The UK government recently published its individual departmental plans, which, in addition to Brexit, have a focus on national innovation at their heart. The plans also stress just how integral collaboration between the public and private sector is for the delivery of seamless digital services. However, perhaps most importantly, they recognise the value of a resolute digital skill base for the UK economy in the coming years.
What’s clear is that the age of digital disruption is upon us and no one can shy away. Whether it’s our public services, multinationals and SMEs, or NGOs and social enterprises, digital exclusion must be squeezed out at all costs.
In the Autumn Budget earlier this year it was very encouraging to hear that the Chancellor is keen to build upon the UK’s stature as a digital leader globally. Though there are areas where we can improve, we also have a great deal to shout about too.
The particular statistic cited by Philip Hammond of a new tech startup being founded in the UK every hour, with the aim of cutting this time window down to every half an hour is something that we should be shouting from the rooftops. London too is a booming technology hub and European den of innovation. As a nation we should be extremely proud of where we started and what we have achieved in the last decade alone.
However, if we lift the lid on the state of the UK’s digital anatomy, one could paint quite a different picture.
The survival of our national health service for example will largely depend on a successful shift away from traditional health services to a smarter, more self-sufficient approach. But funding is required to change the game and shift the digital needle.
In a recent report from Deloitte exploring public sector digital transformation across the world, it cited that in the UK despite 82 percent of organisations perceiving digital transformation as an opportunity, only 44% actually managed to increase investment in those initiatives in 2015.
If Britain is to become a true national leader in digital skills across the board, it simply must be able to allocate funding for the challenges facing not only the private sector, but society.
There is also a growing responsibility on both business and government to combat the spread of digital exclusion and reset the imbalances.
Today, core computer skills and knowledge of the internet can connect people to new and better jobs, open up opportunities for flexible working from home, establish cheaper forms of communication and social interaction to community infrastructures and government services, and, improve access to learning opportunities, cheaper products and online services.
Establishing digital equality matters because those without the access, skills, motivation and knowledge are missing out on important areas of the digital world. This doesn’t necessarily have an impact on the lives of individuals, but it does on families, communities, political processes, democracy, public services and the economic and social health of the UK as a whole.
Research has also highlighted a clear correlation between digital and social exclusion. This means that those already at a disadvantage, who also arguably stand to gain the most from the Internet are the least likely to be taking advantage of it. The result – they are becoming further disadvantaged by not using it.
Nearly 9.5 million people in the UK (20% of the population) lack the basic online skills needed to send and receive emails, use a search engine, browse the internet and complete online forms. Charities without an online presence are losing out on the £2.4 billion now donated every year using the internet, and, in the public sector, central and local government could save more than £5 billion a year if more services were offered online.
Tackling this digital exclusion head on would not only empower and transform the public’s relationship with government, but it would also increase the bond between businesses and consumers. The private sector in particular must become an advocate of not just digital change, but social change. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Whether it’s reskilling long-standing workers, offering training courses for new employees, or establishing external schemes that encourage today’s youth to develop their computer skills, these are all examples of the kind of initiatives required on a daily basis to boost our economy.
Both business and government have the tools and levers at their disposal to put plans like these into action, but what’s needed now is a more concerted effort to actually make them a reality.
Not only is Britain uniquely positioned as a nation to deliver on this but it also have a moral imperative to work together, and drive real change that will create a truly inclusive digital society that works for everyone.
Sourced by Chas Moloney, director, Ricoh UK