I am delighted and honoured to have been asked to lead a Review on Industrial Digitalisation as part of the Government’s recently published Green Paper on Industrial Strategy. Today, we held our first launch meeting with top companies from across the country, including IBM, Rolls Royce, GKN, Cisco and Accenture, along with many other business leaders. Nick Hurd, Minister for Climate Change and Industrial Strategy joined us and we are hoping that this initiative will turn into a very strong partnership between Government and Business and create significant value for the UK economy.
You will probably have heard about the new modern Industrial Strategy, launched by the Prime Minister recently, and in this blog, I wanted to talk about this and explain what we will be doing with our review – and why it is especially important for our economic future.
The first obvious question is what is Industrial Digitalisation? It has sometimes been described as Industry 4.0 or the 4th Industrial Revolution. And you will hear jargon such as the Internet of Things, Connected Devices and Big Data. But at its most basic, Industrial Digitalisation, and the purpose of this Review, is to work out how UK manufacturing can increase its use of digital technology and automation to become more productive and competitive.
Of course, there is nothing new in this – the essence of manufacturing has always been about using new technologies and finding new ways of working. But this latest technological trend –connected, smart products that collect data and communicate it to users – is sure to create new business models, service offerings and very importantly, brand new industries.
But as always there is a global race to get ahead. So the Industrial Digitalisation review is about identifying policy interventions and support mechanisms that will encourage advanced manufacturing and broader industry in the UK to invest more in digital technologies and drive faster innovation, and automation of industrial processes.
At the same time there is a wider economic and societal imperative for doing this. It isn’t just about numbers, processes and investment strategies.
If we get this right, there is a massive prize – creating a key lever and a cure for the British economy. Creating opportunities for many new and highly skilled and well paid jobs, and giving more people in our economy the chance to feel less like they are being left behind. This is of course a message we have been hearing loudly from many of our communities, especially outside of the South East.
Get it wrong and we will de-industrialise more, losing out on high-value, well paid jobs and relying on imports even more than we currently do. If this happens, it is sure to be harder for the UK to balance its books and living standards would inevitably drop.
A lot of what we do, will be about assessing what sectors would benefit most from this approach and the technologies where the UK has the opportunity to be world class in the future. We’re ambitious but we are realistic too – we can be at the forefront of the industrial digital age, but we think it is a long term job with no quick solutions to such a complex set of issues.
We will also learn from the approaches of some of our international competitors, such as the USA and Germany. We will report in the summer and the intention is that its recommendations could form the basis of Industrial Digital Sector Deal, and create a very strong partnership between business and government.
Regular readers of this blog or those who have heard me speak will know that I am incredibly passionate and optimistic about the UK’s ability to benefit and become world leaders in this area. I would really welcome your feedback and ideas in the comments section below.