Audit Scotland: Principles for a Digital Future

Within their role of giving independent assurance to the people of Scotland that public money is spent properly, efficiently and effectively, Audit Scotland have published their report Principles for a Digital Future, laying out a framework for Scottish public sector agencies to achieve the goal of Building a World Class Digital Government.

In the past five years, the Scottish public sector has spent around £4 billion on ICT, with over £856 million spent on procuring ICT in 2015/16 alone.

Setting the scene they describe:

“Digital technology offers huge potential for improving and transforming public services. Services are now designed to be digital:

  • organisations are moving from paper-based to digital processes
  • data is used and shared to help decision-making and service delivery
  • citizens’ expectations of digital services are increasing.

For this reason, the principles in this document are relevant to everyone working in public services, not just those working in ICT departments.”

Lessons Learned

Building on the NAO report Delivering successful IT-enabled business change, a report on the common causes of failure of public sector ICT projects, pulling together the main findings from their series of recent reports on ICT project failures in Scotland and to offer recommendations to avoid them in the future.

Mostly these are common sense project management practices: to clearly identify the need and benefits, understand and appreciate the likely complexity, identify people with the right skills and experience, and break the project down into manageable steps, and critically:

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Put users at the heart of the project


The examples of previous failures include:

  • Universal Credit – An under investment in policy design and planning, a lack of dialogue between policy designers and the people who implement them, leading to unrealistic predictions about how people will behave > Digital and policy specialists need to work together, not in relay. The project was also hampered by a lack of senior leadership.
  • i6 Police Scotland – A failed core assumption that the i6 system could be based on the suppliers existing system, underestimating the complexity of such an assumption.
  • CAP Futures – Similarly the Common Agricultural Policy Futures identified that the programme underestimated the complexity of the policy.
  • NHS24 – Not enough done to involve users at the planning and testing stages, incorrect design assumptions meant problems integrating new and existing systems, and poor training meant operational staff lacked confidence with adopting the new system

Agile Business Transformation

Agile software development offers a key skill set to combat these issues, through breaking complexity down into small manageable chunks, but as Audit Scotland point out this is only one dimension of successful delivery – Overall public sector agencies need teams capable of Agile Business Transformation, which also includes:

  • Programme and project management and senior leadership
  • Negotiating and managing contracts
  • Capturing user experience
  • Business analysis

Quoting from the Australian report Common Causes for Failure in Major ICT-enabled Programs and Projects, they describe that:

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Public servants typically don’t have enough commercial experience and consequently they often fail when it comes to probity and contract management. Get people with the right skills and experience to manage commercial relationships.


Registers of Scotland

Our case study of Registers of Scotland describes them as an exemplar of Scottish public sector digital transformation, and similarly Audit Scotland hold them up as an example for their use of an Agile methodology to achieve these required high standards.

Noting that they didn’t have the right skills and experience in place they took the following actions:

  • Internal staff and contractors took part in an ongoing Agile training programme which aimed at producing a number of accredited practitioners.
  • The executive management team received introductory Agile training. This helped them understand the process and the information they needed to oversee the project.
  • RoS recruited an Agile coach to help make this approach an integral part of its organisational culture so that it can be used for future projects.

RoS is now using Agile delivery for its major Business Transformation Programme. It has established Agile delivery, supported by investment and training, as its preferred route to maintain quality, customer focus and flexibility. RoS has continued to provide Agile training to all levels of the organisation, with around 150 staff now trained in Agile and six in Agile coaching.

Innovation Centres

To achieve the critical goal of putting users needs first and foremost, Audit Scotland also highlight how RoS implemented an Innovation Centre.

“Registers of Scotland created an Innovation Centre in July 2016, providing a safe environment for users to test ideas, improve business processes, and optimise software before rolling it out into the business. A core team is supported by around 150 volunteers from all levels of the organisation, with up to 40 people working in the centre at any one time.

The centre helps get buy-in from system users before business roll-out. It helps inform the roll-out process, ensuring business readiness and supporting organisational change.”

Learn more in their video:

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About The Author

digitalscotland Digital Scotland is a volunteer community network for building a world leading Scottish digital nation.

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