Technology-led disruption is accelerating at pace. The rise of digital, data analytics, the internet of things and artificial intelligence is creating new business models, disrupting legacy businesses and defining new paradigms. The change is widespread with consumer, industrial, not-for-profit and financial services businesses going through periods of introspection and rapid change.
We are on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a revolution based on digital transformation. And, just as every previous industrial revolution has resulted in significant increases in living standards, the 4IR has the power to radically improve our lives. Now is the time for the UK to seize its position as a digital nation of significance by leveraging its digital opportunity and skills. But this will only be possible if all geographies and demographics across the UK are included.
Just like the first industrial revolution, the whole of the UK has a part to play. Yes, London is predictably leading the way, having been recently recognised as the top European Digital City for start-ups and scale-ups. But eight other UK cities were also within the top 50. As we prepare for a future outside the EU, we need to ensure the UK continues to be one of the best places in the world to invent the future. To do this, we must strive to equip the whole country with the very best infrastructure and supportive business legislation possible.
Outside of London, cities such as Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham are unsurprisingly at the forefront of the pack but smaller, more unlikely cities are making their mark too. Nottingham is carving a name for itself in energy and transport innovation, epitomised by the successful execution of a city-owned energy company. While the smart city programme in Peterborough was recognised on the international stage when it picked up the Smart City of the Year award at the Smart City Expo World Congress in 2015.
Later this month I will be heading to Cardiff to talk at Digital, Wales’ biggest tech event. The country has a long history of being at the heart of industrial revolutions. Wales was second to only England as the leading industrial nation in the 19th century, despite only having a population of 500,000 at the time. The country has continued to punch above its weight as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, fast making a name for itself in the fintech and cybersecurity sphere. Not to mention that half of all compound semiconductors found in devices around the world are made in South Wales.
These regional successes are of no coincidence. I believe the key to success is that these cities are not trying to compete with London. Instead, they have identified areas within the tech arena that they can exploit, foster and even own. We all know that success doesn’t happen overnight. There is a clear, collaborative strategy and long-term vision that is adopted by all stakeholders to ensure a collective approach for maximum impact.
Take Cardiff for example, which has become one of the fastest growing digital clusters in the UK. The £1.2bn Cardiff City Deal will create huge opportunities for companies looking for investment above and beyond those that already exist with Finance Wales and Development Bank of Wales. Initiatives such as the National Software Academy – an industry-integrated initiative at Cardiff University generating employable software engineering graduates – are ensuring that there is a generous pool of talent that will serve future workforce needs. And then there is Innovation Point, the company tasked with driving innovation and growth in Wales by matching the right organisations with the right opportunities.
It is this strategic, multi-pronged, collaborative approach that is necessary for smaller cities to prosper in the current digital landscape. We cannot, however, ignore that many of these regional initiatives and projects are EU funded. Brexit will be a huge challenge and it is vital that the Government secures a deal that puts the whole of the UK on the best possible footing to thrive outside the EU.