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COMMUNITY UPDATE

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Will Lord Carter's vision for a Digital Britain provide companies with the means to boost performance and productivity? Or is it, as Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt puts it, an exercise in "digital dithering"? The report recognises the need for investment into the UK's IT infrastructure but many think that it doesn't go far enough. In a global business environment, technological prowess will be key to achieving competitive advantage both for individual companies and, inevitably, the national economies they sustain.

Surely, any investment into Britain's digital future is a step in the right direction? There are many positives that can be drawn from the report, as Phil Smith, Managing Director, UK & Ireland, Cisco Systems points out: "High-speed connectivity enables people to collaborate in a way that will change how we run our businesses, our services, and ultimately our communities. The countries that will flourish in the coming decades are those that have the infrastructure, skills and culture to embrace new opportunities for innovation. For small businesses in remote areas for example, the chance to improve access to markets while reducing costs and environmental impact are considerable."

Small business in remote areas will certainly benefit from the proposals in Carter's report, but what about business and the economy more broadly. As Peter Horrocks, Director, BBC World Service says, the biggest impact of the report will probably be social: "Creating a 100 per cent digital population, if achieved, could be significant in reducing exclusion and driving lower costs in government services. The importance the government attaches to this objective is shown by the novel introduction of a small levy on fixed lines. In comparison with this, the proposals that might assist various business sectors look relatively piecemeal."

With this in mind, questions need to be asked about why Digital Britain fails to balance what it can offer individuals with what it could offer organisations.

Executives and business leaders have been underwhelmed by the report. Mark Wood, Non-executive Director, Future Publishing comments: "This is not a report that sets the pulse racing, unless you are BT or any other network infrastructure business standing to benefit from the proposed investment in UK broadband. Otherwise it smacks of compromise and conflict avoidance. Certainly achieving broader access to large bandwidth networks is a laudable objective and will have valuable knock on effects for the digital economy. But it is not exactly earth shaking and in most ways, the report is an opportunity missed for a braver and bolder vision."

Richard Brooke, Former Corporate Development Director, Setanta expands on this: "The report does little to address issues such as the future of broadcasting and the idea of a tax on fixed line telephones seems positively Neanderthal. Meanwhile, commercial free to air television is in dangerous decline and the online world is dominated by US businesses who are the only organisations powerful enough to compete with an overfunded BBC."

What seems to be disappointing many pundits is that the report could have offered so much more to businesses. As Simon Thompson, Chief Marketing Officer and Group Managing Director, lastminute.com explains: "A future digital workforce and country where leading edge digital commerce can be tested is a terrific opportunity. With solid determination, we can build unique competence that can be sold around the world for financial gain. For me, the Digital Britain report does not go far enough. We need a more radical and, in the short term, more costly approach to changing Britain's current commercial practices and critically, the ageing infrastructure. If we don't take this opportunity, other countries will."

Perhaps in the longer term, as new initiatives are implemented, the business benefits of Digital Britain will become more apparent. As Claire Enders, Managing Director, Enders Analysis explains, there is still a lot of work to be done: "The proposals are of quite limited significance in the near term, with a lot of consultation and debate still to come before many of the proposals can be implemented. In the longer term, the report does represent a move towards more proactive government interest in the 'digital industries', in particular towards ensuring that most households have access to a useable broadband service."

Even if Lord Carter's report falls short of expectations for the business community, we should not disregard the very real benefits. As Clive Ansell, Senior Advisor to the Board, Royal Mail says: "It's worth distinguishing between helping the content and creative industries, where we have real growth opportunities, and stimulating the overall economy. In the former case, there has been a worthy attempt to make progress despite some very complex issues. On the latter, there is only one surprising development, the fixed line levy to support the deployment of next generation broadband, which now has to be turned from headlines into practical reality." Phil Smith also comments: "A truly national broadband infrastructure provides the platform that could help transform all aspects of our economy and society...The overwhelming benefit of these proposals is the ability it gives us as a nation to improve the delivery of public and private services, both in terms of the lower cost of delivery and also the improved accessibility it gives via services such as telehealth."

Criticaleye Insights offers a range of articles and papers to help leaders take advantage of the digital economy. Portals Must Evolve to Capture New Customers in the Web 2.0 World explores the relationship between organisations online presence and customer acquisition and The Digital Company 2013: Freedom to Collaborate explores the impact that technology will have on the way that companies do business.

On the media side, please see the summary notes of a recent Criticaleye Discussion Group entitled: Getting Media Business Models Right.

Please get in touch if you have anything to add to the topics raised in this week's newsletter.

Matthew Blagg, CEO, Criticaleye