Our digital future looks bright, according to London mayoral candidates as they took to the podium recently in what was the first ever hustings aimed at analysing London's digital economy and infrastructure and maybe more crucially, London's digital future.
The event was organised by London Tech Advocates, who used the platform to amplify London's Digital Future: The Mayoral Tech Manifesto 2016, which lays out what the incumbent mayor and London Assembly must do in order to safeguard London's digital development.
Featuring insight from major decision makers, the document reveals how there is an opportunity to harness the combined expertise and influence of tech entrepreneurs, investors and innovators to turn London from a digitally-friendly capital into a digitally-powered one.
The general consensus from those contributing as well as the mayoral candidates speaking at Here East, was that the next four years represent a crucial juncture in London's digital development. A fully digital London will only be achieved if all reap the benefits of a more connected, responsive and integrated capital but according to former mayoral candidate Sol Campbell, the human aspect is just as important as ensuring London has the digital infrastructure in place to cope with demand.
"Not all the answers are found in the latest innovation or increasing the speed of our broadband. If London is to safeguard its digital future, areas as diverse as social inclusion and transport are going to have to be considered."
The former international footballer and entrepreneur, who is working on plans to launch an inner-city start-up hub, believes that in order for the capital to reach its full digital potential, Londoners need the right ingredients, both in terms of digital literacy and being taught traditional business skills.
"It's all about balance. Yes, it should now be part of your makeup to be competent in the field of digital but we still need people in companies who are able to communicate and solve problems together. I've grown up into technology. A lot of kids have this kind of technology around them, so they might not have developed what we consider traditional communication skills. I think we need to be mindful that the real digital entrepreneurs are those who utilise what the digital world has to offer, while maintaining a traditional skill set."
Campbell is working alongside Wayra UK, a London-based technology start-up accelerator owned by Telefonica Open Future, to identify physical locations in areas such as Tottenham and Enfield, where opportunities for those looking to benefit from the growing digital economy are sparse.
"Ideas and intelligence are everywhere! The problem is, the opportunities and platforms are not. Most of the accelerator spaces I know are in zones one and two, which is a different universe for even those guys based in zones three and four. I know the people in those areas are hungry, they are clever and need a break. To ensure we have that conveyor belt of new thinking and new ideas, people from all backgrounds need to come together to think of the next big thing. Having a melting pot like this is not the whole answer but will certainly, in my opinion, make a difference."
An industry survey conducted by techUK in 2014 found that 93% of tech firms believe the skills
gap has a direct negative impact on their business. Recent research from O2 also suggests the UK will need to train almost 2.3m digitally skilled workers by 2020. If the UK is to meet this growing demand, hubs like the one Sol is proposing could help supply the digital workers and new ideas needed to keep London's digital dream alive.