diginomica 2017 - the year according to Stuart

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan December 28, 2017
Brexit, diversity, broadband and Trump - items on Stuart's 2017 look back.

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(1) Brexit means...a lot of IT work ahead

As with everything to do with Brexit to date, it’s a case of ‘who blinks first’...Whichever side of the debate you’re on, it would be healthy to see an end to the ‘ball game’ metaphors – even if the Foreign Secretary does have a well-known interest in whiff-whaff.

Why? Because everything changes - and that means the IT systems that support the way a post-Brexit Britain - and for that matter, a post-Brexit EU - works. Derek has picked up on the growing awareness in the corridors of power that there's a heck of a lot of code out there that's going to have to be updated at best, completely re-written at worst - and the clock is ticking. My personal fear is that we're not very far from a moment of panic when some politico in Westminster decides that the only way forward is to outsource the whole problem to one of the big SIs and let them carry the can when the clocks stop. Meanwhile we're still lacking clarity on where the digital skills are going to come from in the post-Brexit nirvana espoused by the Farages and Goves of the world.

(2) CEO Advocacy

The business of business is not business. The business of business is improving the state of the world.

Why? Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has long been a vital tick-box in the company annual report, but one of the features of 2017 was a growing movement of CEO Advocacy, with business and industry leaders making societal and political issues part of the day job. The quote above comes from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, one of those who has led the charge on this issue, but it's a basic philosophy that we've seen coming to the fore all around the world, both in terms of positive proactive initiatives and in reactive positions to negative developments - but we'll come back to Trump in a moment or two! My choice of article to illustrate advocacy in action comes in the form of a piece from Dreamforce this year where Benioff had a 'fireside chat' with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, a chat which opened up the latter's passion for improving education, supporting apprenticeships and encouraging personal development in a digital society.

(3) Loving the store

People don’t dislike department stores – they dislike bad department stores and they like good ones.

Why? We drilled down deeply on digital transformation in the retail sector this year, with a lot of 'work in progress' exemplars to track. One theme that came out time and again was that of traditional retailers waking up to the fact that their offline store real estate isn't actually the 'problem' that it was all too often presumed to be while everyone tried to be Amazon. In face, the big learning this year is that the major challenge for an omni-channel strategy is remembering the omni bit and managing to strike the right balance.

(4) Killer robots on every corner

I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react, because it seems so ethereal.

Why? It's been the year of growing debate around ethics in relation to AI and machine learning as well as a lot hyped-up paranoia about the imminent rise of the killer robot, coming soon to a local neighbourhood near you.  Armageddon-Peddlar-in-Chief has been Elon Musk, whose every intervention on this subject this year has fuelled another set of 'Terminator' headlines and frankly been enormously unhelpful to the cause of any rational debate around what is a very important topic. For 2018, a period of silence would be welcome.

(5) Diversity

Really it’s less about the money you spend and more about the attitude you put out there.

Why? Here at diginomica, we have a diversity-supporting mindset hard-wired into our corporate DNA. This year we've seen some welcome initiatives take place that have affirmed the importance of taking a stand on equality and sticking to it. Whatever else 2018 has to throw at us, that won't be changing.

(6) Media disruption

The pace of disruption has only hastened. This will allow us to greatly accelerate our direct-to-consumer strategy, which is our highest priority.

Why? This is in some respects a topic that we're going to see more of in 2018 than perhaps we did in 2017, but there was a lot going on nonetheless in the media world. It was a world in which Netflix became the 'what we want to be' for other broadcasters, in which the BBC failed to make its own content download service work and which was topped off at the end of the year by Disney's planned merger with large parts of 21st Century Fox. Stand by  for disruption on a major scale over the next 12 months.

(7) Broadband blether

However you slice and dice it, the re-announcing of the re-announcing of the £400 million broadband investment as something new is like an episode of The Thick of It.

Why? Something of a UK-specific one this, but a hardy perennial sadly. Scarcely a week goes by without the UK's Digital Minister Matt Hancock jumping in front a TV camera to announce another plan to bring super-fast broadband, fiber and 5G to the eager masses. That's all good and well and a splendid aspiration, but what Hancock and his colleagues refuse to engage with is that large areas of the UK can't get anything approaching a decent broadband speed today - and that the likes of BT won't put that right unless the government and the regulator gets tougher. In my opinion, BT plays the government like a fiddle. Even the end-of-year announcement that a self-serving 'offer' from the telco to provide better speeds, so long as there was no nasty regulation put in place, had been rejected doesn't fill my spirits with joy when I have a download speed of 1.9 Mbps in the middle of a major city in the South of England. DCMS's broadband strategy is all plans and press releases and not fit for purpose. And that's not acceptable with Brexit looming and an urgent need for a digital economy that can grow rapidly.

(8) Dreamforce

That’s why I’m inspired about Dreamforce – because of all of you, our Trailblazers. You’re shaping this future. I’m trusting this future to you. I know you’re going to make it great.

Why? We had a great team on the ground at Dreamforce this year and delivered a week - and beyond - of content on a scale that, I'd venture, no other publication managed. It's made easier of course by Dreamforce being a rich seam of interesting content, with a very strong, and accessible, rota of customer exemplars.

(9) Trump

No longer are we going to allow foreign countries to cheat our producers and our workers out of federal contracts. Everyone in my administration will be expected to enforce every last Buy American provision on behalf of the American worker, and we are going to investigate every single trade deal that undermines these provisions.

Why? We noted after Donald Trump's election as US President that his relationship with the tech industry was one that was tense at best. 2016's end saw that photo-opp in the Trump Tower as various CEOs sat around a table with the President Elect - and Apple's Tim Cook's facial expression made it clear he'd rather be anywhere else!  2017 saw Trump policies - or Executive Orders, at any rate - come into force and often into immediate conflict with tech leaders. Topics such as immigration, travel bans, climate change and trans-gender equality put Trump on collision course with Silicon Valley. On a more positive note, there has been the initiative to re-invent digital government in the US. Beyond the US, Trump's protectionist stance also rings alarm bells, while there are also legitimate fears about the administration's attitude towards data privacy. 2018 isn't going to be any better as far as I can see.

(10) I don't know

Why? By which I mean, we enter 2018 in a state of enormous uncertainty around so many issues. Brexit negotiations that will impact the entire European economy, not just the UK's. A protectionist regime in the White House that seems to pivot on the latest early morning tweet. Cyber-security threats now a part of daily life and potentially altering the entire course of elections. Social media reducing attention spans and creating Fake News syndrome, whereby facts are things that can have alternatives and the more you spin a lie on Twitter or Facebook, the more currency your world view takes on. It's the most unclear future that I can recall. But whatever happens, diginomica will be watching, commenting, analysing and almost certainly snarking! For now, Happy New Year - and we'll see you next week.