of course a toolset. It's not just about adopting the latest tech; it's about leveraging it effectively to drive real-world results, from healthcare to governance. Take the example of New York and Philadelphia in the USA. These cities are saving millions in unnecessary waste collections and cutting down hundreds of tons of CO2 per year through connected smart waste management systems.
And it’s not just Americans leading the charge – back in the UK, the public sector is exploring innovative and forward-thinking approaches. In a recent PublicTechnology Live event, Will Joss, the head of strategy at the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO), highlighted the UK government's growing adoption of emerging technologies like AI, blockchain, and quantum computing. There is an awareness that these technologies are moving from isolated "pockets of progress" to transformative, scalable solutions across various departments. And it’s not just ‘in theory’: the Met Office employs AI for accurate weather prediction, HMRC is piloting blockchain for efficient supply chain management, and quantum computing is under exploration for its potential applications.
Legacy IT: From Hindrance to Advantage
While emerging technologies are crucial, it's equally important to address the elephant in the room—Legacy IT systems. These outdated infrastructures can be seen (and this isn’t wrong) as a burden, but they're also a goldmine of untapped potential. The key is to reframe our perception of these systems, migrating and integrating them into a more agile framework that is future-proof and in line with the evolving digital age. It's not a one-time task, but a continual process that requires insight, ingenuity, and, most importantly, a commitment to transformation. Finland offers a relevant lesson here. The country is using technology to monitor waste water sewage tanks, optimising their emptying schedules, preventing overflows, and significantly increasing efficiency, demonstrating that even older infrastructures can be integrated into modern, agile frameworks through innovative approaches.
Of course, there are moves towards flipping the script on legacy systems in the UK too. The Cabinet Office’s annual report for 2022/23 deep dives on targeted programmes to address the "greatest exposure to legacy technology,". They are taking a holistic approach; the digital transformation includes an organisation-wide switch from Google platforms to Microsoft 365, And the Cabinet Office isn’t treating this as a patchwork operation but as an opportunity to fundamentally transform the department. So, what’s the distinct lesson with this case? Legacy IT, often viewed as an obstacle, can not only be tweaked and leveraged: addressing it (rather than ignoring it) can become an avenue for transformative change.
Data: Untapped Fuel
Data is the new oil, a vital resource that powers everything from business decisions to policy-making. But what does a data-driven smarter state look like? It's a state where data is not just collected but analysed and utilised to make informed decisions. It's about converting raw data into actionable insights, thereby crafting policies and services that are not just effective but also aligned with the needs and aspirations of its citizens.
Skills: Bridging the Digital Divide
None of this is possible without addressing one of the most pressing issues of our times—the digital skills gap. Whether it's coding, data analysis, or the ability to adapt to new technologies, these skills are essential. It’s not hyperbolic to say that a great many of us couldn’t live without them. And it's not just about creating a workforce that can navigate today’s challenges, but about fostering a culture of lifelong learning that will continue to thrive in the future. Education is a continuum, an ongoing journey. We all need to play our part in defining the roles of the future and helping those diverse groups of young people gain the relevant skills for the Information Age. It’s our duty as businesses to help them succeed.
In this fast-paced digital landscape, inaction is the surest path to obsolescence. This is a call to action for both businesses and states, a call to remain competitive, and a call to strive towards the best version of our society. It's not just about staying afloat in a sea of change; it's about sailing fearlessly into the winds of transformation.
So let's start this vital conversation, for it's not just a dialogue but the genesis of a remarkable transformation journey. Together, let's embark on this exciting voyage towards a smarter, more agile, and data-driven future. The time to act is now, and the opportunities are limitless for us, our children and our children’s children as long as we teach the right skills.
Sam Winterbottom is Public Service Director at Gamma.