Tech bosses imply IT strategy is long overdue

A new government strategy for the IT sector has been broadly welcomed, though not without a pointed consensus that it should have been put in place earlier.

Tudor Aw, head of tech sector at KPMG, was among the most supportive yesterday, saying he was “delighted” that robotics, AI, smart energy and 5G will underpin the strategy.

“[Hopefully] this is just the start and we will see other future disruptive technologies such as Nano technology, autonomous vehicles and IoT…get similar focus and funding,” he said.

In line with Aw’s comments, prime minister Theresa May said the government would create an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, to help capitalise on the UK’s strengths, such as robotics.

'Potential to take a lead'

The fund, which is part of a new £4.7billion boost for R&D funding (the biggest increase since 1979), effectively sets up a new channel for technologies to be backed by funding.

The technologies have to “show potential” for the UK “to take an industrial lead,” so robotics and AI is just one of long list of technologies, including 5G, that “could” be supported.

Businesses and individuals were told yesterday that they can tell the government which of the technologies, such as supercomputing or biotech, should make the grade -- no later than April 17th.

'Helping hand'

After all, it is businesses and individuals who will successfully exploit them, not the state, says ADYOULIKE founder Francis Turner, a pioneer of AI technology.

“The vast majority of innovation will come down to the founders and staff of individual companies,” Turner said, characterising the government’s pledge as no more than a “helping hand.”

“Government, to date, has done little to nothing to support our own business…[although potentially] funding the development of technologies such as AI, can only be 'a good thing'”.

'Desperate need'

Another area in the IT sector regarded as being long overlooked by the government, until it was yesterday included in its new modern Industrial Strategy, is skills and tech know-how.

“As has been long recognised, to be successful in tech, we desperately need to upskill our workforce in STEM subjects,” said KPMG’s Tudor Aw. “[So] to see investment in these skills…is hugely promising.”

The Institute of Directors (IoD) likes how some of the main areas of the strategy -- seen as a sort of blueprint for individual industries to overcome their respective challenges -- connect to each other.

“It’s encouraging that the governments’ new industrial strategy takes a joined-up approach, with measures on skills, infrastructure and research designed to complement each other”, it said.

'Pressing'

The IoD’s policy director James Sproule seems to agree though -- the measures are not before time. “There is a pressing need to make it easier for people of all ages to train and re-train flexibly,” he said, pointing to an ageing population and the underway automation of jobs.

“The emphasis on STEM skills… [is] very welcome,” he added. “[But] these are changes that will take time to take effect, so it is important that the government seeks an immigration policy that avoids skills shortages, which would hold firms back.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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