Technology companies lead revival

Tech is the most innovative sector in the UK, says Julian David, director general of technology trade association Intellect


There are more than 270,000 UK technology businesses helping to make our economy the most innovative, connected and confident in the world. The reach of the UK tech sector is far and wide. The social and economic impact of our tech companies can be traced across developed and emerging markets.

UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) confirms the significance of the sector and acknowledges its role as one of the largest wealth creators. Tech in the UK has been one of the fastest-growing sectors over the last decade. And this is also true of the growing global presence of UK tech companies.

This confidence is borne out by the evidence. Among the G7 nations, the UK is the highest net exporter of computer and information services. In 2011, the UK exported telecoms services worth around £5 billion, computer services worth around £7 billion and information services of around £2 billion.

UKTI supported 2,799 companies involved in ICT during 2012-13, and engaged in 67 technology events and missions. I have had personal experience of this as I joined a recent trade mission to China and saw for myself the opportunities for UK tech companies of all sizes.

However, there are challenges to the successful exporting of UK tech. Sir Hossein Yassaie, chief executive of Imagination, commenting on the recent launch of the Electronic Systems Challenges and Opportunities (ESCO) report, says: “We need scale to overcome the rising costs of design and manufacture if we are to be profitable. That means creating major global electronic systems brands here in the UK.” This is true across the whole of the tech sector.

Tech in the UK has been one of the fastest-growing sectors over the last decade

So what is being done to address this challenge? One example of action taken to support the international growth of start-ups is The Future Fifty programme, launched by Chancellor George Osborne. This programme aims to make it as easy as possible for companies to list on the UK stock market, and will provide tailored support on issues, such as immigration, exports and international trade, from a mixture of government and private sector experts.

Investment in research and development is another key factor in the global scaleability of UK tech companies. James Dyson highlighted in the Financial Times the success of the UK’s most research-intensive companies that have continued to thrive throughout the recession. In particular, he recognised the success of ARM, world leaders in their field, based in Cambridge.

In addition, it is important that international markets are confident in the stability of the UK tech sector. This continues to grow. Recent data from the UK Business Confidence Monitor, compiled by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales with Grant Thornton, showed that confidence in the UK IT and communications sector has steadily increased in the past year, and is now significantly higher than confidence in the UK economy as a whole.

Aligned with this, the data reveals that exports of IT and communications services have also experienced steady growth over the past 12 months, surpassing the economy-wide average. And this momentum is set to carry on throughout the next year.

The UK is in a great position to take its place as a global leader in technology. The sector continues to innovate and develop and design world-class products and services. We should celebrate this achievement and continue to build our international reputation and grow our global presence.

Julian David has spent more than 30 years in the technology industry, mainly with IBM, latterly as vice president of small and medium business in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands and Africa, and then vice president of public sector in the UK, Ireland and South Africa.