THE BLOG

Future UK Digital Success Will Take More than a Few Questions...

15/05/2014 15:32 BST | Updated 13/07/2014 10:59 BST

If there is one thing that is totally predictable, it's that no-one can foresee what the future holds. So while plans and strategies are essential for any venture, there has to be room for flexibility and adaptability to be successful.

The UK Digital Skills Taskforce was set up by Ed Miliband late last year and is headed up by TV presenter Maggie Philbin of Tomorrow's World fame. It has recently issued a list of questions, canvassing industry opinions on the specific digital skills that the country will need in the future. The urgency is the need to produce an interim report by June to influence the general election manifestos of all parties.

I can understand the drive behind the taskforce. The pace of change caused by technology has accelerated over the past few years with the mobile and social revolutions, cloud technology and the growing recognition of the potential of big data analysis. Other issues loom on the horizon, not least the rise in products embedded with smart, web-connected sensors creating the 'Internet of Things'. The data volumes from these sensors will make current big data levels look feeble. However, used wisely, the information gained could completely change - yet again - the way we live, work and shop.

The UK desperately needs to be able to compete in these fields and the leaders in education need to look ahead and plot out their future direction.

However, perhaps the focus should move away from specific skills learnt for life at an early age and focus more on a willingness to continually develop, to change and adapt.

Take the whole issue of big data. There's so much industry buzz about it, but very few companies actually know how to fulfil its potential. Some have the vision, but don't know how to get there. More often, businesses need help in identifying the opportunities presented by the data they hold. This is not surprising, we are moving in uncharted waters here and recognising the possibilities requires an unusual mix of technical, creative and commercial talent.

Besides, the kind of predictive analysis data scientists are now carrying out is complex and fast-evolving. For this reason, it sits more comfortably in an environment where ideas can be pooled and there's time for experimentation, rather than in a business office.

For this reason, future governments should continue to encourage closer links between UK universities and industry to help enable us to take a leading role on the world's business stage. At the same time, businesses will increasingly realise that they won't always be able to do things themselves but will need to rely on strategic partnerships with academic institutes and other third-party organisations.

The disruptive nature of new technologies means that, within a business, ICT must become a strategic rather than an operational issue. In the future it will be used to shape policy rather than merely facilitate it. So, conversely, IT managers and directors from a purely technical background will need to focus on acquiring the right commercial awareness. In turn, they must also ensure that their teams have the right skills to manage third-party relationships and service delivery - all areas that require different attitudes and thinking than pure business skills.

Nobody of any political persuasion can fault the aims of the taskforce. However, focusing too narrowly on specific technical skills is too short-sighted for such a long-term project.