Scotland has the talent, the raw material and the track record to grow its tech sector in 2018, says Polly Purvis
2018 looks like being an exciting year for technology with developments that have been the stuff of fantasy like autonomous vehicles (driverless cars), voice activation, and cryptocurrencies becoming much more mainstream. They will change the way we live, work and play.
Innovations in technology and continuing improvements in connectivity across Scotland are enabling a range of technological advances which though small in themselves, if you bring them all together will have a significant impact on business and society. Areas likely to be particularly ‘hot’ include artificial intelligence (AI), voice activation and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Scotland’s universities have long had a global reputation for AI. Building on this strength, our technology companies are increasingly harnessing AI, analytics and data science to develop ‘smart’ products and solutions. In the coming year we’ll see AI continue to seep into the mainstream at work and in the home. Once firmly the domain of big business, we will see many more smaller companies utilising AI to automate mundane administrative tasks and free up valuable staff time to concentrate on more interesting elements of their work.
2018 will also see much wider deployment of voice-activated technology. With inexpensive home automation devices becoming commonplace, new opportunities for voice enabled services are being developed daily. It’s a bit like the tsunami of mobile Apps that came along when smart phones first hit the streets. As voice technology becomes better and smarter, we’re starting to see applications that can be used for example to support elderly people, in their homes, and make a real difference to blind and partially sighted citizens at work and at home.
Connectivity is the cornerstone for successful IoT applications. Continued investment in infrastructure is enabling this, with projects such as the gigabit city initiatives now being rolled out across Scotland. They underpin emerging smart cities and smart transport opportunities; often badged ‘mobility as a service’, smart transport covers everything from timetabling and ticketing to integrated end to end visitor experiences.
With more connectivity and devices comes more risk but Scotland is already at the forefront of cyber security innovation. The flip side of risk is the enormous opportunity it brings in terms of developing solutions and creating jobs in cyber security.
An area we’ll continue to see Scotland excel in is Life Sciences and healthcare. The whole area of health and social care is a significant opportunity for technology businesses developing new applications. We already lead the UK and continuing innovation, from wearables which monitor health statistics to more diagnostic telecare technology, means we will be able to provide better care for our citizens in their own homes and create further cost savings for our health service.
2018 will see Scotland continuing to grow as a centre of excellence in the field of FinTech, drawing on our heritage as a world leader in financial services.
It’s likely to be another great year for start-ups but we also need to make sure the conditions are right for our existing SMEs to grow in a sustainable and balanced way. They need access to capital, to overcome the barriers preventing them from competing globally and also to focus on improving management skills. Global uncertainty shouldn’t put us off playing on the international stage. So the increased focus on ‘scale-up’ is tremendous, encouraging companies to expand their aspirations from lifestyle businesses, to much more ambitious growth targets, growing a 30 person business to employing 300, and turning over £30 million plus.
None of this is science fiction. The coming year will see the continued growth of Scotland’s tech businesses. We have the talent, the raw material and the track record to do this. We just have to think big.
Polly Purvis is chief executive of ScotlandIS