Yesterday saw the official ministerial announcement of Digital Jersey Limited – a new, independent organisation that has been created to represent Jersey’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. The chief aim of the newly formed entity will be to promote Jersey as a ‘digital jurisdiction’, establishing it as a leading centre for digital services in its chosen markets.
This is something many of us in the existing ICT sector in Jersey have been hoping to see for some time and now that it’s official, I am excited about the possibilities that Digital Jersey will create for the Island. We have been steadily developing our ICT capabilities in Jersey for some time, however the formation of this industry body represents a giant leap towards developing and attracting digital business. In turn this should provide sustainable employment to the digital sector and make a substantial contribution to the Island’s diversification strategy.
As Digital Jersey gets up and running, I believe that the body needs to address two priorities as soon as possible. The first is to form an Education Group that can build a cohesive and coordinated strategy around digital education. At a time when providing jobs is a key, there is some irony in the fact that whilst there is an abundance of ICT roles available, and an abundance of interested candidates, there is also a worrying lack of digital skills that would make those candidates employable.
Digital Jersey’s second major focus should be on getting some clear, independent research. A similar industry body Jersey Finance Limited, instigated an in-depth strategic review of the Jersey Finance Industry in partnership with the London Business School. Likewise, Digital Jersey should undertake the work necessary to establish what we should be selling, to where, to whom, and what resources we will need to develop to enable us to do this.
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This sort of research needs to be on-going, to help us to develop our ability to make future projections and to understand what type of businesses we want to attract to Jersey. It also needs to be suitable for our jurisdiction – we need to remember that we are a small island accommodating just 100,000 people, only needing a relatively small proportion of the worldwide e-commerce business (which is expected to equate to $16 Trillion in 2013) to do very well and provide significant jobs. We need to be looking at how to target niche digital sectors and industry.
I and many others in Jersey developed my business on the basis of selling services INSIDE the islands, and there is a steep learning curve when it comes to deciphering what the world is looking for in terms of the digital economy. There are numerous questions that need to be addressed, quickly…
What are the market opportunities and where should Digital Jersey be focusing geographically? Should they take the lead from Jersey Finance, focusing on BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India and China) – countries deemed to be at a similar stage of newly advanced economic development? Or would Jersey be better off bringing business into the Island by working with silicon companies based in the Netherlands or the UK? What niche sectors should be focused on? Test lab environments, e-money, video streaming, gaming/eGaming, 3D printing, e-commerce hosting and offshore cloud computing are several examples of new and emerging technologies which can provide fantastic opportunities as Jersey increasingly moves into the digital domain.
When we have these answers, Digital Jersey can begin to coordinate a business strategy and marketing plan, they can also constructively lobby the government to provide sustainable funding for the projects identified.
However, speed is now of the essence as many jurisdictions have been marketing themselves as ICT centres for some time. Two decades ago, Malta had no key industries to speak of, but for over 10 years, the country has used investment in ICT to generate a thriving, modern sector and is arguably a leader in this space. There is a lot we can learn from their success in implementing ICT, but we need to remember that, unlike Malta, Jersey is not striving to build an ICT sector from nothing. We already have a high quality work force, good infrastructure, sound legal system and tax base, plus a world-class finance sector. It should more be a case of not merely copying other jurisdictions, but understanding the base point from which they grew whilst learning from the mistakes made during their development. Again using Malta as an example, while they have attracted businesses like Microsoft and Oracle, in Jersey we should probably aim for smaller innovative start-up companies, perhaps just at the point when there starting to succeed and are looking for a good place to host there innovations, and when they are looking for finance, legal, IP and Tax support.
Jersey is currently facing a shortage of digital skills, and urgently needs to develop individuals that are highly digitally literate, innovative and entrepreneurial. The industry needs to seize what is a very exciting opportunity for us all to be a part of right from the start, and the work of Digital Jersey will represent a huge step forward towards this.
Last year, Jersey’s Finance industry celebrated 50 years of heritage, and as well as looking to the future, they have taken some time to look back at how the building blocks of their success were put in place. Now we need to ask the question in terms of Digital Jersey; where will it be in 50 years? This is our opportunity to be visionary, steal a march and take Jersey into the digital future.