Brexit: A Sad Day for Europe

This is a sad day for Europe and it does seem in part that the referendum was largely about immigration. It appears there was a divide in the voting demographic which has never been seen before – with the older generation in favour of the leave vote and the younger generation, those who will inherit the many consequences of this significant decision, in favour of remain.

There are many aspects to consider in the wake of the decision to leave and even if Britain is better off out of Europe, the advantages may be short lived if this decision is now the catalyst for the collapse of the EU. We may eventually be worse off as a result of economic disruption and chaos and it may now cause a domino effect; Europe may seek to make an example out of the UK – worryingly Guernsey could become a bargaining tool in the difficult negotiation period that will now follow.

Guernsey’s politicians and external relations team, who have in my opinion being doing a commendable job to get our voice heard on the global stage, now play an even more significant role in getting us the best deal possible. From today the clock has started ticking to get that deal.

The diversification of our economy is brought more sharply into focus as a result of this decision; no one in the technology industry has a crystal ball to indicate which services will be most impacted but what I do know is the greater the diversification in Guernsey the better the chances for growth and continued prosperity. Is the States of Guernsey prepared to lead by example and really invest in diversification in the run up to the exit in two years’ time?

Today our world became a little bit more uncertain and in this time of uncertainty we need to consider what makes us vulnerable – our deficit. I throw down the gauntlet to the States of Guernsey to return the deficit to zero by the time of the exit to ensure we are as resilient as possible for what may lay ahead.

Is grant funding the missing piece of Guernsey’s digital start-up puzzle?

Adversity is undoubtedly the mother of invention; so if Guernsey wants to nurture innovation and invention – is this possible in an island where adversity is not the norm?

A senior partner working in professional services described to me his predicament – he has exciting digital business ideas he is keen to pursue, but he is currently employed in a well-paid position which gives him a secure future. In the current climate there is little incentive for the best talent to create a digital or Fintech start-up, it feels too risky compared with just doing ‘the day job’.

I have met half a dozen local start-ups that have the potential to bring tens of millions in new tax revenue to the island.  You won’t find them sat dreaming at the Digital Greenhouse, but struggling to hold down a full time demanding job while trying, in what little time they have left, to move their company or project forward. For these entrepreneurs there is no red carpet treatment, government endorsements, facilitation or door opening and introductions.  They offer the most promise, but are not nurtured at the pre investment stage.

I strongly believe the way to accelerate these new ventures and provide the best chance of success is via a government grant.  I tested this theory and spoke with 30 or so key Fintech and digital businesses in London at Finovate, which showcases the cutting-edge innovation in banking and financial technology.

Every single venture started with grant or match funding in some form.  Indeed, a Guernsey digital entrepreneur recently started his new business in London with a £40,000 UK grant and tax breaks for investors.  This is an opportunity lost for Guernsey and demonstrates that we have not got it right – yet.

Great work has been and is being done in this area and we have been promised that much more is in the pipeline – but we need to highlight this matter to our new States of Guernsey Deputies now in the hope of getting a grant scheme in place. I have discussed this with government and have enjoyed a good response from officers as they wait for the newly elected Deputies to take their places.  Credit must be paid to these officers, with many now preparing grant scheme options for their new Board to consider.

Grant funding must not be confused with investment – either private or government.  Investment at first or second stage is the natural result of a successful grant-funded phase of development – one does not replace the other and they are both essential. Of course a funding scheme will be even more controversial if the recipient fails.  I don’t believe that there would be more than a handful of worthy projects each year, and we must be realistic some of them will not succeed. But without a government funding scheme in place we have a beautiful jigsaw puzzle with the piece in the middle missing.


Election is our opportunity to make a difference

A States Deputy in a former life and vocal advocate of collaboration between business, government and the community, earlier this year I gave some serious thought to standing to be a Guernsey Deputy again.

With a of number business and personal commitments already on my plate, I chose against throwing my hat into the ring, but the decision process focused my thoughts on how we can get the best government possible for our island home.

In our democracy, States Deputies will always be a reflection of our population, a mix of demographics is good (and I am pleased to see nearly a quarter of candidates are women this year – but there should be more) and a mix of ability is likely. The States of Guernsey may be run with the same focus on strategy and ethics as any other large organisation or business, but, in all other non-governmental organisations, those running the entity are chosen on their ability to do the job at hand not personality. So if we are never going to get a commercial board equivalent, are there practical things that can be done make our government the best it can be?

Our civil service employs over five thousand people on the island; I believe that working for the States of Guernsey needs to be considered ‘the place to work’ to attract the very best talent at executive level, not a second choice. If it is thought of as ‘the career of choice’ our politicians over time will be fed the best research and advice, a factor which can only positively impact on their decision making and our politicians.

Good things are certainly happening under the strategic leadership of Chief Executive Officer, Paul Whitfield but what else would it take for our civil service to become this sought after, aspirational career option? So much work is needed to turn around perceptions and create realistic expectations.

Secondly our new States Deputies need to embrace subject matter experts (SME); each political board already has the option to appoint two non-voting (and voluntary) members. Whilst this is not a requirement it is not always utilised fully. You can’t help think why would you not want an expert in the field of health, housing, education or commerce on your board? Are Deputies fearful of this professional input? Would they behave better with these sound thinkers sat beside them at the board table? Would the political egos be left at the door?  I know from experience that SME presence on boards raises standards of decision making and behaviour. I implore the new States to embrace them.

These are both practical ways in which we can give our 38 Deputies the best tools to do their job over the next four years. The starting point of course for us all is very simple and involves putting pen to paper on 27th April – I urge you to read the manifestos which come through your door over the next few weeks, challenge the candidates on what matters to you, but if you do nothing else – please vote.


Will we ever be able to roam free?


I recently travelled to the UK to watch Scotland v Wales in the RBS Rugby 6 Nations Championship. The trip was a present for my wife who is a big rugby fan.  Naturally – as a digital native I booked the flights and rugby tickets online and checked-in online.  But stepping off the plane was like stepping back decades into to a 1G world due to the exorbitant roaming charges that Telco’s across the world insist on. The true mobile experience is stifled; the convenience of travel apps, maps, timetables and guides disappear to the traveller who can’t justify a weekend roaming charge which quickly escalates into hundreds of pounds.

It’s ironic that a bus timetable app, which has huge value to tourists, is unobtainable yet tantalisingly close if you dare to turn on roaming and suffer the consequences. I am not a social media addict but I was unable to share my off-island rugby experience with friends until four hours after the game when I got to my hotel. Like addicts we move around new locations constantly on the lookout for our next score – of free Wi-Fi – which can often be found in a retail or hospitality environment. Have you ever been compelled to buy a coffee just so you can check your emails?

Next month I am going skiing in Finland and on this occasion it was much easier to book through a travel agent rather than wade through multiple online offers.  Naturally I’ve been researching the resort ahead of the trip and have downloaded an app of the ski area – but when it would be most useful to me when I navigate the slopes, I won’t have access to it. How much more fun could I have if I could roam free? Of course an option is to buy multiple sim cards to side step the problem, but in this digital age this seems rather archaic.

Members of the European parliament last year voted through new rules on mobile roaming charges, a step forward yes, but many have criticised these as only a half-baked solution, not truly creating a single digital market. Does a real zero-roaming charge world hinge on major telecom market reform? An undeniably mammoth task. UK residents suffer this problem only when they go abroad as their carrier is national. Us Channel Island folk have it worse – we suffer roaming charges every time we leave the CI, it’s like a UK resident ‘roaming’ each time they leave their county.

Back at home I’ve been enjoying the 4G experience since it launched last year; as expected speed has dropped a bit as take-up has increased. But now the letters from local providers have started to drop onto our doormats saying that unlimited 4G data is ending, so despite greater adoption we are now backtracking from a free and unfettered digital society.  Were we given it for free just to get us hooked? Are we really going to move backwards when we are supposed to be the centre of a digital revolution?

Next time you see mobile ads about our digitally connected world and all the freedom and pleasure it provides, remember it’s not totally true. Digital borders remain. Move outside your own small area of the geographical world and you’ll have to disconnect from the digital one. It is most definitely stifling growth.


The Fundamentals of Good Business

shutterstock_283392683Technology goes far beyond the digital sector. Only when we have accepted this will we transform businesses and public life, and enable our local communities to do something incredible.

Technology needs to be at the heart of every industry: our healthcare, our education, our jobs, our communities, and our society, to ensure Guernsey’s global standing, and our economic survival. Because ultimately, IT goes well beyond ensuring staff members know how to use Microsoft Word – it’s the nucleus around which a high growth, competitive society orbits and derives the energy it needs for success.

The startups have realised the above. Small, new firms putting digital innovation at the heart of everything are taking entrepreneurial advantage. With a relatively small resource base, they’re already taking on established businesses, and rapidly rewriting the rules to their advantage.

We’ve only just started to see the wave of disruptions – from Uber’s challenge to traditional taxi firms and the iTunes facilitated demise of Blockbuster, to a holiday market firmly in the hands of the customer thanks to the likes of Airbnb. I speak from a position of concern for our Island, our industries and our young people’s future when I say that Guernsey’s industries aren’t immune to disruption either.

Disruption is already happening in the finance industry, and we must own it. If technology doesn’t have the voice it needs in the boardrooms, then established businesses will lose their competitive edge to startups – fast. To quote Pierre Naterme, CEO of Accenture, “digital is the main reason just over half of the companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000.”

When we look at the biographies of almost every fintech startup, we see the technology-influencing-everything principle in action. Founders often started with a focus on finance, but due to their technological knowledge, they quickly saw ways to improve what was already happening with digital solutions.

Likewise if we’re to develop our own fintech solutions, we can’t confine technological innovation and understanding to the IT industry – we need people combining digital knowledge with their experience in other sectors.

Technology really is as fundamental as literacy and numeracy for building strong industries and an innovative society. This is why it’s essential that IT attains the same status as the three Rs in our education system – alongside having a clear connection to maths, technology is the foundation of learning itself, just as much as reading, writing and arithmetic are.


This doesn’t mean that everybody has to be a coder – just as not everybody who can write needs to become a published author! Having the basics in your skillset however – and an appreciation for digital’s potential – means you rise faster, earn more and innovate our Island for the better. In every profession, knowledge of digital isn’t just an advantage; it’s fast becoming a necessity.

Imagine a future where Guernsey has competitive, diverse industries, our young people enjoy interesting and successful careers, and our public services and spaces make a positive impact on the lives of all who live or visit here.

We can make this happen – but we need to appreciate, and leverage, the real power of digital to do it.

Together, we must embrace the reality that technology is not a discrete sector; it’s now the global paradigm within which all of our commercial and social activity is conducted, connected and enhanced.

If you’d like to see how technology can inspire and make a positive impact on your business, please get in touch with me directly at


Guernsey’s Technology Sector in 2016 – owning the disruption

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.

New products

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 

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 14.11.04

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.

marclaineblog21: 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.

International ambition

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.