Bristol is ten minutes behind London. This is not some slur on where I grew up, but a geographical feature that became an early issue with the advent of the railway. The new-found ability to connect to UK cities in hours rather than days required a standard time-table.
Whilst the train was a critical element of the Industrial Revolution it has been superseded. This makes George Osborne’s vow to return Britain back to a golden Victorian age of train travel rather depressing. It is also indicative of the political classes, of all hues, inability to understand the impact of the web and digital technologies and how to shape Britain for the Data Revolution.
Grand projects such as HS2, that will cost approximately £40 billion and take over 20 years fail to understand how much technological and behavioural change will occur over that time-span. In August 2012, Google announced their self-driving cars had driven 300,000 accident free miles.
When you consider the cars process 2GB of data every second it makes sense that a company whose goal is to organise the world’s information leads this innovation. The self-driving car will have a transformative effect on the way we live. Changing the distances we are willing to travel to work, the infrastructure and eventually the design and layout of the roads themselves.
But the technology is ahead of the legislation which in many cases was created in a time of horse drawn carriages. As William Gibson opined, “the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
Politicians need to start looking to the future and define Britain’s role in the Digital and Data Revolution. If they are unable to do this we will increasingly fall behind the world. We need visionary leadership that understands how technology is being adopted and reshaping our lives.
Digital means the world is flat and that reducing journey times between our major cities by a few minutes will not enhance our global competitiveness. Ensuring accessible, universal and fast broadband will enable us to connect anywhere, anytime and with anyone. Geographic location is increasingly virtualised and success built on attracting the best talent to make the best teams.
New skills and ways of teaching need to be implemented. Whilst there is burgeoning youth unemployment in Europe, there is a shortage of good talent in mathematics, programming, design and commercial management in the digital industries. Our Industry, with initiatives like BIMA’s D-Day, is reaching out to schools to help children earlier understand the available roles and skills they need for their future.
We need to redefine our views of industries and our need to ‘save’ them. With over a third of retail sales forecast to be made online before 2020 the high street can never be the same. The high street is not dead, though it needs redefinition. Humans are still social and want spaces for physical interaction, so we should expect more experiential stores, both permanent and temporary, which brands use to show-room and support their products and services.
Similarly manufacturing will be transformed by 3D printing which has the potential to redistribute manufacturing to the point of purchase. The need for panel beaters and the fabricators will be replaced by the originators who need ideas and design skills.
For this new future we need the companies that can lead in the commercialisation of creativity and technology. They need to come from across the whole UK and we should jettison a US based cluster models that aims to rebuild Silicon Valley on a London underpass to refocus on our world class Universities which are the main UK centres of innovation.
Politicians need to stop building policies based on the technology that built Victorian society and look forward to develop a bold and visionary world view.
Wyndham Lewis is an executive on the BIMA Board and is also a director of DeltaZoa, which works at the intersection of creativity, technology and data to deliver better businesses. This article first appeared in the August edition of Communicate magazine and it is a plea to politicians of all hues to understand that we need policies fit for the future.