It’s not often you can say that an annual Budget was exciting, but today’s speech by Jersey’s Treasury & Resources Minister was an exception, for me at least. It was, to my knowledge, the first time that the Information & Communication Technology (ICT) industry has had such a notable mention as part of Jersey’s core budgeting strategy.
To quote Senator Ozouf:
I have carefully analysed the case for going further than just speeding up the copper networks and have concluded that, without doubt, fibre networks are the future…Perhaps even more exciting are the potential economic spin-offs in a whole host of areas that could mean Jersey is one of the first truly Gigabit economies; lighting up Islanders lives with fibre optic, could create a cluster of world class ICT businesses that will come to Jersey because of the legal framework, tax benefits, expertise and lifestyle….This investment in infrastructure is just the beginning of Jersey’s ICT strategy. But to do this, we must move and move quickly.
I would like to see funding for an independent ICT representative body, which will provide consultation, industry representation and promotion, in a similar way that Jersey Finance does for the finance industry
The investment in fibre optic networks has been announced previously and while it is encouraging to hear this element is quickly progressing, what was more interesting to me was the mention of a wider ICT strategy. Additionally, though it was not an absolute commitment that an ICT representative body will be formed it is certainly very promising to hear it was being considered; if pursued this will be a timely step in the right direction.
Debate about the next steps for ICT in Jersey has been gathering momentum in recent weeks. Online discussion on Digital Jersey, (found here), and the recent survey by that same group have raised questions, concerns and ideas. As ever, there have been differences of opinion, but I believe the one thing we in ICT all seem to agree on – we need a better-coordinated strategy.
There has been talk for a while of an ICT body for Jersey. Now, as it appears that this has the potential to become a reality, perhaps we should now be considering what this organisation should look like, and what it should do? The model provided by Jersey Finance is a good starting point. In my opinion, it needs to be:
Independent – working very closely with government, but ultimately driven by commercial industry and market factors.
Public/Private – in the beginning, while we develop strategy, research market potential and build critical mass, 100% government funding will realistically be necessary, but it is important that the final model is based on industry contributing, both financially and in terms of time. Our industry must be tangibly committed to supporting what will benefit us.
Comprehensive – while promotion is important, it is not enough. This organisation would need to become the heart for Jersey ICT research, planning and implementation. It would need to coordinate development of strategy, relevant legislation, and regulation, decisions regarding infrastructure, skills and education.
Transparent - about spending and results. This transparency should be true of government as well, so that work can be done on the basis of a complete picture. JT and States of Jersey will need to publish their financials and business plan for the implementation of the island wide fibre optic network, so it is open to scrutiny and feedback.
I believe it is absolutely crucial that the first thing that Jersey ICT, (or whatever it is ultimately called), should do is commission a comprehensive piece of research that interviews industry experts in competitive jurisdictions and conducts an internal review of local ICT and related industry professionals. There should also be some secondary research done by the likes of London Business School, Gartner or Deloittes to give a solid, independent overview. After this is done, clear goals and targets can be identified and then implemented.
At this point, the opportunity for ICT in Jersey is, as the Treasury & Resources Minister described, “exciting”. There is potential for Jersey to become a location of choice for a whole range of related industries, including:
- Test Lab Environments
- Virtual Currencies
- Diplomatic data immunity
- Video streaming – e.g. Lovefilm
- Intellectual property rights
- Infrastructure and hosting
- Any number of new emerging technologies
It is also a fantastic opportunity to develop internationally recognised skills on the island. We need people with Microsoft skills, Developer skills, Virtualisation and Storage skills, Secure Programming, Database and Business Intelligence skills and to encourage computer science degree graduates back to the island.
There is no silver bullet in terms of what ICT should become for Jersey and it is hard to predict what emerging technologies will be. But as almost everything we do moves into the digital arena, “what next?” will become an essential question and also “where?” – With the right strategy, the answer could very well be Jersey.
However, speed is now of the essence. At the Microsoft Partner Conference in Washington last year, I saw a number of other jurisdictions already representing themselves as an ICT location, from Singapore to Malta. Interestingly, these were locations that also compete on the basis of tax and financial expertise. It is clear that the combination of our tax regime, expertise, legislation and lifestyle are all part of what will make us attractive.
Two decades ago Malta had no key industries to speak of, except Maritime, Mining sandstone and Tourism. They have literally used investment in ICT to generate a thriving, modern sector from nothing. In Jersey we are lucky, we are not striving to build an ICT sector from nothing, our Finance Industry has provided an ideal foundation to build on. We already have a high quality work force, good infrastructure, a sound legal system and tax base.
When the discussion was simply about investing £40 million for fibre optic, I was interested, but concerned – if we didn’t actually invest in a clear ICT strategy to use this new infrastructure what would be the point? However today’s Budget speech gives me new hope.
If we combine a fibre network with our existing legal, tax structure and workforce, and add to this an independent ICT representative, strategic promotional body – now we are talking. Combined with some targeted government grants, ICT tax incentives and a clear focus on education and skills and we will have an environment that will literally revolutionise the way we do business forever and benefit our whole community.