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UK Digital Strategy: Tech Sector Reacts To Government’s Plans To Target AI And Stem Digital Skills Gap

Sam Pudwell joined Silicon UK as a reporter in December 2016. As well as being the resident Cloud aficionado, he covers areas such as cyber security, government IT and sports technology, with the aim of going to as many events as possible.

TECH VIEW: The government has released its new digital strategy, but what does the tech sector think?

Following on from the updated Industrial Strategy announced in January and plans to boost the growth and support of Britain’s artificial intelligence (AI) sector, the UK government outlined a brand new digital strategy to combat growing skills gap fears across the country.

A Digital Skills Partnership with government, businesses and charities will see the creation of more than four million free digital skills training opportunities in the UK and includes education commitments from the likes of Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays and Google.

Speaking to Silicon, several tech industry professionals have offered their reactions to the news, providing an insight into what the industry is thinking.

Digital government, GDS

Lucy Dimes, CEO, Fujitsu UK & Ireland

“The Government’s Digital Strategy is an exciting and welcome prospect at a time when UK businesses are facing a significant threat from digital disruption. To gain a competitive advantage, businesses should consider how they can use new technologies like artificial intelligence, even at this relatively early stage,” she said. 

“Government investment is helpful, but companies should also draw on the excellent network of expertise available in the UK. By working with expert partners, UK businesses can understand the potential of AI for them and develop and scale new solutions at speed. Artificial intelligence has exceptional potential, from transforming customer service through chatbots to freeing up time spent on administration. There will be great rewards for the businesses that can seize this opportunity early.”

Adam Hale, CEO, Fairsail

“As one of the fastest growing UK scale-ups, we wholeheartedly support this strategy. We know that the biggest thing holding us back that’s within the government’s power to help address is the lack of technical skills in the country,” he said. 

“The technology skills crisis is at an all-time high and, with only 5,600 students studying Computer Science at A-Level in 2016 (a meagre 600 of which were female), it is vital to the future of our economy that we take concerted action to tackle this issue.

“We should be aiming for a tenfold increase here over the next five years, to 60,000 Computer Science students with females making up at least 30 percent. In a world where every industry is rapidly digitising, the government must continue to make this a priority for the future strength and stability of our economy.”

Dr Jeremy Silver, CEO, Digital Catapult

“Digital Catapult welcomes the government’s publication of its Digital Strategy. This symbolises a tipping point for the UK economy; it is a great statement of digital opportunity for all. As a nation we are taking strides in artificial intelligence, 5G, the Internet of Things and Immersive technologies,” he said.

“It is fantastic to see the government’s ongoing commitment today to delivering value from these technologies. It is these future networks and emerging technologies which will help us build world leading digital sectors and act as economic drivers across many sectors of the whole economy.

“For the potential of this new wave of innovation to be fully realised, every person has a role to play; from policymakers and industry to academics and citizens, broad collaboration will be needed to deliver a digital economy which thrives and drives productivity right across the UK.”

machine learning

Mark Barrenechea, CEO, OpenText

“There can be no denying that every job in every industry will be impacted by machine learning. Many jobs will disappear and others will change significantly as organisations becomes more automated and intelligent. The upside? The opportunity to think exponentially means that the potential applications for these technologies are limitless,” he said. 

“From a productivity perspective, we spend a third of our time in the workplace collecting and processing data—but AI could all but eliminate this work. What’s more, the economic impact of digital is vast. Businesses that use the internet tend to grow more quickly, export two times as much as those that don’t, and create more than twice as many jobs.

“For businesses, understanding cognitive systems, big data analytics, machine learning technology, and AI—and how to leverage them—will be critical for survival. In the short term, these technologies will give organisations faster access to sophisticated insights, empowering them to make better decisions and act with agility to outpace their competitors.”

Guy Kirkwood, COO, UiPath

“As a society, we are currently undergoing a rapid period of change which is intertwined with and driven by advances in technology. Consequently, consumers’ expectations have altered significantly and it is encouraging to see the UK government helping to equip businesses for this changing environment with the launch of its digital strategy today,” he said. 

“Robotics and AI in particular will be central to helping organisations cope with the accelerating pace of business, as has been recognised by this plan. Institutions across the financial, legal, insurance and consulting sectors are already taking advantage of recent developments in this field to streamline back-end processes and meet the demands of the modern citizen.

“Further increasing the autonomy of such robots will be the key to not only meeting external demand but also liberating employees to perform more valuable, creative tasks. This will be pivotal to driving growth for businesses in the UK and worldwide.”

Mark Cresswell, CEO of LzLabs

“The UK government’s Digital Strategy sends a clear message to the banking and finance sector that enabling access through new digital platforms will be the new collective focus. The government must not forget the difficulties that the larger established employers will face in achieving this objective. Over 70 percent of the world’s transactions are processed by mainframe applications, however this is likely to change in the near future.”

“There are many new companies that are not stricken with the burden of mainframe application inertia, and as a result are much more agile. These born-on-the-web companies can respond to changing market dynamics quickly – and the government’s Digital Strategy appears to give advantage to those.”

Read more reaction on page 2…