You may be aware that a Digital Strategy was recently launched by the Committee for Economic Development (“ED”). As the nominated political representative for the Committee on Digital matters I helped to launch the strategy in the media through interviews with the press and radio. I am also closely involved with the aims of the document and chair the Digital Guernsey group, which is an unfunded organisation, made up of government and industry representatives and is tasked with pulling together the different strands of the Strategy and making sure that we are sticking to the plans.
As with all public documents, there is no surprise that there has been some scrutiny of this Strategy and questions have been asked – and it is important to respond to these queries. So I thought I would start by making this subject more accessible and giving further explanation to those of you who are a bit confused by the whole Digital thing!
Firstly though, I would like to say that there have been lots of strategy documents coming from the States over the last few years and I hope there are not too many more. I came into the States to get on and do … I’ve managed to do a few things which I’ll share with you in this post, but I am feeling some frustration at the amount of time spent talking and less time spent doing.
If I describe the set up in ED that will help I think make it clearer how we work. During our early days, we agreed that a sensible way to deal with the mandated responsibilities, was to split them up so that each one of us would lead on an area where we would add more value. We followed lines of career experience and network, so e.g. Deputy Jan Kuttelwascher being a retired pilot was given transport links, Deputy Jennifer Merrett has had a strong career in retail so took on this area as well as hospitality and tourism, Deputy Joe Mooney has worked in construction for years, so this is his area.
Myself, with a career in the finance sector and more latterly running my own digital businesses and with an interest in digital technology, I support the President, Deputy Peter Ferbrache, working with the Finance sector & also look after “Digital” for the Committee. I also sit on the board of Start Up – this was the old Guernsey Enterprise Agency which helped me to set up my company 10 years ago.
Deputy Peter Ferbrache as well as leading on Finance, provides leadership and representation for the Committee, he introduces policy papers in the States for debate and gives updates and statements for the Committee on which he can be questioned publicly in the Chamber.
So that is what we each do and will hopefully explain why you hear from different people on the Committee, when different sectors are discussed.
The launch of the Digital Strategy has given some certainty to the direction of travel for the Committee and its partners: the Committees for Home Affairs, Policy & Resources and Education, as well as the regulator, GFSC, the promotional bodies, Guernsey Finance & Locate as well as sectors wedded to technology such as Telecommunications, Creative and Fintech.
It has 10 action plans and these are
1. Targeting high-value, low footprint, digital industries; 2. Direct government support to stimulate the digital economy (micro-economics); 3. Creating a digital visionary government; 4. Creating a best practice entrepreneurial environment; 5. Establishing a flexible and world-class digital infrastructure;
6. Developing best in class digital skills, education and training; 7. Delivering responsive and leading legislation and regulation; 8. Creating a robust and successful data protection framework; and
9. Engendering a high quality cyber security environment. 10. Developing Intellectual Property and a knowledge-based economy.
As someone who is now used to hearing the 21st century jargon of “tech & new business” speak, the statements above in context are straightforward and quite sensible – there is nothing really contentious within these or anything that you could reasonably argue with.
However, if you don’t understand the jargon then it will be a more difficult read and therein lies a key problem with government: a lack of effective communication. I see one of my jobs in the States as a Deputy, to be an effective communicator and in this area it means cutting through the jargon that will inevitably be included in a document like this and to translate it into everyday language which will enable people to see where and how this strategy will affect them.
Some of the terms used are confusing. My Dad said so, so it must be true. He was born at the beginning of WWII and is a retired airline pilot, who before retirement was a Senior Captain, flying the most technologically advanced Boeing of its time, with its amazing “computerised” flight deck: “the man and machine interface”! Now this tells me that there is not only a divide by age, but also in sector. As language goes in and out of fashion, also specific words are used by in some industries to describe things that we all know about, but just didn’t use that particular word for it.
So for my Dad “digital” describes his watch, but “computerised” describes the huge innovation and technological advancement by which he was able to fly hundreds of people around the world in the 1990’s in the safest, most operationally efficient way, since air travel had begun.
It may not be fair to expect the general public to understand the entire content of these documents immediately and I don’t think that they’re written with the general public in mind. They are more a sales pitch to the outside world – “look at us, we understand what’s going on in this area, we can use the same language that you do and feel comfortable about it, we are confident with our plans, see us as equals…or competitors……!”
So going back to those key action point statements, let us begin to offer better insight:
1. Targeting high-value, low footprint, digital industries; so using the States supported groups such as Guernsey Finance, Locate Guernsey, Start Up as well as the Digital Guernsey group to target entrepreneurs and businesses from over there and encourage them to come and settle over here. “High-value, low footprint” is often used to describe a business which will generate a high turnover (and hopefully profit), but will not require much in the way of resources to support, such as a large factory making car parts might be the opposite as a low-value high footprint business. Really the key here is that the digitisation will enable them to maintain the low footprint within Guernsey.
2. Direct government support to stimulate the digital economy (micro-economics); the size of the States means that it can get better value for money through its purchasing power. In this way it can pass on these procurement benefits to the wider community – some of this is big picture stuff which links to how the States operates. The Digital Greenhouse is also a good example of supporting business with its shared working space encouraging collaboration and growth for small businesses.
3. Creating a digital visionary government; changing the way that the States works to adopt digital practice wherever appropriate and to ensure that new technologies are used, shows that the States are leading by example and actively taking part in what they are advocating others to do. In short putting their money where their mouth is.
4. Creating a best practice entrepreneurial environment; through the annual Finvention and regular Start up Guernsey events along with the work at the Digital Greenhouse, we can provide businesses with working examples of what other businesses are doing and doing well. Business to business collaboration encourages best practice and doing things well.
5. Establishing a flexible and world-class digital infrastructure; this means that we have to invest in the network and ensure that we have a decent speed of connectivity available to all and capacity to store and transfer data. The infrastructure needs to do what we want it to do, when we want it to.
6. Developing best in class digital skills, education and training; our schools are already teaching our children from Reception onwards how to use digital tools alongside traditional methods to learn in the best way. We will be offering better training and education in digital subjects, our teachers are on a programme of study to give them better skills to help them teach for the 21st century digital requirements. Learning doesn’t stop at school and we want to help offer more training for mature students throughout their working and retired lives. This also includes digital “inclusion” through skill development for all Islanders so that they can take advantage of technology advancements.
7. Delivering responsive and leading legislation and regulation; making sure that we work with business and industry representatives to stay ahead of the game where necessary, or respond when required, in making laws and/or regulations which keep us up to date so that we can continue to do business easily.
8. Creating a robust and successful data protection framework; and 9. Engendering a high quality cyber security environment. Protecting your data, keeping you safe online and making sure that government & business systems are alert and protected wherever possible from attack is essential.
10. Developing Intellectual Property and a knowledge-based economy. The experience you have built, the idea you come up with, the technical know-how, or the process you built whether artistically, musically, as a writer, an inventor etc. these are all intellectual property. The legal process by which you protect these is via Intellectual Property rights – patents, Image Rights etc. and together makes up an economy based on knowledge. That is something that we in Guernsey have built with the finance industry over decades. People do business here, because we can give good solid advice. We can continue that.
For me there are two key action plans in the above list which underpin the others: these are education & infrastructure.
Making sure that our community, children and adults alike have the relevant digital skills and opportunities to learn and specialise in tech related subjects is really important to being able to give substance to what we are aiming to do.
Without the right infrastructure, the broadband capability and the access to internet and the network we won’t be able to make the best of the opportunities that we have to teach and upskill our community in digital practice.
A handful of people have intellectualised the strategy and started to picked holes, that’s not a bad thing –I do like a good bit of the intellectual and challenge stuff, but not if it gets in the way of common sense. At the heart of this strategy is a whole load of practical “we need to get on and do”, in fact we are doing quite a bit of it all already.
So to conclude this post, one confusing term that is in sore need of translation is the “Digital Economy”. This was coined way back in 1995 and in its simplest definition is the digitisation of business, so how people are using digital processes within their services and how customers are using digital processes to interact with those businesses. It also refers to the digital infrastructure, such as the provision of internet services. So not a simple term, but one that has given rise to some criticism on social media for being used in the strategy. As I mentioned before it’s the sales pitch element of these documents which require that certain language is used as it demonstrates to the outside world that we understand what we’re talking about.
Now that you understand that term, you’ll see that like the tide in the Russell which keeps moving, we’re in an ongoing and fast moving global environment which will not stop.
The conversation doesn’t end here. There will be more updates from me about this and I will concentrate on the action points one by one to tell you what is being done in those areas. I would love to do one a month but that is setting the too bar high and I will only promise regular updates, but without the delivery date.