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Smart places can supercharge the digital economy

The UK needs to enhance its digital capability, and there are huge opportunities for different regions to secure a niche within our growing digital economy

How do I ensure that my organisation is ready to withstand the tide of digital disruption and change? Leaders at companies and organisations right across the economy are asking this question. However, they are really asking the wrong question.

There is no hiding from the technological change we are witnessing with the advancements in computing power, breakthroughs in battery and sensor technology, and advances in artificial intelligence.

What we all need to be asking is: how do I embrace this change, how can I lead and shape this revolution, and what characteristics will I need in my organisation to take advantage of the pace of change?

This is as true for any region of the UK as it is for an individual company.

The digitisation of the economy is disrupting business models and changing the nature of work itself. Done well, digital offers scale and global advantages to companies. But it is not a contradiction to say that as the horizons available become greater, local becomes more important rather than less.

Smart places

Smart place-based initiatives will be integral to ensuring that regions thrive in the digital world. Such initiatives bind together clusters of excellence in a locality, as well as bringing public services closer to its users.

A truly smart place will be more connected to its citizens, communities and businesses, with the whole ecosystem reaping the benefits. To be successful, there needs to be a vision and leadership which metro mayors are perfectly positioned to provide.

The clusters which will form the basis of smart places will differ depending on the local area and existing strengths within the region. However, it is likely that digital will be among those elements required. The digital sector, as one of the driving forces of this revolution, has so far proved to be highly resilient.

In the Northern Powerhouse region alone, it has grown by nearly 25,000 jobs over the past decade and is currently forecast to add nearly another 9,000 in the next five years.  

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This regional experience is replicated on the national level where we see the number of jobs in the digital tech sector grew by 13% between 2014 and 2017. These jobs were also more productive than those in non-digital jobs, by an average of £10,000 per annum.

This illustrates the benefits that these roles, and the companies that are creating them, bring to the local economy. But it also presents a challenge given the increasing employer demand for digital tech skills and the relative mobility of digital skills. In short, regions need to ensure they can both attract and retain digital companies and employees.

There are many strands to ensuring that regions are attractive to digital leaders – from making use of technology to ensure that local government services are responsive and user-centric, to deploying smart solutions which can help make the local citizens healthier and more engaged in their community. It is also about ensuring that there is a flourishing ecosystem in which these companies exist.

TechUK’s flagship event at the Manchester Science Park Supercharging the Digital Economy brings leading experts together from this ecosystem and the private and public sector where they will focus on the digital revolution, what it means for sectors and what it means for the North. Come and join us on 18 October 2018 to explore the answers to these questions.

This was last published in September 2018

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