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2019: Risks, hopes and opportunities

For me, 2019 is about two major risks, and two major hopes and opportunities.

Of course, Brexit is looming – and I’ll get to that in a minute. Because I don’t think the challenges of Brexit are in fact the biggest threat facing our sector in the next 12 months.

That dubious accolade goes to cyber security – the single biggest risk to people, businesses and our economy. The average Scottish SME only spends £1000 a year on cyber security. Compare that to the £2000+ most people spend a year on takeaway coffees. The potential for company – and nationwide – harm from a major cyber breach is huge, and it should be the first item on the ‘to do’ list of every single business. There’s much more education to be done here.

Scotland is really well placed in terms of access to cyber support with specialist providers, small and large, world class research going on in our universities and resources such as the Scottish Business Resilience Centre. The Cyber Essentials scheme is first class and inexpensive so I’d urge every business to get accredited under it, to give you and your customers confidence in your ability to handle cyber attacks effectively. And you can use the Scottish Government’s Cyber Vouchers to help towards the cost – what’s not to like ?

Brexit is a more mixed picture. In terms of our sector, it’s a risk, a challenge and an opportunity. The biggest impact it will have is in the skills arena , as changes to rules on free movement of people are enacted. This is an issue for every industry, but keenly felt in tech where we are already tackling a significant skills shortage.

It’s going to be really challenging to address that gap, despite all the good work underway through the industry’s Skills Investment Plan. The new Digital Development Loan will help companies with some of their skills needs but we need to attract many more people into the industry.

Brexit will also add layers of complexity into day to day business operations for those who work across Europe. Everything from billing across borders, tendering for work, handling different tax regimes etc will be impacted as the playing field is no longer level across the EU. It is likely to slow down business processes and decision making significantly for a time. And in our line of business, which is data intensive, we need the issues around data transfer that Brexit brings to be resolved quickly.

Business that are ambitious will find a way through all of this – but it will be a slower year as we get to grips with the full implications of leaving the EU.

In the mid to long term, Brexit highlights the need to increase teaching in tech at all levels; bring new people into the industry, and increase on the job training. We also need to move training up the ladder to give tech leaders the senior level commercial and strategic skills they need to grow their businesses further. .

We’re short of trainers and educators – but we have technology on our side to make learning accessible. We have great talent here. We have the building blocks. Concerted effort over the next year to continue to tackle this issue long term will mean that Scotland can really go from good to great, cement its world leading position in technology and attract the best talent and investment.

This needs to be something that takes place at all levels – from school age education right up to training CEOs. I can feel that change is coming here, the recent encouraging stats around the numbers of women joining the workforce is a good example, and I hope 2019 is the year where we’ll see major progress.

My final, hopeful prediction is that in 2019 we will also see further investment in established and growing SMEs, alongside the investment we see in start ups. A vibrant start up economy is a wonderful thing – but growing the SME sector will also help support this by growing the talent pool (with larger SMEs more able to invest in training), and will be a huge boost to the economy at a time when it may need just that. Let’s really focus on building a thriving sector of specialist and world-leading mid sized firms.

On the whole, in 2019 – however worried the sector may be about Brexit –  business and the economy have to continue, and will still want to grow and build great products and services . Opportunities will still be there – and for those who can make the most of them, there will be great things ahead.

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