Last week the Reed Professional services team attended the 14th Annual National Digital Conference. Organised by Digital Leaders as part of DL Week, RPS were an official partner for the event, which also saw our Managing Partner Phil Bull participating in a panel session based around the smart city and the future of work.

Digital Leaders Week brings together top digital transformation experts from across the UK public, private, and non-profit sectors, and is a unique knowledge sharing opportunity. As the flagship event of the week, the National Digital Conference was designed to bring together those members of the Digital Leaders community leading the way in creating the UK’s smartest places. The conference included keynotes from Ministers, start-ups and big business and an active exhibition.

The central theme of this year’s conference was Smart Places. As digital transformation moves at an unprecedented place, the environments in which we work, live and play need to radically change to help meet the needs of the city of the future. The day was split into three areas, smart living, smart working and smart play; however it was interesting to hear how the key challenges and opportunities presented by big data and connectivity were carried through each theme. And the central point everyone kept coming back to?

Transformation is about people, not technology.

The day kicked off with a talk from Russell Haworth, Chair of Digital Leaders and CEO of Nominet. Setting the theme, he affirmed that smart cities required bold thinking, and interestingly London is considered to be one of the cities already leading the way.

A particularly interesting panel debate covered the topic of digital living. The panellists included Jenny Nelson, Digital Newcastle Programme Manager, Newcastle City Council; Robert Franks, Interim Managing Director, WM5G; Sinisha Patkovic, ​VP Government Solutions, Blackberry; and Stuart Misson, Strategic Category Lead for Technology Products and Services, ​Crown Commercial Services.

They touched on how public sector is seen as the best lead partner for a Smart City in many cases because it has a resource, a wide agenda, political accountability and is responsible for much of the City’s infrastructure.

Jenny Nelson of NCC raised an interesting point about managing big data in the public realm. In her view, data generated from smart infrastructure systems belongs to the citizens, raising an interesting debate over the benefits of data sharing to the wider smart city supply chain, and the need to protect citizen anonymity.

Stuart Mason of Crown Commercial Services also talked about how collaboration and data sharing is key to the smart city success, reiterating that there needs to be an ecosystem in place with interaction across systems, and how we must walk away from working in siloed situations. The government wants to be able to work collaboratively and suppliers need to be open and be able form partnerships in this new digital world. This very much ties in with the Reed Professional Services approach to working with central government, transparency needs to be central to the partnership agreement with knowledge sharing as standard practice. Mason confirmed this, getting people to work together is one of the hardest challenges – his advice for suppliers? Make it easy for people to work with you.

One of the most engaging talks of the day came from Nigel Watson, CIO at Northumbrian Water, who talked through how they use a digital twin model to help them map out supply management, and fault or disaster recovery. As per previous talks in the day he reiterated the importance of sharing findings and data across organisations, and how its only with collaboration that the smart city dream will come to fruition. His closing statement:

As leaders, we have the power to use digital to do something good, not only for our business but for the world.

The panel most relevant to our own areas of expertise was focused on the urban business economy. Reed Professional Services MD Phil was joined by Nicola Williams, ​Responsible Transformation Lead, ​Lloyds Banking Group; David Pegg, Head of Government, SCISYS UK; Olivia Walker, Head of City Development, Bosch Group; and Dave Vincent, Chief Digital Officer, Tourism NI. The panel was chaired by Lesley Seary, former Chief Executive at L.B. Islington.

Phil Bull said of the panel: “It was great to spend some time discussing digital challenges with colleagues from Bosch, Lloyds, Tourism NI, and SCISYS UK, and to talk about helping organisations overcome them. We heard very similar stories time and time again; although digital sounds like it’s all about technology, really it’s all about people. Some challenging stats from Lloyds – 1.9m people without basic digital skills, 6m people without access to digital devices – demonstrated that it’s essential that we don’t leave people behind.”

The discussions went on to cover how the world of work has changed. With digital natives now entering the work place, flexible and nomadic working is becoming the norm, and a more open and collaborative way of working needs to be adopted as the future of work is transformed.

The message from digital natives was hammered home later that day with a panel of the young Digital Leaders award nominees. It was very inspiring to see young entrepreneurs talking so openly about ideas and how, once again, working in partnerships is the key.“The biggest threat to the whole Smart Cities programme is fragmentation”  said panellist Leon Ifayemi. One of the takeaways from across the talks is that to be in it at all, we have to be in it together.

Phil Bull summarised the conference and subsequent evening awards ceremony as follows:

“It was a really enjoyable day hearing from other digital leaders about the future of Smart Regions, Smart Cities and Smart Workplaces. There were some fantastic insights into the macro economic challenges as well as the actual brass tacks delivery of digital change in our cities today. Coupled with some thought-provoking innovation on digital twins alongside some great examples of hack-festivals producing some superb problem solving with the power of the cloud. Finally, congratulations to all the award-winning leaders and, not wishing to take any of the shine from them, we should never forget the phenomenal efforts and change delivered by all those short listed and nominated. All in all, a great wrap up to great week of Digital Leading activity. “

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