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Case study: Scottish Government

State of Open: The UK in 2022

Phase One “The Open Source Journey”

Gyda Carmichael, Head of Data Programmes, The Scottish Government
Thomas Williamson, Technical lead, The Scottish Government


The Scottish Government’s Data Division, housed in the Digital Directorate, champions data excellence. The Data Platforms team spearheads the Analytical Workbench, an Open Source Software platform developed in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and the SPACe Programme. Launched four years ago, the SPACe Programme fosters collaboration among public sector analysts. The Analytical Workbench, functioning on a powerful supercomputer, provides a secure, collaborative environment with Linux and Windows virtual machines. Notably beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic, it enables efficient statistical analysis. Despite challenges in adopting Open Source Software, the Analytical Workbench expedites tool approval, fostering a culture of support with a dedicated help desk.

2.4 Case Study – The Scottish Government

Gyda Carmichael, Head of Data Programmes, The Scottish Government

Thomas Williamson, Technical lead, The Scottish Government

The Scottish Government is the devolved government for Scotland with a range of responsibilities including the wellbeing of its citizens. Based in the Scottish Government’s Digital Directorate, the Data Division is the centre of excellence for data which works towards unlocking the power of data in Scotland focusing on security, transparency, inclusion, innovation, and sustainability. The Data Platforms team is responsible for the delivery, management, and support of platforms for analysts. They have been developing an Open Source Software platform, the Analytical Workbench

Analytical Workbench and COVID-19

The Analytical Workbench has been developed in partnership with the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish Public Sector Analytical Collaborative (known as the SPACe Programme) Launched around four years ago the SPACe Programme is made up of representatives from Scottish Government, Public Health Scotland, Registers of Scotland and National Records of Scotland. It includes in its aims, “creating a shared infrastructure to support analysts across the public sector.” 

The Analytical Workbench creates a desktop that sits on a high-powered supercomputer that analysts can view and control through their web browser. It provides an easy way to collaborate across organisations and gives analysts access to a wide range of data science tools. It offers both Linux and Windows VMs. Its permission-controlled virtual machines create a secure environment and enhance collaboration across teams. As Gyda says, “this allows them to collaborate across organisational boundaries, provide safe, secure, permission-controlled environments, and offers an easy way to work with colleagues. It provides easy access to Open Source Software and common analytical tools.”

The task of producing COVID-19 stats was a strong use case for the Analytical Workbench as it allowed analysts to carry out some collaborative tasks for COVID-19 faster. 

Changing the software landscape

Using Open Source Software tools came up against some challenges within the Scottish Government,. Getting new tools approved can be slow. Thomas explains that with the Workbench “what really helped was if someone met us and said we need access to an Open Source Software equivalent to SPSS Statistical Software, for example, we could identify a product and present it to them to assess its suitability at speed, quite rapidly. That wouldn’t be the same without the Workbench. The speed with which people can have products available is one of the advantages the Workbench is bringing.”

Creating a culture of support

Scaling analytics is a challenge most enterprises face today, due to the explosion of data in the digital age, so they invested in creating a small support team – help desk – to encourage consumption of the platform by providing new users with adequate guidance to help people transition.

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