Technology

Digital connectivity: The trillion-pound investment

By - World Infrastructure Journal

Digital connectivity: The trillion-pound investment

In a year when digital has been the driver which kept the country moving, it is hard to underestimate the necessity of connectivity in our modern society. With 20 per cent of the workforce expected to continue working remotely and many services simply moving online for good, those local areas and communities which do not harness the potential of connectivity are at risk of being left behind. It has been unveiled in the latest Public Policy Projects Connected Citizens study, in partnership with Anderson Strategy and Huawei, that connectivity could bring trillions in value to local economies by 2030, but taking advantage of this will be crucial.

Traditional infrastructure is rarely questioned as a viable investment opportunity by local authorities. Increases in economic and infrastructure development are proven to support rising living standards, the growth of local business, as well as improving the supply and quality of public services. Yet quantifying the value of digital infrastructure is difficult to define, and so too is the business case for investment by local authorities. This is only set to worsen given the significant dent the pandemic has made in public services and funds which puts every investment under question.

If digital connectivity is to be invested in by local authorities, its benefit to the area must be made clear.

By 2030, the UK’s increased revenue from digital innovation will exceed £1 trillion” said Justin Anderson, Director, Anderson Strategy at the opening roundtable for this project. This innovation combines value creation and strategy, as well as management and execution. While developing this innovation is expected to bring £275 billion worth of increased revenue by 2025 alone, this is not guaranteed.

These large numbers are not a given, it is all to play for”, said Mr Anderson, “we need to find a way of ensuring that the opportunity ahead is one that is fully embraced across the UK”. This is what he calls a digital level up, by consciously ensuring that the value created is shared and distributed appropriately.

The reality is that London is undoubtedly ahead of other regions in value generated from digital innovation. With a much larger and more digitally engaged economy this is hardly surprisingly but should not be accepted. Instead, there needs to be a significant push to drive the regional adoption of digital. If innovation and connectivity in other regions met London’s level, this could see an additional £126 billion in economic value by 2030.

This digital push cannot be done independently. To achieve this full-scale level-up, it will require the full support of local authorities and LEPs to engage with business. This will ensure areas are “fully connected with the right strategies to leverage some of the government’s policies to be able to drive digital. ”

This public-private partnership is crucial, explained Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell, PPP Executive Chair, who said that “the public sector has an important role to be able to help businesses achieve this and make sure the infrastructure is right. ”

Mark Easton, Director, Huawei further reiterated this by explaining that within these relationships “success is going to be down to creating an environment that is attractive for the partners and contributors to come together to work in”. Vital to this is ensuring that all partners involved are clear in the value of their involvement and an integrated infrastructure is built underneath that takes advantage of common components.

Mr Easton explained that within most sectors, the opportunities to take advantage of connected technologies are becoming more mature and accessible every year. In agriculture, sensors can monitor biomass measurements and remote drones can optimise harvesting. In healthcare, as has been proven within the pressure of the pandemic, remote monitoring and virtual consultations offer an alternative model of care. Similarly, technologies that have come to be the new normal including e-check ins and passport control at airports are ready to be applied to life in a smart city of the future.

There is an underlying fundamental dependency on having connectivity and infrastructure in place but being able to exploit it and use it to benefit different sectors, is the value” he said.

What this crucially needs is support from government as well as collaboration across many different partners. “Unless all of that comes together, then the ability to deliver value is going to be compromised. Or worse, it will result in disjointed and disconnected solutions which never realise the value potential” he explained.

It was raised that competition between these different partners sometimes becomes its downfall. But balancing competition and collaboration can help all involved to prosper as can often be seen in manufacturing. Tesla uses BMW switching machinery as a core component of their designs but then they become competitors in the marketplace. It is these intertwined value chains that help innovative technology to prosper, and connectivity has the ability to do the same.

Local representatives similarly agreed, explaining that by working with both neighbouring local authorities and the private sector they could speed up digital connectivity roll-out. One council representative exemplified allowing ISPs to lay their cable to council housing and completing this legal process with a shared service. This has helped other London councils to do the same at a much faster process. While it did not benefit them independently at the time, it will help the wider goal towards connectivity which will level-up the whole economy.

Another local authority explained that when doing works on their tram services they have allowed operators to lay their fibre. These small steps have been vital to help drive connectivity forward but may not be enough.

As the country embraces connectivity and becomes a more digitised society, demand is only going to continue increasing. The targets set now, will become outdated and obsolete in a few years but this does not mean that we must not attempt to reach them. Instead, all partners need to come together to make the necessary investment and creating the provisions that would allow connectivity to level up local areas.

Collaboration is a core component of PPP’s work and this project aims to help authorities and stakeholders work together to realise the value of connectivity to their area. This economic information will become publicly available and launched later this year. If you would like to know more about how digital connectivity can specifically benefit your local area, please get in touch with Genevieve Redgrave, Policy and Publications Editor at genevieve.redgrave@publicpolicyprojects.com


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