Technology is GREAT… (Britain ?)

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Si vous pensez “innovation technologique”, la Silicon Valley vous vient-elle immédiatement à l’esprit ? Si tel est le cas, ne cherchez pas si loin ! Après la Californie en Amérique du Nord et Tel Aviv au Moyen-Orient, Londres semble entamer sa mue numérique. Face aux nombreux défis qui se présentent à elle, l’Angleterre peut-elle prétendre à un leadership technologique ? 

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Did you remember the moment when Sean Parker in The Social Network, the film about the founding of Facebook said that?

That’s the kind of ambition you need to power a young company to the scale of Facebook or Google! If you have it, the Coalition government wants you to come to East London, the future “technology centre of Europe” and the “driving force of London’s economy”over the next five years, according to David Cameron. Indeed, he announced plans to invest £50m in a “visionary project” called Tech City to transform East London (between Old Street and the 2012 Olympic Park) into the new Silicon Valley. You can get an updated “entrepreneur visa” created by the Coalition Government to bypass ill-judged new immigration restrictions and join Techhub in the heart of the Silicon Roundabout area, a space for entrepreneurs involved in the tech industry to work and share knowledge. Since Tech City initiative in 2010, the number of technology firms in the area has risen from 200 to 700. Companies need data analysis to understand how consumers purchase the product, their demographics and psychographics. Thus, they are becoming increasingly dependent on internal and external data to make wise financial decisions and improve sales and marketing initiatives. As a consequence, the IT employment sector is growing five times as fast as the UK average. Nevertheless the adoption of technology is a two-edge sword: retailers have better access to consumers thanks to new developments in the marketing sector, but technology enables consumers to made snap purchase decisions and switch brand or company.

As foreign countries struggle with fiscal penury and need to find new sources of growth, the Tech City initiative could become a model to emulate but Britain has several challenges to overcome. The first problem is the UK’s technology skills shortage. Companies need people with hardcore, scalable service technology skills and a particular management expertise. In 2012 over 1.1 million tech jobs were posted in the UK and there simply aren’t enough qualified workers to meet this surge in tech vacancies. The second problem is the location. With its bohemianism and relatively cheap rents, for young, creative workers, East London does not have as bounteous a technology capital industry as that which serves the Silicon Valley. American investors are keen on high-tech start-ups because they have seen many grow into world-beaters. Until East London produces its own Facebook or Apple, British investors will be reluctant. So, East London needs more success stories. Joanna Shields, Facebook’s leader in managing business in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa will help bring more foreign investment into the country’s “Valley”. With over 3,000 companies based in the UK, there’s an incredible opportunity to help consolidate and unite them to gather more attention from investors! Finally, as a market cannot emerge without the freedom to innovate, institutions don’t have to become too rigid to accommodate truly revolutionary changes. Britain already has data protection laws in place, based on a European directive from 1995 which includes principles for the collection of personal information, copyrights and patents that prevent others from innovating or developing creativity. Now the problem is that the European Union wants to strengthen those existing provisions whereas emerging markets reject the notion of “intellectual property” where it is not in their national interest.

Not only does Britain want to build its own Silicon Valley, but it also wants to save money by moving its services online. The publication of the Government Digital Strategy and Digital Efficiency reports by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude is an important milestone. It sets out how the Government can make up to £1.2 billion worth of savings by 2015 simply by making everyday transactions digital! According to the BBC, face-to-face transactions cost £8.62 whereas online transactions via a website cost only 15 pence. According to the report, “Britain is in a global race and that’s why we need to have modern, efficient, digital-by-default public services that are fit for the 21st century.” And “Digital services are much more convenient because they can be accessed whenever you want them. They are also much more efficient, saving taxpayers’ money and the user’s time. Online transactions can be 20 times cheaper than by phone, 30 times cheaper than face-to-face, and up to 50 times cheaper than by post.” Nevertheless, the digital divide in the UK is considerable. According to the 21st Century Challenges site, the majority of people in the UK have access to the Internet but around 10 million people (a third of all households!) still do not. 4 million of those who do not have access are the most socially and economically disadvantaged.

Dear English friends, your talent is unquestionable : 

Your ideas and innovation have built our present but now they belong to the past. Don’t forget what Kierkegaard said  “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Thus, if you want to keep your reputation as a driving force of the world’s innovation, you would have to overcome the current challenges. In that case, the rewards could be huge…

Astrid MEZIERE, Léa CASSAM-CHENAI, Clara DOMINIQUE
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