A lot of people are saying that there is great cause for optimism in Guernsey’s business sector next year – they may well be right. C5 have certainly enjoyed our best year yet and we have worked on some phenomenal projects. However, I think I need to be more specific – for me, 2016 isn’t simply about having a cheerful outlook based on generally good financial performance in this area, it’s the year we all need to get serious about innovation.
There are some great projects happening that could enable us to do this. For example, Guernsey has embraced fintech and our government has publicly backed the sector. This is good news, of course, but we need to look beyond the label to consider what ‘fintech’ as a concept, a policy and a business opportunity might bring for us. Guernsey businesses have long been involved in the exploitation of technology for the finance sector, but the term fintech is opening new doors on the international scene, so we need to embrace it – but how? There has already been plenty of discussion around new fintech start-ups and the potential disruption that will come with it. However, from Guernsey’s perspective, it’s not only the fintech start-up arena where we need to be focussing our efforts. In my opinion we need to be focussed on our existing financial service industry and how we are going to revolutionise it. Disruption from technology is coming whether we like it or not – we have got to own it.
I recently attended HP Discover and had some very interesting conversations on the implications of fintech and disruptive technology. This confirmed my instincts, for Guernsey to really benefit from fintech, we need to widen our focus away from just start-ups and look into how we can support existing financial services providers, how we can set them on the path to compete with disruptors and start-ups and become disruptors themselves.
Existing financial services firms need to be thinking about where they are on the adoption curve as compared to disrupters. Are they leading edge, early adopters, mainstream or late adopters? How quickly do they introduce new technology? Are they adding new customer relation tools? Adapting to new business practices? Increasing security? Using big data? Improving mobile access?
Mapping innovation across the lifecycle
Once we begin to get a handle on where our existing businesses are, we can all start to work together to use fintech, alongside other innovation practices, to make changes where they will benefit the most. Fintech is just part of the innovation toolkit and we need to start using it, not just to grow new business, but to protect our existing industry – safeguarding the future of our finance industry is the single most important thing we can do. In 2016, I would like to see the technology sector working ever more closely with government, even allowing for a new intake of Deputies in May, to develop and support the sector.
Support for e-gaming
This approach is not limited financial services of course – other industries, including the public sector should be asking themselves these same questions. The e-gaming sector is also an area that urgently needs to consider innovation. The worth of e-gaming to Guernsey as a whole had been declining, with less rack space being taken on the whole. At C5, we have bucked this trend by providing strategic wrap around services beyond simple hosting including, design, building platforms, providing maintenance monitoring and general support for client systems and premises. The island needs to consider more widely how it can provide the right environment for e-gaming businesses to flourish.
However, against all of this optimism we also have to recognise some challenges and come up with the solutions to deal with them. Some of these problems can, and should be, tackled by Guernsey’s businesses themselves, but some will require government intervention.
Innovation for Skills
One of those areas is skills shortage. As we move into what I believe will be a year of exciting innovation, we are still carrying some old baggage with us. The 2014 report on skills shortages found that project management, business analysis, IT and technical skills were among the most commonly reported skills gaps and shortages in the island. Unfortunately, this hasn’t changed. This shortage is not just in tech companies, but also in commercial and finance businesses where developers, security experts, business analysts, project managers, networking experts just cannot be found. This situation looks set to persist into 2016 and has the potential to hold us back if we don’t seriously address it.
1: This chart from a BMG report in 2014 shows the skills Guernsey employers say are hard to find. Technical skills, problem solving and IT and software skills figure prominently.
With our need and our desire for a fintech-driven, digital future, my concern is that is that today’s skills shortage will become a serious economic barrier within three years and prevent this vision from becoming a reality. I am very aware that the issue of skills, particularly the lack of digital skills in Guernsey, comes up time and time again – I have written extensively on the subject. I won’t continue to labour the point, except to say that the same innovative thinking we need to adopt for both our private and public sector needs to be applied when we are considering how to solve our skills shortage. Success for Guernsey will come from a mixture of indigenous and external new businesses, but they are all dependant on high-level skills that are in very short supply – in this area we are currently our own biggest disruptive challenge. It is time to get seriously creative.
While island develops an innovative strategy to address the skills shortage once and for all (no pressure!) I believe that business has a responsibility to think of ways to improve the situation and to take action. At C5 for example, we are running five bursaries for university students in the digital space and we have also started an internal academy. This is investing in the future, but in the short-term, we also need to bring in people with these high-level skills – and we should be bold about it. Our neighbouring island, Jersey, is in the process of looking at policies to attract the digital skills that they need – if they roll out the red carpet and we don’t, we will face further challenges. 2016 is the year that we need to do something very bold to make the most of the opportunities for economic growth and independence.
Skills shortage aside, I believe we have a very positive year ahead as a digital jurisdiction and as a technology sector as a whole. If we invest in innovation we can position ourselves on the right spot on the adoption curve. To do this we need to and invest in the right skills, attract and develop the right people and encourage start-ups and e-businesses to relocate Guernsey, but more importantly, we need to support our finance sector in their efforts to innovate. If we do this, the future for the island is bright. 2016 is our opportunity to put in place some key programmes and initiatives that will bring us the skilled people we need to grow the industry and make Guernsey an internationally renowned centre for digital excellence.