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How will the UK supercharge its digital economy?

The country needs to focus on the key issues it faces to make the most of the opportunities presented by the digital revolution

A future in which digital technologies will transform the way we all live and work is materialising before our eyes. This revolution promises to reduce the friction in everything from transport to medical diagnosis and will profoundly alter the way we interact with ourselves and our environment.

Beneath these potential benefits lies a great economic opportunity for the UK, but radical steps must be taken if we are to harness this disruption and supercharge our economy.

This next wave in the UK’s digital revolution is being powered by the increased convergence of the internet of things (IoT), big data analytics, cloud computing and emerging tech such as artificial intelligence (AI), alongside advanced autonomous robotics, drones and augmented reality.

To take full advantage of the potential social and economic benefits offered by these ground-breaking technologies, the UK must first address three key challenges: we must build public trust in emerging technologies; ensure we stay ahead of cyber criminals; and reduce the growing digital skills gap.

It is the coming together of large datasets created by the IoT and managed by cloud computing, combined with cutting-edge data analytics, that brings the potential of these technologies to life for organisations and consumers alike. It is therefore crucial to develop trust and confidence around issues such as data privacy. However, current commentary in this area is often driven by negative media stories of unfortunate incidents where data is breached or stolen, for example.

Having a workable data protection legal framework will play a key role in building this trust. Specifically, it will help to ensure that data is being collected, managed and handled in an appropriate and transparent way. The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect in May 2018 will help with this.

While data is powering the UK’s digital economy and society, it is important to remember that data, and the digital products and services powered by it, are global. 

With the UK preparing to leave the EU, it is vital to secure a post-Brexit mutual data adequacy agreement that will allow data to flow between the UK and EU as it does today, so that UK organisations and citizens can continue to realise the full economic and social benefits of digital technology. 

Ever-changing security landscape

Naturally, trust is built on confidence. And confidence will be achieved only if we have a constantly innovating cyber industry able to meet the needs of an ever-changing security landscape.

With 46% of all businesses identifying at least one cyber security breach or attack last year, the need to continue to develop this industry is of the utmost importance. It is essential that businesses put in place the most appropriate cyber security policies, processes and technology to ensure we are protecting increasingly connected online business-critical systems.

Of course, it’s not just about business security. We must ensure that all our citizens are safe and secure in the online world. As the world becomes more digital, ensuring safety and security for people, as well as businesses and infrastructure, is of critical importance. The UK needs to build on its strong cyber security credentials and make the country the safest place for people to go online.

Essential cyber security tools, such as encryption, must be protected, and young people must be supported to develop digital resilience to navigate the online world safely.

Read more about the digital economy

A major way to help ensure a good basis for dealing with issues such as cyber security will be skills – a major challenge across the sector. Addressing the skills gap is also crucial to assuring that we create a modern and open digital economy that works for everyone.

The UK has one of the most pronounced digital skills gaps in Europe, with reports suggesting it will have 161,000 unfilled vacancies by 2020 – 21% of all unfilled vacancies in Europe.

Also, the UK’s domestic digital skills pipeline is not strong enough to meet the growing demand, and skilled workers from both the EU and non-EEA countries face tighter restrictions. Therefore, urgent steps in areas such as immigration, education and diversity need to be taken to ensure the economy doesn’t slip.

Digital transformation

As the UK looks to the future, it is fundamental that we focus on supercharging the digital transformation of our economy and society. This is critical if the UK is to maintain and grow its position in the constantly evolving global economy.

But there are no easy answers as to how the UK will drive the adoption of technologies that will bring productivity benefits and energise our supply chain to take advantage of global markets.

We do know, though, that building a culture of digital and data trust and confidence, securing and protecting systems from cyber attack and addressing our digital skills gap are three key issues that must be addressed if we are to prosper in this new world. The revolution is coming – we must choose whether we undergo it or whether we are active agents in it.

You can join senior leaders from the technology industry as well as members of government at TechUK’s Supercharging the Digital Economy 2017 event on 31 October and be part of this discussion – sign up to the event here.

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