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Stop Sector-ising Digital

June 14, 2017

‘Digital’ has become a key word in the business landscape across the world and certainly in Guernsey.  At first the “digital sector” was a useful description of a concept that was hard for many to grasp. The problem seems to be that it’s a phrase that means different things to different people and is often misunderstood.   I believe there’s no such thing as a digital sector and calling it that risks alienating people and causing confusion.

Digital services and tools are consumed by almost every citizen and business. What business today could operate without the internet and all it delivers? It has parallels with the emergence of electricity which serviced all parts of every community – it transformed everything.  Take it away and the lights go out. Digital is our new electricity.

At first many in finance, and senior politicians, saw the “digital sector” as a threat and in competition for States funds with finance. Arguably there is also a pervading view that somehow, in Guernsey, a new “digital economy” will be the economic saviour if finance was to diminish. Certainly in his ‘The Horacle’ column in the Guernsey Press Horace Camp was questioning that the digital economy should be providing the diversification safety net should the finance industry leave.

This is the wrong starting point. Digital technologies are facilitators for the finance sector (along with every other business sector). In fact the finance sector is one of the first to exploit digital opportunities but it is not the only sector; digital use straddles all sectors and the digital economy is just the economy.

Specsavers is a global business with 1,600 branches exploiting digital tools to sell spectacles and hearing aids; FCG ( the parent company for a UK motor insurance company) has grown a Guernsey team of 30 developers and is continually innovating the bespoke platform on which all of its quotes, confirmations and claims sits -to the extent it is leaving its competitors behind; Iris and Dora is using digital payment and receipt technology for their arts and crafts…and look at Northern Trust – using its Guernsey operation to launch a trail-blazing commercial deployment of blockchain technology which looks set to transform private equity administration.

Digital is less of a thing and more of a way of doing things:

  • Creating new business frontiers and business efficiency
  • Creating processes to execute what consumers demand
  • Building foundations and capabilities which support the entire structure

Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen, the digital lead for the Committee for Economic Development, flagged that digital skills could see the number of people working in information services increase from 1,000 to up to 5,000 by 2026 with a tax take that could rise to £19.2m. The point being that these people won’t be working in IT but across all sectors. It’s a compelling focus for Guernsey and she is right when she says every sector needs and uses digital skills within its business.

Deputy Dudley-Owen also acknowledges that upskilling our students is vital to gain this digital know how. However current statistics on Guernsey students studying computer-related subjects do not make for positive reading; the States plans to interest students in getting these skills (at every stage of education) will certainly help.

However digital skills alone will not be the only driver for business diversification and business leaders should not rely solely on those with digital skills to propel their business. Guernsey doesn’t need to be the creator of the next big Facebook-style game-changer (though it would be nice). We need to be smarter than our competitors; that means that we need to be digitally-innovative in the way we exploit technologies; we need to prepare the soil to grow the experts and fund that exploration and we need to celebrate what we are already doing.

The absolute key here is recognising that digital is an integral part of the future. Working together is vital. It has been mooted that We are Guernsey, Locate Guernsey and the Digital Greenhouse may merge – all working to the common goal of growing digital businesses across the spectrum and becoming a hub of experts who know what they’re talking about and can apply that digital knowledge regardless of the sector. It’s time to stop sector-ising digital.