It’s been over six months since I moved to Jersey to take up my role at Digital Jersey. In this time I’ve become acquainted with the unique world that is Jersey – both the quirky and the wonderful – and I have to admit I’ve completely fallen in love with the place.
Of course this time hasn’t been without its challenges but before I discuss them, I want to reinforce the positives. I’ve noticed that too often, unwarranted pessimism disguises itself as realism when talking about our Island and its future. We have so many world-class organisations and key individuals here that it doesn’t feel like a small place – it feels like a place that can really achieve things. I see a positive future for Jersey, but we need to act now to ensure this future is realised.
While there’s no shortage of ideas in Jersey, follow-through and execution seem to be proving a challenge. Given our unrivalled connectivity, it should be easier and quicker to do things here but for some reason it isn’t! We need to work together to change this, and by ‘we’ I mean private citizens, businesses and the public sector. And of these three, the public sector is the lynchpin.
Private citizens are already embracing some of the most advanced technologies available every day, as seen in the stats recently published by JT proving that smartphone usage here is well above that of the UK. Businesses are also looking for ways to become more efficient by embracing technology. The public sector however, while willing and able, is still slow to embrace the new world.
Overcoming this will require all of us working together, meaning the private sector has got to break down its own silos and come together with a united voice. All of us need to get serious about diversifying the Island’s economy: Jersey has a great lifestyle with great companies and great jobs. To maintain and build on our quality of life and jobs however, we must move beyond dependence on just a small number of ‘large niches’ in one industry.
To be clear, the finance industry is doing well and Jersey Finance is an organisation I would like Digital Jersey to emulate more. However, as events in the past month have demonstrated, in an increasingly global market we will face risks outside of our control. Additionally, many of the big areas of employment here in Jersey are exactly those areas that could be disrupted through massive global investments in digitisation and automation. We can’t hold back the tide.
This is exactly where digital Jersey steps in – not just the organisation but as a concept for our island. At this stage, digital isn’t a choice: it’s a necessity. If we don’t grow a digital economy, we can’t protect existing business and jobs or create new ones.
So why digital? Because it is the natural industry for Jersey to embrace, given it answers our current challenges and builds on our existing strengths. Digital isn’t manpower intensive, location is less of an issue, we already have digital green shoots in the economy, we have a business services engine room that can support it and we have control of our own destiny on not just taxation but legislation and regulation.
And the great thing is, we’ve already seen positive examples of what we can do. According to an independent report by KPMG conducted for Digital Jersey, there are three main areas where Jersey should focus its digital efforts, areas where Jersey has already shown great potential: FinTech, targeted at specific areas such as compliance, automation, risk management and wealth management; digital health, where we can use our size and scale to develop and test ways of improving access to data for clinicians and enable assisted living for the elderly; and ‘Jersey test-bed’, given our size and environment makes us an ideal test-bed for new technologies, including the Internet of Things.
We’ve already seen positive activity in FinTech, digital health and RegTech, showing Jersey can be a great place to build and test digital products and services. What’s essential now is for Government to provide support in the areas of project funding and technology procurement, including eGov. If Government is investing millions of pounds in the coming years on technology, as much of this as possible should be used to create businesses and jobs locally, rather than going offshore.
There are also opportunities to attract inward investment, and we have already had positive discussions with a number of the global giants including Microsoft and Apple.
A major focus now needs to be collaboration: between agencies such as Digital Jersey, the private sector and the public sector. This won’t always be easy – but the continued success and prosperity of Jersey depends on it.
View the Chamber of Commerce article here.