At techUK's second annual Supercharging the Digital Economy conference, a panel of experts discussed how to protect and reinforce the UK as a partner of choice in the international digital markets.
Raj Sivalingam, techUK's Executive Director for Telecoms and UK Spectrum Policy Forum, welcomed the panellists to the stage and remarked that digital technologies in one way or another play a role in every global trade transaction. According to a McKinsey report, global digital data flows have grown nearly fifty fold in the last decade to over 210 terabits every second. With two thirds of the world’s population having a mobile subscription and the trend set to continue – the global marketplace is indeed a click away whether you are a budding ‘front room’ entrepreneur, start up, SME or a multinational.
To provide an initial snap-shot of attendee perspectives, an audience poll was opened asking "What is the most important factor to reinforce the UK as a preferred partner in global digital trade?" The top response selected was access to digital skills (32%), which was closely followed by an enabling regulatory environment (29%), and policy for investment and innovation (25%).
Panellists were welcomed to comment and share insight on what Government and industry should do to protect and reinforce the UK as a partner of choice in the International digital markets, as the UK develops new trading relationships with European partners and forges new ones world-wide. The panel of experts were:
- Matt Houlihan, Director, Government Affairs, UK and Ireland, Cisco
- Christine Ashton, CDO Digital Office, SAP ERP Cloud
- Dan Byles, Vice President, Head of Corporate Development Living PlanIT
- John Simmons, Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs, Embassy of the United States of America
Key messages that emerged from the panellist presentations included:
- Emphasis on the importance of retaining strong access to the EU market through an effective, pro-digital trade deal;
- The potential for UK-US digital trade;
- Encouraging the need for the government to embrace a ‘digital-ready’ trade agenda that would facilitate data flows and help position the UK at the heart of the global tech economy.
There were a number of common messages identified by the panellists and in further discussion with the conference participants, some of which have been captured below:
Driving Take-up and Development
Panellists highlighted the importance of strengthening the UK’s existing infrastructure and digital connectivity, echoing techUK’s recent report From Good to Great: Digital Connectivity for a World Class Economy which highlights the importance of transforming the UK’s communications infrastructure to ensure every British business can become a digital business and create an open digital economy for everyone. Increased productivity could be achieved by Government encouraging digitisation of bussinesses and helping them to scale, suggested participants.
It was agreed that in the UK, there is a lot of meaningful activity currently developing from the bottom-up. Whilst there are a number of activities that currently have Government grants and funding, it is key to understand how the private sector will also help drive these activities. Some panellists suggested that companies should use the UK for trials and testbed case studies before developing overseas. Central to increasing the UK’s productivity and ensuring that it is a preferred partner in global digital trade will be the take up of technology and digital transformation within the different sectors to adopt and drive forward.
Breaking into New Markets
A number of audience questions identified specific potential markets, such as China and India. While very different business environments each country were recognised as having significant untapped digital business opportunities. For example, while UK remains the top G20 investor in India, despite our mutual historic and cultural links, neither country is among the top trading partners for each other. With countries such as India and China, discussions in the room highlighted the importance of partnership approaches. Given the borderless nature of ‘digital’, panellists were keen to point out the opportunities beyond the major emerging markets, such as African markets. Panellists and contributors in the audience urged the UK to build on its strengths of research and development, and welcomed a renewed focus on ensuring that SMEs and start-ups are internationally focused in their development.
Access to Digital Skills
In agreement with the earlier poll completed by conference attendees, access to digital skills was viewed as essential to ensuring the UK’s productivity. Certainty and investment within the current climate would also have a large impact on this access to talent. A panellist suggested that the UK was good at “experiencing” people. It is this access to digital skills from within the UK and overseas that would reinforce the UK as a partner of choice in the International digital markets.
The Importance of Data Flows
One of the panellists noted that a significant part of the UK’s GDP is from digital trade, and that almost 12% of the world's data flows travel through the UK. Participants discussed the existing international frameworks, such as the EU-USA Privacy Shield, which are key for companies who depend on transatlantic exchanges of personal data. It was noted that current negotiations are seeking to modernise the North American Free Trade Agreement to include e-commerce, and tax reform and trade missions undertaken by many countries reinforce the importance of driving ‘digital’.