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What will it take to supercharge the UK’s digital economy?

Experts, Ministers and Customers came together to determine the best way the UK can become a world digital leader.

By April Slattery

Tech trade body techUK yesterday hosted its inaugural ‘Supercharging the Digital Economy’ event, with leaders from industry and government coming together to explore how the UK can cement its leadership in the global digital economy.

Julian David, CEO of techUK, kicked off proceedings, setting the tone by urging attendees to be willing partners on the UK’s journey to secure its digital leadership.

A key force in that journey will, of course, be government, with  Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital, taking to the stage to impart how he, and the government, intends to take the UK to the top of the digital pile.

A major milestone in the UK’s digital ambition was realised earlier this year, with the Government’s Digital Strategy setting out a roadmap for future digital success. Digital skills, digital infrastructure and a big R&D push towards emerging technologies topped the strategy, with Hancock revealing that the implementation of said strategy is already making positive headway.

Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital

“We need to be leading digital economy and digital society. From our digital strategy earlier this year, I’m pleased to say in six months we are making progress. We have come a long way, bringing elements such as digital skills partnership to develop those that lack in skills.”

Critics of the Digital Strategy highlighted the lack of detail in the plans, and Hancock used the Supercharging the Economy event to flesh out the plans and reiterate the importance of a number of key factors – none more so than digital skills.

“Digital skills are essential for everyone to thrive in this digital age and they should be an entitlement for all citizens. We want to have a broad range on offer to everyone.

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“Therefore we have over 4 million opportunities in public and private sector organisations, including Barclays, Lloyds and Google to help bring those skills to those who need them.”

Industry partners are key to this digital skills push, with those in industry providing the resources and the platforms in which skills are fostered and where talent can flourish.

“We have expanded digital connections with Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google and each of them has helped us expanded digitally,” Hancock said.

“We want to prepare Britain for success with opportunities broadly available, so we started our digital skills partnership.”

The digital skills partnership aims to bring together the government, businesses and local organisations to ensure workers all have the right skills for their job area and make them aware of further training that is available to them to develop further.

Another key factor designed to progress the UK’s status towards digital leader lies in its ability to scale up businesses. The UK and especially London is already recognised as the startup hub of Europe, with the UK boasting 17 of the 52 unicorn tech companies across the continent.

Time and time again London has proved to be ahead of European rivals, with new figures showing that the capital is way ahead of Paris and Berlin when it comes to VC investment, with London attracting $2.5bn in comparison to $500m and $640m respectively.

However, for the UK to be a digital leader, those startups must be able to scale. The government wants these startups to flourish and become the big businesses of the digital future.

“To have a thriving economy we need to support businesses from start up to scale up, with these partners. We want to make the UK the safest place in the world to live, work online and grow to develop businesses across the UK in a digital world,” said Hancock.

What will it take to supercharge the UK’s digital economy?

Panelists at this years event.

Other speakers at the event drew on other factors outlined in the Digital Strategy, with Dan Warren Head of 5G Research at Samsung Electrics speaking about the benefits of digital infrastructure, namely 5G, can bring.

“Compared to previous generation 5G has much more technological advancements, allowing for great interactivity, delivery of services and watching videos,” Warren said.

“From a business perspective, it allows better data connectivity in data bases to drive AI and enable greater efficiency and exposure of data that normally wouldn’t be available.”

However, Hancock did admit that this was an area in which the UK has historically fallen behind in, although he remains committed to not allowing this to be repeated with the advent of 5G.

“We have may have fallen behind with 3G and 4G but we want to be at the front with 5G with backing from the treasury to use the tax payer’s money effectively,” Hancock said.

Keeping ahead of the curve will be paramount for the UK to stamp its leadership on the global digital landscape, which is why the government has committed to big investment in emerging technologies. Of course, the topic of AI made an appearance at the event, with Phill Brougham from DigitalGenius downplaying the fears of a robot uprising and pointing to healthcare as an industry which has and will see a myriad of positive benefits.

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When asked, “Will AI ultimately replace humans?” Brougham confidently said “No, what we see with AI is another advance in technology that is rapidly expanding but loaded with intelligence to better efficient workforces.”

“By using AI to remove tedious tasks from job roles will enable workforces to develop skills in other areas and ultimately lead a better workforce efficiency to get the job done.”

“AI will transform the human world for the better. It takes away repetitive work, and opens up more opportunities for workers,” Brougham said.

All in all the UK has already set out its blueprint of how to supercharge the digital economy, with the Digital Strategy the foundation stone of the plan.

The event served to build upon that foundation stone – digital skills are ever important, especially with Brexit; digital infrastructure will be the nerve centre of a digital UK; and the UK needs to be on top of emerging technology like AI to stay ahead of the fast moving technological curve.

We did learn that the UK is making some headway with these plans and there was some insight into how the government is positioning itself as a digital partner for big business – but that said, there is still a long way to go to get the UK digitally supercharged.

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