Neil Crockett, CEO of Digital Catapult, explains the areas we need to focus on if we are to build a world-beating tech economy
There’s no question: this is an exciting time for emerging businesses across the UK. In the last year alone 24,000 new businesses have been formed, demonstrating how the country has become a hotbed for innovative start-ups. Frankly this passion for entrepreneurial ventures looks set to snowball in 2015, with half of UK 25 - 34-year-olds now dreaming of setting up their own business.
But, in order for start-ups and small businesses to grow, there are various requirements and support mechanisms that need to be in place. As such, when we look ahead to the coming year, there are two main trends that we foresee will play a big role in helping UK businesses to thrive and realise their potential. These trends are the rise of collaboration and the development of revolutionary testbeds.
Collaboration by default
It should be clear that the UK has some of the best digital talent in the world. Innovators are blazing trails across all aspects of the industry, from the academic community to start-up clusters, from SMEs to large businesses. What’s less apparent is the collaboration between these groups. Great ideas are being built and worked on across the UK but often these communities can be protective of their knowledge and won’t work with outside sources.
One symptom of this is the lack of effective data sharing. From website analytics and consumer behaviour insights to public datasets and operational statistics, data is a vital catalyst for innovation and growth. Sharing and making data liquid is the key to unlocking the vast data equity that lies untapped in the UK economy. This is true of what we call ‘open data’ but even more so when it comes to large and small companies across the economy sharing more difficult data such as personal data, closed organisational data, creative content and data that has rights attached. Unfortunately, small businesses – and indeed many large companies outside the digital sector – often lack the resources to gather and curate even openly available data.
However, this is starting to change with a collaborative approach to overcoming common hurdles beginning to arise. There are resources available that provide advice and creative space for new businesses as well as connecting like-minded organisations to collaborate for the benefit of both parties. Large enterprises have the experience and wider market insights that can turn an entrepreneur into a leading business force. Similarly, start-ups have some of the brightest ideas and are a fountain of tech creativity – something enterprises are keen to help develop. Then there are academic and research institutions, which all have a similarly vital role to play.
As these different groups come together a natural intensity is created, work is completed faster and ideas are shared. When collaboration continues and successful projects emerge, a natural snowball effect is created. Following on from the developments seen in 2014, we expect to see more people collaborate, overcome challenges and add products to the market in 2015.
The emergence of internet of things testbeds
Another aspect of collaboration between organisations is sharing facilities in order to develop the technology of the future. The UK is currently making headway when it comes to the internet of things (IOT) revolution; this is in spite of the developments being made in countries such as Korea, Singapore and China. From healthcare apps and IOT through to gaming and big data, the UK is on the cusp of something great.
What we will see in 2015, in both the business community and government, is the recognition that we need to invest in new platforms where businesses and academics can not only address the common challenges facing IOT but also create new IOT products and services and rigorously test them in real-world scenarios.
These large-scale IOT test beds and their integration with our world class research capabilities will allow people to test products. This is not like developing apps – it’s a combination of devices, communications, middleware and user behaviour that needs real life large testbeds to be properly ready for market. IOT will happen in legacy environments, where we need to test and develop interoperability, user acceptance and new economic models.
If we do not link the power of the UK together we will carry on developing great ideas, design and IP that will be harvested and monetised by international businesses – especially from countries whose business and public sector communities are focused on bringing their very best to the global IOT competition. In short, we need to ensure we are not simply a consumer of the IOT revolution but a global leader.
Keeping up with the UK
The UK’s digital economy is already one of the strongest markets in the world, valued at more than £100bn. What makes the UK’s digital landscape so strong is creativity; we have businesses of all sizes doing brilliant things and developing the kind of technology that could truly change the world we live in.
In order to remain a global leader in innovation and ground-breaking technology, this creativity and entrepreneurial passion needs to be harnessed and supported through industry-wide collaboration and also a concerted effort to fuse our world class creativity into all parts of our digital economy. The truth is that a world class data scientist needs to be many things; not just a data expert but also an interpreter of business needs and a story teller who catches the imagination of the audience
Entrepreneurs and emerging businesses have a huge part to play in the future of the UK economy. In order to help these businesses to grow, we must utilise the vast range of information, skills, facilities and knowledge available to ultimately drive the UK forward.
Neil Crockett is CEO of the Digital Catapult Centre, which provides entrepreneurs, small businesses, researchers and corporate organisations with a space in which they can work, meet and collaborate.