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Has UK Government set out a suitable digital strategy for the future? Hear what BIMA thinks

With the UK Government having set out its first digital strategy put forward since Prime Minister Theresa May took office, BIMA's joint chair, Natalie Gross offers the response of the organisation.

BIMA welcomes the publication of today’s UK Digital Strategy policy paper. It is long overdue for a nation where digital leadership can truly set us apart on a Global stage.

Britain has unique characteristics – governance, size, industry sector leadership, education infrastructure, travel infrastructure etc., that can be harnessed to create a truly unique digital vision and strategy.

The question is does Government’s seven-point digital strategy achieve this?

On a very positive note, we now have a strategy that our industry welcomes. And it is recognised by Government itself as a starting point, not a strategy set in stone.

The overarching feeling however is that the strategy is a mixture of multiple goals with no single vision, and a plethora of low level tactics scatter gunned across a catch all of ‘digitalness’. The strategy fails to set out the things that will make Britain digitally untouchable e.g. becoming THE home of Artificial Intelligence or becoming the most prolific nation of data scientists.

Which are the heroes that the strategy hangs its hat on, that will pave the path for many of the other items in the strategy to succeed?

BIMA member Jonathan Simmons, chief strategy officer for Zone, agrees that whilst the general view from our industry is likely to be that the publication of the paper is positive in setting out to position the UK as a major digital force, much of what the strategy states is already being done. “Isn’t shaping education and skills development now surely a case of business as usual (albeit a very urgent case!)? And in reality, isn’t trying to position a country as a major digital force relevant to every country in the world - Is anybody saying the opposite? Absolutely not! What are we going to be doing that is standout and different from what any other country can offer? Where is the unique aspiration for Britain?”

One area we would like to see Government challenge itself is in understanding what is it that only Government can lead and do, and where is it better for Government to play a supporting role to industry and other intermediaries? We believe this will help garner clarity for the strategy.

A couple of areas where the strategy strikes the right balance in this area is in recognising the need for coordination and the role of Government as a coheser in the area of skills development (e.g. the Digital Skills Partnership), making accessible the mass of confusing and overwhelming information that relates to the opportunities and funding that is available for people to access skills and investment in digital.

But even in its role as a coheser, Government needs to be clear about what it brings to the table as genuine value.

One area is arguably data, because set up properly, Government should be in the best position to collect and analyse data reliably and ethically for the overall good of Britain. There are some signs of that; analysing VAT returns to identify fast growth businesses and BIMA would love to see this line of thinking go a lot further. As would we like to see the idea of open APIs be really stretched and explored.

BIMA also welcomes the introduction of further tech hubs and the line of thinking in this area is very interesting. We have long lobbied for rules e.g. visas and taxes, that encourage Britain to be home to the best possible global practices for embracing talent, and these hubs are very interesting, and of course point to a global outward looking Britain, much needed in the advent of Brexit. But could this line of thinking have been pushed a lot further? We really do think so.

A further area which BIMA believes deeper consideration has been given is Cybersecurity, and again, is clearly an area where Government can take a lead, and this is welcomed.

One area BIMA is heavily critical of the digital strategy on is diversity which is embarrassingly vague! And it’s an area that Government can truly influence and where there is a real opportunity for Britain to be different and be a leader. This is another area Simmons agreed there was a real opportunity – “we are in danger of replicating other industries that lack gender, racial and social class diversity, failing to take advantage of the impact a diverse talent pool can have on Britain’s output and social well-being”.

Overall it is hard to get a comprehensive view of exactly how this strategy will be executed and measured. It fails to roll everything up to give a helicopter view of how much, how many and in what timeframe. In that way it lacks a plan and a punch that individuals and industry can truly get behind.

BIMA is keen to understand how Government intends to implement and measure the strategy in a way that reflects modern working practices. BIMA’s co-chair, Tarek Nseir, states “As an industry involved in digital transformation – speed, agility, collaboration, experimentation and real time measurement are all characteristics of how industries have to evolve in order to become digitally effective. From our experience in working with Government, such as setting up new Apprenticeship standards, Government remains painfully slow, and a lot of activity that is stated in this strategy remains very ‘talk focused’ in its nature, which is out of synch with modern ways of working.”

BIMA would also like to see innovation in communication about the strategy’s progress – a ‘dashboard’ for Britain’s digital progress, that is cohesive, momentum building and exciting for the nation. Indeed, BIMA sees a big opportunity for Government to innovate in its use of data to understand Britain’s progress as a digital leader, which is very much eating your own dog food territory!

On a final note, the continued call for partnership is a very welcome element of the strategy, and as the membership body for digital business in Britain, BIMA welcomes the opportunity to play its part in helping to shape Britain’s Digital Strategy in the coming years