Building an international reputation for the UK tech sector

The social and economic impact of UK tech companies can be traced across developed and emerging markets

As we all know, technology in the UK is the most innovative sector in the country. 

There are over 250,000 tech businesses in the UK who are helping to make our economy the most innovative, connected and confident in the world. The reach of the UK tech sector is far and wide and the social and economic impact of UK tech companies can be traced across the developed and emerging markets.

UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) confirms the significance of our sector and acknowledges our role as one of the largest wealth creators in the UK. Tech in the UK has been one of the fastest growing sectors over the last decade. And this is also true of the growing global presence of UK tech companies.

This confidence is borne out by the evidence. Among the G7 nations, the UK is the highest net exporter of computer and information services. In 2011 the UK exported telecoms services worth around £5bn, computer services worth around £7bn and information services of around £2bn.

UKTI supported 2,799 companies involved in ICT during 2012/13 and engaged in 67 technology events and missions. I have had personal experience of this as I joined a recent trade mission to China and saw for myself the opportunities for UK tech companies of all sizes.

However, there are challenges to the successful exporting of UK tech. Sir Hossein Yassaie, chief executive of Imagination, commenting on the launch of the Electronic Systems Challenges and Opportunities report said: “We need scale to overcome the rising costs of design and manufacture if we are to be profitable. That means creating major global electronic systems brands here in the UK.” This is true across the whole of the tech sector.

So what is being done to address this challenge?

Export opportunities

At the launch of TechUK, we announced a new partnership with UKTI to build the industry's capability to identify and engage in new export opportunities. TechUK will provide a new trade support programme to enable 1,000 tech companies to harness new export opportunities by 2015 and we are starting to build that strategy towards achieving this ambition.

In addition, TechUK will be co-hosting a tech summit at the forthcoming CeBIT event with our German counterpart, Bitkom, which will focus on the UK strategy to cement London as the tech hub of Europe and highlight the key issues around encouraging more UK businesses to export. 

This summit will bring together key figures in the industry, including former BT CEO Lord Livingston and Tech City chair Joanna Shields, and should prove to be a constructive and open discussion seeking to drive forward the UK’s export agenda as well as highlighting the UK’s excellent reputation for world-leading innovation.

But we will not just be talking about this campaign - the UK will be taking an unprecedented number of SMEs to CeBIT to enable them to make new commercial connections and help to open up their businesses to an international market. 

Among the G7 nations, the UK is the highest net exporter of computer and information services

Twelve of these SMEs are UK startups and entered a competition focused on innovation, with the winners receiving free entry to the conference. I was delighted to be part of the judging panel for this competition and the quality was truly outstanding and it made me even more convinced of the huge export potential for UK tech.

Stable market

To support UK tech companies in their ambition to secure commercial opportunities in international markets, it is also imperative that these markets are confident in the stability of the UK tech sector. This continues to grow. 

Recent data from the UK Business Confidence Monitor, compiled by ICAEW and Grant Thornton, showed that confidence in the UK IT and communications sector has steadily increased in the past year, and is now significantly higher than confidence in the UK economy as a whole.

Aligned with this, the report reveals that exports of IT and communications services have also experienced steady growth over the past 12 months, surpassing the economy-wide average. And this momentum is set to carry on throughout the next year.

The UK is in a great position to take its place as a global leader in technology. The sector continues to innovate and develop and design world-class products and services. We should celebrate this achievement but continue to work towards achieving yet more through building our international reputation and growing our global presence.

Julian David is chief executive of TechUK, the trade association for technology companies in the UK.

Read more on IT innovation, research and development