Could the UK be the next global tech leader?

The UK is in a position to be a world leader in digital and technology, thanks to initiatives from government and industry.

Alex Tait

I’m excited about digital in the UK in 2015. I have been fortunate enough to have spent my entire career working in the industry, from the dot.com boom to broader technology adoption and every change since. However, surveying the variety of initiatives this year, something feels different.

There is a groundswell of government and industry initiatives that have the potential to position the UK as a global leader in digital and technology.

London as a FinTech hub

Every marketer will have noticed Tech City’s dramatic emergence in the past few years, but an event run by Tech London Advocates a few weeks ago promoted London as not only the world’s finance capital but also its emerging FinTech (finance technology) capital. It doesn’t take a leap of faith to argue that the two should be in the same city.

There will always be the call for more and faster. Indeed, I’d argue that this ongoing tension is healthy to maintain our competitiveness. The good news is that TLA and the wider industry’s lobbying is being listened to. Developments in infrastructure (broadband and connectivity, transport and affordable property / working space) have found their way on to the political agenda and progress is being made, as exemplified by the government’s “superfast broadband” rollout that aims to reach 95% of the population by 2017.

Schools’ computing curriculum

I have previously written about the digital and technology skills gap, and while there remains a significant gap to close, there have been a number of well-documented steps forward, including the new schools’ computing curriculum introduced in 2013. There are other initiatives industry is arguing for that are also compelling, like reskilling the over-50s with tech skills. It will be essential for government to continue to develop a programme of initiatives targeted at schools and universities and to keep it up-to-date.

Digital high street initiative

We are arguably the world’s most savvy ecommerce shoppers. The UK spent nearly £3,000 per head on ecommerce in 2014 – the highest in the world. But is this to the detriment of UK high streets? An initiative gathering momentum in 2015 is the Digital High Street Advisory Board, led by the minister for high streets, town centres and markets Penny Mordaunt MP, and drawing on the expertise of leaders from the retail and ecommerce sectors. One proposal is by online retail association IMRG for a ‘digital high street value model’ to benchmark behaviour and performance. For example, the positive effect of ‘click and collect’, footfall influencers, smart device usage, showrooming, social media interactions and changes in leisure activities.

Mobile and video advertising

We have an exceptionally vibrant and diverse advertising community. Anyone that has worked in an international digital role will be familiar with our relative sophistication, not only in terms of consumer adoption but also the industry bodies underpinning it. The IAB UK’s focus on mobile and video sets the tone for the year, and the vigour with which the UK industry ensures advertisers have confidence to invest in digital as it evolves has gained an impressive rhythm.

Bodies, including ISBA, the IPA and the IAB, have worked to lock down ‘ad verification’, with the focus on brand safety (the ad is seen in the right environment), viewability (the ad is seen) and, most recently, developments in ad fraud (the ad is seen by a human), which could all significantly affect investment in these crucial growth areas.

These are some of the key industry initiatives. Even if you are a digital expert, are you familiar with all of them? Probably not and, after all, why would you be? Whether you are a specialist or a savvy marketing leader, your professional life may not have exposed you to more than a few of them. However, think how much they add when taken together: the ability to significantly grow and develop our digital economy, and your business. All these areas touch your business in one way or another, at least that is what I have found with every business I have worked in across a variety of sectors. Together they have a major cumulative effect.

Since the middle of last year, we have, for the first time, had a minister for the digital economy whose department cuts across all the others and has the power to act as a catalyst to drive change forward. Whatever happens come the election in May, we desperately need to make sure this office in government survives. We need it to maintain and maximise our industry’s focus, vision, leverage and competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive international environment.

Alex Tait has worked in senior digital roles at Kellogg’s, Arcadia, American Express and the Post Office.

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