UK government's Innovation Strategy needs to be cloud-powered to succeed, argues UKCloud

For the government’s Innovation Strategy to fulfil its 2035 vision, it must recognise cloud computing’s role as a driver of transformation, says James Maynard, solutions director at public sector IT services provider UKCloud, in this guest post.

The UK government’s Innovation Strategy, launched in July 2021, set out a bold vision of Britain as a world-leading hub for research, scientific innovation, and digital transformation. Kwasi Kwarteng MP promised to foster a renewed global spirit of innovation – that’s an ambition that we at UKCloud share. However, this is only attainable if cloud computing is viewed with the strategic significance it deserves: that is, as essential infrastructure helping to deliver critical public services and driving digital transformation across our economy.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) report outlined how the Government plans to deliver its ‘Vision 2035’ of the UK as a global hub for innovation, underpinned by four key objectives and a focus on seven key technology families, including artificial intelligence (AI), digital and advanced computing. Investment in this space is crucial if we are to foster high-skilled jobs and lay the foundations for tomorrow’s growth businesses.

When considering the conditions necessary to fuel innovation, the strategy rightly homed in on public procurement as a key lever the government can pull to stimulate growth and provide a route to market for innovative companies.

Gearing public sector procurement to incentivise innovation is a step in the right direction. Taking on the role of ‘venture customer’, the government has set out an agenda to better use the £292 billion of public funds spent on goods and services each year to drive firms to innovate if they are to capture government contracts. The forthcoming Procurement Bill provides an opportunity to bring together a 21st century procurement framework fit for an independent trading nation with the ambitions of today’s innovation strategy.

It is also encouraging to see the connection made between innovation and social value as the Innovation Strategy looks to build on 2020’s Green Paper and Social Value model, requiring contracting authorities to take account of social value in qualifying procurements.

A level playing field

For public procurement to drive innovation effectively, however, a level playing field is urgently needed. Recognising that competition and innovation are intrinsically linked, the Innovation Strategy pledges to build a new, pro-competition regime in digital markets.

In line with most recent government initiatives in this space following the Furman review, the Innovation Strategy addresses the danger of the growing concentration of market power in a handful of vast tech conglomerates.

The government can tackle this issue head on by altering its approach to public procurement. Reversing the concentration of market power amongst a small number of firms in the public sector is crucial if innovative products and services, developed by UK SMEs, are to flourish. The recent establishment of the Digital Markets Unit has injected optimism about the government’s appetite to tackle these challenges – but it must extend its focus to protect not just consumers but also innovative businesses to protect domestic industries.

Underpinning the strategy’s ambition is a focus on digital infrastructure as the foundation on which innovation will thrive. By “future-proofing” digital networks and services, the UK can foster the science, technology and cyber industries well into the future. Without it, we will not be able to compete on a global scale in seven key technology families identified in the report, crippling the next generation of growth businesses.

For this reason, it is surprising that cloud computing is not at the heart of this agenda, notably omitted from the strategy’s seven technology families.

Cloud services are a central element in any future-proofed digital ecosystem. Significant investment and strategic focus are necessary if we are to underpin the next generation of innovation with our own national capability. Given its importance, it merits greater representation in a strategy which aims to provide a reliable foundation for digital transformation.

As the government comes to implement the Innovation Strategy through the creation of the Business Innovation Forum and the new Office for Science and Technology Strategy, it must engender a wider or deeper interpretation of core technology families. If ‘Vision 2035’ is to materialise, it must account for the crucial role that cloud computing has to play in the creation of an innovative, vibrant digital economy.

The Innovation Strategy also promises the publication of both the upcoming Digital Strategy and the National Cyber Strategy. In both, a step-change is required – cloud services must be considered critical national infrastructure and our strong existing national capability in this space recognised and supported.

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