Scalextric shows the way to winning the digital race

If, like me, your childhood featured the joys of Scalextric, then you can’t fail to feel a frisson of excitement at the prospect of controlling the racing cars from your smartphone, and sharing race data with your friends.

This is just one of the innovations being considered by Hornby, the owner of Scalextric and Airfix models, as well as the iconic model railways brand. That’s a lot of childhood memories encapsulated in one sentence.

For anyone of a certain age with fond recollections of those great toys, you can hardly think of a more traditional business than Hornby. Yet the hobbies company is investing heavily in digital to maintain its relevance to children (and some adults) otherwise infatuated with video games and the internet.

It’s a great example of a seemingly old-fashioned firm embracing the digital age. And it’s what every established company in any industry needs to do. Industry watchers often get somewhat blinkered by shiny digital startups and the ballooning share prices of internet companies, and forget the opportunities of taking everyday products and services and transforming them for the digital consumer.

In the next five to 10 years, there are going to be lots of household names that fail to make that transition, which will simply disappear. Many of us won’t just be indulging in Scalextric nostalgia, we’ll be reminiscing about the high-street names we used to buy from that didn’t adapt in time. The list already includes the likes of Comet, Woolworths and Blockbuster, and they won’t be the last.

In contrast, government isn’t going bust anytime soon, but it’s refreshing to hear the new Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock describing digital government as “a chance to build a new state”. There’s a growing recognition among senior politicians – at last – that technology is at the heart of reforming the public sector.

Even notorious technophobe Tony Blair said in a speech this week: “Technology and its implications for everything from the NHS through to government itself, is the single most important dimension.”

Digital leaders reading this article might scoff and say, “Tell us something we don’t know”. But don’t underestimate the number of companies – and IT managers – that still don’t get it. The race is there to be won – on a Scalextric track and in the digital revolution.