The UK needs to stop chasing clouds

This is a guest blogpost by David Richards, co-founder and CEO, WANdisco

At its recent Cloud Next conference Google rolled out a number of new cloud products, services and packages – all designed to improve the company’s competitive position and differentiate itself from Amazon and other peers.

As Google and its fellow American giants press on in the cloud ecosystem, rapidly expanding their already formidable market share, it begs the question where Britain sits in the global ranks?

Gartner predicts the market for the global cloud industry will exceed $200 billion this year, yet it’s a four-horse race and very much set to stay that way.

As the industry is gathering pace across the globe, it’s only fair to ask whether the UK should be striving to secure a place in the front line?

The UK is rightly considered a world leader in technological innovation and has long been drawing in talented entrepreneurs looking to transform their ideas into successful businesses. Our digital tech sector is strong, growing several times faster than the overall economy – producing pioneering developments in fintech, healthtech and SaaS technology.

Notwithstanding our success elsewhere, we are falling behind in data and cloud operations. It’s a sector in which we do not hold a strong market position, and one that has moved too far along for us to play catch up.

In the same way that Silicon Valley as a whole is light years ahead of other tech ecosystems – having developed its foundations far earlier – the pace setters in cloud were out of the blocks early.

Amazon was the first to create what we now know as the Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud computing industry back in the early 2000s with the launch of Amazon Web Services. What started as adapting their IT infrastructure to spike seasonal retail demand, soon turned into the most dominant cloud infrastructure in the world.

Google (because of it search engine), Microsoft (trying to compete with Google’s search prowess with Bing) and Alibaba (competing with Amazon in retail) came soon after and have grown to become legitimate AWS rivals. The big four currently hold 89% of the market share, which is projected to only increase.

To that end, UK companies entering the cloud market are facing a colossal uphill climb. The incumbents have engrained themselves into the system, and any challenger stands little chance – just ask IBM or Oracle.

Simply put, the UK stands little chance in breaking through in the cloud platform market. The cloud, however, democratises storage that in turn lowers barriers to entry in new markets such as AI.  Britain can turn to its strengths, and support the areas where it excels – artificial intelligence and machine learning.

AI in the UK

The UK has long been at the forefront of development in the AI industry, housing a third of Europe’s AI start-ups – twice as many as any other European country.

We are leading hub for AI advancements in healthcare, thanks to high adoption rates in the National Health Service and close ties with top-rated medical universities trialling the latest developments in medical technology.

With the right application, AI offers a £232 billion opportunity for the UK economy over the next decade, and the government is moving in the right direction to seize the chance with both hands.

Recently, the government launched a new nation-wide programme through the Alan Turing Institute for industry-funded courses at UK universities. These fellowships are laying the foundation for the next generation of researchers, business leaders and entrepreneurs in the AI industry – building a strong pipeline for the future.

Understanding one’s role in the global tech ecosystem is the first step to success. The sooner Britain recognises where its strength really lie, the easier the path to growth will be.

Whilst we can follow in the footsteps of the US and China in putting digital transformation at the top of the business agenda by embracing the cloud adoption, we should not try to chase the tails of the major cloud giants in developing the newest cloud infrastructure.

Britain has long stood as a pioneering force in technology adoption and development, dating back to the days of Alan Turing.

The pedigree we hold in the digital industries carries immense weight, and allows the sector to work with strong foundations – whether it’s access to capital, developing talent or international connections.

While cloud technology stands as the hot topic of 2019, Britain will best serve the growth of its technology sector by doubling down on the expertise we already hold and propelling our AI standing to the next level.

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