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On a sunny October day in Manchester techUK’s Supercharging the Digital Economy event came to the Bright Building at the Manchester Science Park. During the day the brightest minds in tech came together to explore the full potential of advanced digital technologies, such as IoT, AI, AR/VR and cloud, to drive the UK’s economy and society. If you weren’t able to there on the day then you can check out techUK’s Supercharging podcast that was recorded on sight! [LINK]
The morning was kicked off by a welcome address by techUK’s CEO Julian David, who explained why techUK had brought this landmark event to Manchester given its position as a unique place with a unique opportunity to do things differently, and an introduction to the Bright Building by Rowena Burns, Chair of the Manchester Science Park who commented on the energy in the room and excitement amongst attendees for the day ahead.
The morning keynote was provided virtually by The Right Honorable Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. In his address he highlighted the long history of tech in Manchester including the work of Alan Turing and the opportunities of new tech, including AI, and how the sector deals are intended to help Supercharge the digital economy. In his speech he wished everyone at the event well and stressed that “there is an immense opportunity to work together, to change businesses and change peoples’ lives”
Following the Secretary of State was Nick Chrissos, Director of Innovation, Cisco Europe who outlined the importance of collaboration between partners and increasing importance of innovation networks to ensure companies, like Cisco and others, can tap into multiple ecosystems and work more closely together to drive digital innovation.
During his keynote, Shaun Collings, Regional Sales Director, Public Sector at PureStorage, along with taking a selfie of the Supercharging audience, provided figures from a survey conducted by Pure Storage. He highlighted the key technologies driving organisations digital journey today and explained that 68% of businesses are still underestimating the importance of data as a key asset for driving digital growth.
Before the morning networking break techUK’s CEO Julian David and Rowena Burns sat down together to discuss the opportunities and levers to drive greater adoption and deployment of digital technologies. The development of digitally lead health innovative solutions was seen as a particular area for growth in Manchester and the North West where tech has a real opportunity to make a difference to people and society.
Matthew Hudson, Head of Strategy at TfL, kicked off our transport track with the simple question of ‘what are paper tickets for?’. When TfL looked into this it turned out the answer had nothing to do with commuters – the original reasoning was to reduce conductor fraud. The move to Oyster, contactless and beyond has reduced by over 30% the amount that it costs TfL to collect fares.
This was a theme that was picked up by Clara Davies from the Department for Transport. Clara focused on the outcomes that Government wanted from Connected and Autonomous Vehicles and the public policy drivers that would likely frame future mobility services.
Daren Wood of Resonate stressed the importance of time – the transport system needs to change both to cope with current challenges but also to ensure that we don’t lock ourselves into a particular business model or approach.
Finally, Ben Gardner of Pinsent Masons outlined some of the potential solutions available to mobility operators in terms of how they can improve data sharing in order to provide a better customer experience.
Chaired by Jonathan Spruce, the audience Q&A turned to how the current transport system is difficult to navigate for users as well as how the pace of adoption for autonomous vehicles could be faster than we anticipate and how we can or should do to adapt and shape that phenomena.
Caroline Baldwin, Editor of Essential Retail welcomed a packed room to the retail session where speakers from the British Retail Consortium, Artificial Solutions, Teradata and FarFetch discussed how retailers are benefiting from the greater digital adoption and integration of advanced tech tools such as data analytics and AI. With Increasing competition and costs halving profit margins in retail the panel discussed the importance of businesses innovating.
To kick off the session Dr. Liliana Danila, Economist at the BRC explained that 47% of U.K. retailers don’t have a #digital #strategy due to budgetary & resource constraints while online sales have seen an 8% increase annually. Damien White, Senior Retail Industry Consultant at Terradata highlighted how data analytics is helping retailers to reach customers while Russ Tarr, VP of EMEA and APAC Sales at Artifical Solutions outlined the role AI is playing to help retailers in their relationship with customers. Asked whether this online growth means the “death of the high street”, or whether this term is being overused, Kerem Atasoy from FarFetch explained that 75% of luxury purchases are still in store and how the store experience is still important to their customers. He explained that magic mirrors, endless rails, personalised services and video content are all being considered in the development of future stores.
Questions to the panel from the audience that were discussed included examples of retailers that have been successful at digitisation, the possible role of AR and VR in stores to help drive smart sales, whether we have reached a step change or plateau in retail digital adoption yet and he role of GDPR.
Our final session opened with a presentation from Jonathan Spruce, Interim Strategy Director of Transport for the North, who outlined the potential that new transport services – both physical connections and greater integration of existing services – can help to drive the Northern Powerhouse as an economic hub.
This was followed up by a panel session looking at the soft infrastructure that powers the sector with a real focus on the skills needed to drive the digital economy.
Chaired by Bryan Glick of Computer Weekly, we heard from Lawrence Jones, Alison Kennedy and Elizabeth Vega how the North needs to a producer of talent rather than a consumer of it. There was a real focus on how the companies can use the strengths of Manchester and the North to attract and retain talent and companies – as well as how we can make better use of those who have left for other parts of the world as ambassadors for the region.
The Conference came to a close with Sue Daley, Julian David and Matthew Evans of techUK summarizing their thoughts and take-aways from the conference with the overwhelming feeling being that the region needs to raise its confidence levels to those of its strengths and capabilities – it already is supercharging and should be comfortable in saying so!
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