Strong roots for a vibrant digital future

26th January 2018

Russell Haworth

Russell Haworth

Despite the prevalence of smart gadgets – the Echo Dot was Amazon’s top selling product across the board this past Christmas – the average person remains somewhat removed from the cutting edge of technology. As industry leaders build robots, trial driverless cars and automate factories, most of us get up and come to work just as we always have, armed only with a smartphone and a satnav. For many citizens, the most engagement they have with the new and potentially life-changing technological advancements is watching the news.

The vibrant digital future that we are looking towards can only be truly realised if we have the appropriate infrastructure to support an ambitious and world-changing technological vision. Everyone must be included in the revolution. They must have access to new tech and be kept safe and secure throughout their use of it, or else the vision will simply crumble. Connectivity, inclusivity and security are, for my money, the three crucial foundations to be reinforced.

These three areas of technological infrastructure have informed our newly updated Digital Futures Index (DFI). Through the collection and compilation of appropriate research, we sought to encourage debate on the issues that matter most to our country as we shape our digital future. This will be brought to life at the end of this month at our Vibrant Digital Future (VDF) summit, when some of the most influential, ambitious and interesting people in the industry will take to the stage to share their thoughts on how we support the digital revolution.

In some ways, it all must start with connectivity. This is fast approaching the status of a basic human right, as so much of what we must do to operate today involves connecting to the internet. If government services, community support, banking and maintaining relationships moves online, how can we accept the fact that so much of the country struggles to access high speed internet connections? Our DFI research found that only 40% of the UK is covered by 4G – that doesn’t bring us anywhere close to the top 20 countries in the world, with South Korea easing into first place with 95.71% 4G availability [Open Signal].

This issue is, thankfully, starting to be taken more seriously. The Government is investing in connecting businesses and households throughout the UK and funding preparations for 5G. However, there remains complicated relations between service providers and regulators, with the likes of BT and Ofcom clashing over spectrum allocation and use. We strongly believe that dynamic spectrum management needs to be recognised and optimised as a means of creating a sustainable approach to finite spectrum use. We are doing all we can to promote it.

Closely related to connectivity is inclusivity. Everyone should have the skills and opportunities to take part in the digital revolution. Digital literacy skills and computing are now part of the curriculum and many kids are learning to code, yet our research found that only 42% of adults are digitally savvy. How do they cope in a world where almost everything they need to do requires them to be able to navigate the internet confidently?

There is a larger problem in a professional environment. Three in four businesses have reported a digital skills shortage within their workforce [BCC, 2017]. The Government has warned that the lack of suitably trained people – or a digital skills crisis – costs the economy £63bn each year. Equally imperative is addressing the lack of diversity in technology workplaces: estimates suggest only 17% of the tech-ICT workers in the UK are female. The pipeline is discouraging too; our DFI research found that only 31% of STEM students are female. We have pledged to help revert this trend by signing up to the Tech Talent Charter, but this is only the beginning. Upskilling and inspiring women will help us meet the growing demand for digital skills in the workplace.

Finally, security is an integral characteristic of a vibrant digital future. Online security has become one of the hottest topics of our time, with papers and bulletins filled with worrying reports of breaches, attacks and hacks. Our DFI research shows people are worried – 43% of adults worry they will lose what they store online. We also found that businesses aren’t doing enough to safeguard their systems or escalate this issue to the highest level: only 2% of FTSE 350 boards have a CTO, CIO or CDO.

This will soon become non-negotiable. The cost of a breach averages at £20,000 and the likelihood of an attack is mammoth – it has become when, not if. The incoming data protection legislation will force companies to consider privacy and data, but we hope this will provoke more action on security for systems, networks and people. These can start simply, such as educating staff on security procedures and the importance of them. This is paramount, as data shows that 72% of breaches were related to staff receiving fraudulent emails [Cybersecurity Breaches Survey 2017]. Vigilant staff could save your business.

We are merely scratching the surface here. We hope that these topics will serve as springboards during our VDF event, provoking discussions and debates among the people who have the power to inform change, set the precedent and pull together to ensure our country is set up to lead the charge to a vibrant digital future. Will you join us?