On the 1st March 2017, the Government published its UK Digital Strategy – seven strands of digital thread woven together to provide a framework for action to address digital transformation in the UK. The ambition: “to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone” . The strategy aims to build on the very strong and credible position held by the UK in the digital sector, and to create an economy which “is resilient to change and fit for the future” .
The seven strands of the new UK Digital Strategy are:
- Connectivity – building world-class digital infrastructure for the UK
- Digital skills and inclusion – giving everyone access to the digital skills they need.
- The digital sectors – making the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business
- The wider economy – helping every British business become a digital business
- A safe and secure cyberspace – making the UK the safest place in the world to live and work online
- Digital government – maintaining the UK government as a world leader in serving its citizens online
- Data – unlocking the power of data in the UK economy and improving public confidence in its use
The UK’s current digital stronghold is reported in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) which tracks the evolution of EU member states in digital competitiveness. The Index is an element of the Digital Single Market programme – one of the European Commission’s top priorities. This perhaps provides a somewhat nostalgic reassurance of the UK’s position in an EU context, and its future post-Brexit potential in its drive to grow as a world-leading digital economy.
‘Digital’ is not just about the technology stack – it’s about the harmony and congruence of a range of cross-disciplinary concepts and the technology to yield affordances of: inclusivity & connected communities, efficiencies & productivity, service innovation & value, competitiveness & strategic advantage, empowerment, and releasing the full potential of human capital across the spectrum of personal, social and corporate life. Transformation can manifest through small-step changes or macro-level disruptive intervention. ‘Digital’ is sometimes referred to as the 4th Industrial Revolution, and like any revolution it can have transformative impact.
We see and experience transformation all around us: in a personal context as we progress through life, at our place of work as it responds to sector-specific demands, and in nature as the seasons change. Transformation can be disruptive & challenging, but the results can be beautiful – like a butterfly that emerges after the four stages of metamorphosis, governed by the laws of nature.
Governance of digital transformation is an interesting matter. We have seen a significant ‘democratisation of digital’ in recent years, and this has seeded the growth of a fertile digital economy and ecosystem – an open playing field for a game that is still evolving, and in which the role and position of players is yet to fully emerge. Perhaps it is then not so much about governance of (or within) this evolving landscape – but much more about digital leadership.
The new UK Digital Strategy provides a well-constructed and harmonised framing mechanism – seven strands which, individually and compositely, provide the basis for achieving digital transformation for the UK. Leadership that translates this into implementation at national, regional, local, and institutional levels is perhaps the key to digital success.
The definition of digital leadership is somewhat embryonic and evolving. Attributes cited include that of: having transformative vision (this is frequently referred to); being a forward-thinker; capable of creating a distinct and effective digital culture; having a change-oriented and ‘can-do’ mind set; the capability to inspire; to be able to manage complexity, and to understand digital congruence & alignment . Other attributes and capabilities cited include: the ability to frame the digital challenge and to assess organisational digital maturity; focusing & targeting investment; understanding internal & external governance; implementing strong enterprise-level governance; engaging the organisation at scale, and sustaining the transformation . The definition of digital leadership in context of CxO-type roles is perhaps a matter for debate, and on this note – it’s interesting to observe the prefixing of the term ‘Digital’ to a range of jobs across industry sectors.
Finally, the UK Digital Strategy refers to the UK’s proud history of digital innovation and the early of days of computing. We’re very proud to be part of that history at Staffordshire University. Last year we celebrated ’50 Years of Computing’ – a milestone of being at the forefront of computing education and one of five institutions that first started to offer degrees in computing in 1965. Since then we have helped to create an international workforce of highly-skilled computing professionals who have applied their knowledge and skills to yield transformative digital solutions to solve society’s problems. As an institution, we continue to pioneer in the world of computing and the digital economy – recently undertaking an institutional-level digital transformation programme to become a fully digitally-enabled University and digital leader in the HE sector.
The UK Digital Strategy can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-digital-strategy
 UK Digital Strategy, Ministerial Foreword, Published 01/03/17
 UK Digital Strategy, Executive Summary, Published 01/03/17
 Aligning the Organization for Its Digital Future, MITSLoan Management Review, Findings from the 2016 Digital Business Global Executive Study and Research Project, Delloite University Press
 The Digital Advantage: How Digital Leaders Outperform Their Peers in Every Industry. MITSloan Management, Capgemini Consulting
Khawar Hameed is a Senior Lecturer/Academic in the Department of Computing, School of Computing & Digital Technologies, Staffordshire University, UK,