Drive to collaborative economy

Digital innovations, combined with super-fast broadband, can transform the UK’s public and private sectors, says Virgin Media Business

Economically speaking, things are looking positive in the UK. There is a sense of optimism over recent figures confirming 0.8 per cent growth in the first three months of 2014 and 3.1 per cent year on year. This makes the UK one of the fastest growing Western economies.

Technology suppliers will no doubt be delighted by statistics also showing a quarterly increase in business investment of 2.7 per cent. Companies are starting to shovel money into new projects, while investors are showing more interest in innovative young companies.

Much of this will mean businesses and individuals can expect to benefit from a variety of digital initiatives that foster collaboration, which will in turn boost growth and improve public services.

That’s largely because, as Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president for research at analyst firm Gartner, notes: “Every budget is an IT budget. Every company is an IT company. Every business leader is becoming a digital leader. Every person is becoming a technology company. We are entering the era of the digital industrial economy.”

Businesses and individuals can expect to benefit from a variety of digital initiatives that foster collaboration

This is partly why the UK, and its technology sector in particular, is moving to a considerably more collaborative economy. Siloes not just within businesses, but across companies and public sector bodies are being broken down, often for the good of the general public.

Take the growing number of incubators, similar to those that have been such a boon for the Silicon Valley scene, which are keen to aid London’s bid to become the tech capital of Europe, if it isn’t already. They are providing a welcoming home for all businesses with digital ambition.

One of the better known incubators is THECUBE, a place for high-growth startups to take advantage of next-generation infrastructure, including unconstrained broadband bandwidth and superfast speeds from Virgin Media Business. Members range from media companies such as Medina Films to distillnation, an independent premium spirits specialist.

Outside the myriad services such young companies offer, the jobs they bring provide a boost to whatever area they crop up in.

“Startups and small businesses are by far the largest net creators of jobs in the British economy. And the social good that results from job creation is unparalleled. Not only does it reduce the strain on the public purse by getting people off benefits, but it provides much needed economic activity for local communities, while cultivating personal development and skills acquisition in the employees themselves,” says Jeff Lynn, chief executive of Seedrs, an equity crowdfunding platform.

“At Seedrs, we are seeing and helping fund this day in and day out, from Northern Ireland cheesemaker Mike’s Fancy Cheese, whose success will lead to job creation in a rural part of the country, to creative ventures such as Films of London and The Pajama Game, which are helping revive Britain’s once great creative industries, to tech businesses such as Swansea-based Veeqo and the graduates of the WebStart Bristol internet incubator, which are showing that technology-driven companies aren’t just at London’s Silicon Roundabout, but can come from all over the country.”

There are clear reasons to be cheerful about the UK’s tech scene. London-based OnApp is a prime example of the growing ambition in the UK capital. Its infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platform, designed to offer service providers, such as telecoms companies, cloud-based computing offerings, is hoping to take on giants of the market, including Amazon and Google. What sets it aside is that it allows clients to decide where data sits and compute power is delivered from, providing “the scale, reach and capability that they need to compete”.

There are innumerable signs of this vibrancy outside London, with businesses coming together to provide and use high-quality IT infrastructure. The Digital Norfolk Ambition, which is projected to save the county council £10 million on IT in the next five years, will open up a cloud-based information hub, based on HP, Vodafone and Microsoft technology. The idea is to encourage data sharing across Norfolk to help improve public services for those most in need. Rarely do councils invest in schemes to produce cross-department, joint services.

The Public Services Network (PSN) projects going on across the UK are hoping to spawn similar IT services. The Yorkshire and Humber PSN makes access to improved IT services, from unified communications to virtualisation, that much easier. It’s all based on a high-speed fibre-optic network, to make sure delivery is speedy too. Projections indicate the Yorkshire and Humber scheme has already saved the region as much as £50 million, says Duncan Higgins, marketing director at Virgin Media Business.

“As the government tries to reduce the deficit, regional authorities have a very interesting challenge, which is they need to save money and transform the way in which they use systems. That involves technology transformation,” says Mr Higgins.

When organisations come together to explore the potential modern technology offers, it can do much more than spur the economy on – it can help save lives.

In Cumbria and Lancashire, and underpinned by Virgin Media Business, a Telestroke Network was set up to help improve response to strokes. With the Telestroke videoconferencing technology using high-definition cameras, a patient in hospital can be examined by doctors who are working remotely to determine the diagnosis and best course of action. This is especially useful in regions such as Cumbria, where many people live in rural areas, making journeys into hospital, when off the clock, that much more difficult for stroke specialists.

The possibilities for similar projects, where super-fast broadband combines with next-generation technology to provide hugely important services, are vast. Let’s hope the drive towards a more collaborative economy continues.