Last week we all watched the celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Amidst all the pageantry and the recognition of the bravery and sacrifice so many people made, one of the things which struck me was the share scale and size of the collaborative effort it took to deliver.
And I don't know if you saw it but there as a beautiful moment, an extraordinary moment when the British soldier came face to face with his German counterpart for the first time since their conflict. Imagine this:-
on their first meeting they were prepared to kill each other on D-Day
on their second meeting a British and a German soldier exchanged these words instead of fire...
"Now we are friends." said the German soldier. And the British veteran replied
"We are more than that ... we are brothers."
So, whenever anyone says that collaboration or partnership is difficult, or that it’s not worth the time or effort, I say that the challenges we face today pale in comparison to what has gone before.
So what about Tech as a collaborative sector?..
For technology, the reality is that collaboration is, and will always be part of the industry. New tech is, almost by definition, built on the foundations of other people’s work.
Whether you’re designing mobile applications that rely on the ever increasing power of smartphone, or building the next generation of connected devices, which will be enabled thanks to 5G technology, our reliance on partnerships has been something the industry has always found necessary and has always valued.
Now we are witnessing more direct collaboration between tech firms to solve big consumer issues. For example the Data Transfer Project, which has seen companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook work together to create an open-source mechanism to allow people to transfer their data between platforms confident that their data will be protected.
Similar collaboration is evident in medtech, where companies are working to create standards for storing health data, allowing better insight into data to improve clinical outcomes.
We are also seeing a shift towards greater collaboration as we move from companies motivated only by profit to companies who wish to balance profit with purpose.
Only Yesterday I heard the founder of open water say that the missing link in 'health care for all' beyond AI and machine learning, could be low-cost portable medical imaging systems. Slashing the cost of expensive MRI machines by 1000 times... Bringing healthcare to the masses in a device as small as a handset...
But collaboration isn’t just happening at a technical level, it also has deep physical roots.
And given it is London Tech Week, it is worth reflecting on the importance that partnerships have in making London such as global hub for technology.
London’s success and the success of hubs in other major £18.uk cities has been driven by two important factors. The first is large firms building their bases here. They recognise that placing their development hubs in highly connected area, with strong links to finance services and world leading universities is vital in growing their business.
These firms have embraced the idea that placing themselves amongst the thriving start-up scene gives them access not only to top tech talent but also to innovative collaboration that can be acquired or licensed to help them improve their own systems.
In turn start-ups have benefited from this virtuous circle, as talent from larger businesses leaves to set up their own projects, or firms make use of spaces such as Google Campus or Microsoft Reactor.
Responsibility of companies
The relationship between large and small companies is not always perfect. In every sector you will hear stories about large companies playing hard ball with supplier, or paying late.
Government initiatives have helped to clamp down on some of these behaviours, though measures such as the Late Payments Code. But I think it is incumbent on big players to work more closely with smaller companies to ensure that they are responsible partners.
techUK contributed significantly to some of the work around Ex Obama Economic Adviser, Jason Furman’s review into digital competition for the Government. I hope that the outcomes of the review can help shape some of the way all companies think about the responsibilities in this area going forward. And also look forward to the new study launched by govt on Monday which will assess how competitive we are in tech vis a vis the competition.
Harnessing everyone - Digitise Skills and Talent
The 4th ind revolution is upon us and just in case you think it is going to be a big wave of activity and settle down again, then think again. We must be prepared for relentless change and I am concerned less about the absence of jobs and care more about our ability to reskill ourselves every ten years or less
Businesses are crying out for the digital skills shortfall to be taken seriously and it is estimated that by 2022, 1.2m new technical and digitally skilled people will be needed to fill the gaps in the job market. Within 20 years 90% of ALL jobs will require an element of digital skills.
And yet, business leaders tell me that many people start work without the necessary experience. They tell me the skills crisis will continue to cause serious problems and, worst of all, they tell me the technology industry lacks diversity......
Given that algorithms dictate whether you get a place at university a loan or that job interview, diversity in the design team matters more than ever.
Over 50*% of the companies built and invested in this country are from non-British born entrepreneurs and inventors. That is something that has built our competitive advantage and shapes our culture. We have always looked outwards not inwards and we have always welcomed great ideas and the people behind them.
Bringing the next generation of talent in, making sure we include people from all genders, races, sexualities and backgrounds, is a critical part of collaboration. There is already a wealth of evidence showing that diverse teams, working closely with each other produce better outcomes. Just one woman on the board of a business can reduce the risk of bankruptcy by 20%...
So I’d urge you all to think about diversity both in your company, but also across the sector.
To my final point. Collaboration is often not just about who is leading on a project, but about who has useful ideas and contributions.
A bright idea can come from anywhere, but if conversations are limited to an exclusive few than you are likely to miss the next innovation or fail to spot the challenges you may face.
And the best way to ensure effective collaboration at a company level is events like this. Where people can get together, think through the issues they face and spot the similarities. In many ways that is what London Tech Week should be about.
One of the things I’m hugely proud of through my work as President of techUK, is there role in bringing together companies to help them network and explore collaboration. It’s only one part of the work techUK does, but is immensely valuable to many of our members.
So thank you for your time today, and long may this collaboration continue and if you only take three things away from this session: diversity is where you will build your competitive advantage, we stand on the shoulders of each other and networking really matters #strongertogether