Technology innovators are critical for growth

Opinion

Technology innovators are critical for growth

Recently I heard about a new application of Formula 1 racing car technology, which sends real-time data on cars' performance to trackside engineers and analysts around the world, during a race.

The same technology is increasingly becoming adapted for building or regenerating cities to make them "smarter" and to efficiently provide services and systems for the benefit of citizens. The need for this far more efficient supply-demand energy matching is crucial given that by 2050, over 70% of the world's population will be living in cities.

The government needs to embrace exactly the same appetite for technology innovation and apply it to the toughest challenges this country faces. We must use brand new approaches if we are to deliver better services despite serious spending restraint; tackle unemployment and kick-start the new enterprise that will help bring this country out of recession.

We know the government's progress in utilising technology advances has always been too slow, for a variety of reasons - whether it is badly designed, lengthy procurement process or lack of competition, government has to admit it still hasn't got its technology strategy right.

But we in the technology industry have also got to admit that we haven't been as good at engaging with government and citizens on actual public policy, as we have been at engaging with people as consumers and businesses.

The time has come when all that can change.

The first reason to be hopeful is that technology itself has become far more intuitive yet also much more powerful than ever before. Digital technologies, uniquely, make it far easier than traditional online channels for government to communicate policy, to help develop applications people can use to get jobs, create businesses, and get access to services. And given the economic problems this country faces, there's a real urgency driving the appetite for these new technologies and ideas.

The second reason real progress can be made is that the industry itself is becoming much more mature and more confident about what it can offer government. The opportunities are now becoming greater and clearer than ever - for councils to share services, and for digital services to transform health and education provision.

The challenge is to make sure these two driving forces - government's unprecedented need to better utilise technology and the industry's increasing ability to help transform what government does - are brought together in a much more open and public debate. We need to make the whole policy agenda far less opaque and technocratic, showing ordinary people how their government and local authorities could be using digital technologies to save taxpayers' money and deliver far better services for people - and to hold them to account when that doesn't happen.

This is why we have, this summer, set up the Digital Policy Alliance (DPA). We were formerly known as Eurim (which remains our company name) - a group of top industry figures with almost 20 years' history of working with government. We have now reformed with the support of parliamentarians and policy makers to focus on the latest and most important policy challenges and aim to bring the technology industry to the forefront of the public debate about how we turn this country around.

We will be working on some of the most important issues such as telehealth and telecare, digital education services, smart cities, ubiquitous broadband and cyber security.

If politicians are serious about bringing this country out of recession, about getting our finances under control, and still delivering good services for people, then they need the ideas and energy of technology innovators and providers more than ever. And this is an area where the DPA will have a lot more to say from now on.

Edward Phelps (pictured) is secretary-general of the Digital Policy Alliance.

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This was first published in August 2012

 

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