Brexit and its potential consequences continue to dominate the headlines but there is a parallel challenge facing the UK over the next few years. What will the application of digital technologies mean for our workforce, economy and society as a whole?

As a manufacturer we are always looking for ways to increase our competitiveness and take a keen interest in how the changing UK economy impacts our business. So when the Prime Minister announced a new industrial strategy in January 2017 our ears ‘pricked up.’ This included commissioning an independent review of Industrial Digitalisation by industry experts led by Professor Juergen Maier, CEO of Siemens UK and on 30th October 2017 the group published their findings in ‘The Made Smarter Review.’

The ‘Made Smarter Review’ (previously Industrial Digitalisation Review) sets out how manufacturing can be transformed through the adoption of industrial digital technology (IDT). Over 10 years, industrial digitalisation could boost UK manufacturing by £455bn, increasing sector growth up to 3% per year and creating a net gain of 175,000 jobs whilst reducing CO2 emissions by 4.5%.

Digital technologies are transforming industry and although relatively well placed to capitalise, the UK currently lags behind other world leading economies. The Made Smarter Review has identified 3 area of weakness that need to be resolved for the UK to achieve its ambition of becoming a world leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution by 2030:-

Lack of effective leadership

The UK is lacking a clear narrative setting out what the UK already does well and what the opportunities are for UK industry from faster development and innovation of Industrial Digital Technologies (IDT’s.) There is no cross sector national leadership and coordination of what the UK approach is that can be presented to foreign investors and current and future workers. Add to this the perceived turbulence created by Brexit and it’s easy to see that we are lacking a united front to present to potential investors.

Poor levels of adoption

UK productivity is behind other advanced nations and this is partly due to the lack of adoption of digital and automation technology and SME’s in particular are concerned about cyber-security.

Businesses face a skills shortage, particularly in digital engineering capabilities and this is compounded by a distinct lack of engagement between education and industry.

In addition, unlike other developed nations, the UK’s tax system isn’t targeted enough to incentivise the opportunity making it less attractive for small businesses to take the plunge.

Under-leveraged Innovation

The UK is a leader in research and innovation and has started to establish a support infrastructure to develop and commercialise technology. However, unless more investment is made to support IDT start ups in particular the UK will fall behind in the race to create new innovative companies and industries.

In summary, industrial digitalisation is a massive opportunity for UK industry and the wider economy. However, the technologies that support it are also highly disruptive and require businesses to be innovative, agile and adaptable. Industry and government need to work in partnership to maximise these opportunities and be competitive in the world economy.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts. Do you think the government is doing enough to support the UK’s ambition of becoming a world leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution by 2030?

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