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Digital Transformation 2020

Creating a digital nation

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Paul Wilson

Senior Adviser, UK5G and Chair, SmartCitiesWorld

A lot is happening this year: COVID-19; the reduced role of Huawei; the need for a diverse telecoms supply chain; the burning of telecoms masts and anti-5G myth making. And, we’ll soon be leaving the EU for real, so, all things considered, there is a lot at stake and significant risk for the UK’s progress as a leading digital nation.

Fortunately, it’s a risk that the UK is mitigating in different ways. In 2018, the Government launched the 5G Testbeds & Trials Programme (5GTT) to foster research and development of 5G innovations across different industry sectors throughout the UK. From the Orkney Isles to the West Midlands, spanning rural connectivity, manufacturing, healthcare and creative industries – it has been a big success.

The latest funding round ‘5G Create’ attracted an exciting number of consortiums to form and bid for funding. It’s evident that the transformative nature 5G is having is deepening and spreading across the business community.

The Chinese word for crisis ‘weiji’, means ‘danger’ and ‘change point’ or ‘opportunity’. Weiji amply describes the state of the UK’s digital transformation which is at a dramatic inflection point.

This growth in understanding stems from multiple places. The UK5G Innovation Network plays a convening role with more than 3,500 members, many of whom are making use of UK5G’s online collaboration exchange. It’s extensive advisory board and project participants are a combination of supply side telecoms companies, vendors and consultancies, with demand side leaders joining from various industries and public sector verticals, including National Rail, NHS, BT & Ford.

It’s partners, Cambridge Wireless, KTN (part of Innovate UK) and TM Forum contribute different constituencies and attributes; Cambridge Wireless is particularly strong within the UK technology and engineering community; KTN works with 90,000 industry technology leaders and innovators around the country and across all industrial sectors, making introductions and sharing knowledge about public innovation funding and TM Forum is a reputed global telecoms association with 850 international corporate members focused on collaboration and digital transformation.

For the last three years, TM Forum and its members have focused on creating Open APIs which, in simple terms, are pieces of code that make systems’ interoperability easier. This smooths the transition from monolithic, inflexible and expensive software stacks to agile cloud based, automatically reconfigurable agile microservices, that respond on-demand.

There’s nothing inevitable about how those digital futures are going to play out so our aim is to get ahead of that and to think in a really systematic and structured way about how the future is shaping up.

Professor Susan Halford, Bristol Digital Futures Institute

Digital Catapult, a UK Government innovation agency, used the Forum’s Open APIs to create an Internet of Things (IoT) marketplace for smart cities, as part of the SynchroniCity project. It enables the exchange and trade of city-generated IoT data to a diverse group of stakeholders for deployment across multiple cities.

However, concern about this new era of data collection and corporate civic surveillance is growing. Rather than react with a sense of disgruntled disempowerment, organisations in Bristol are being proactive, an example is Bristol Legible City – an initiative that built its own digital map of the city. It discovered that Google maps was optimised for car users, so it optimised its map for pedestrians and cyclists. Similarly, Bristol Digital Futures Institute brings social scientists and engineers together to take a holistic socio-technical view of burgeoning digital transformations.

The next five years will be a significant time for the UK. Let’s hope we can navigate the way to becoming a global leader.

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