LizMcAreavey: Is Edinburgh ready to be Europe's data capital?

Two major digital infrastructure announcements have reinforced the belief that Edinburgh can become the data capital of Europe '“ with all the economic benefit and jobs that would bring.

Wednesday, 25th April 2018, 7:00 am
Liz McAreavey is chief executive of the Edinburgh Chamber Of Commerce. Picture: Scott Louden

Openreach has announced that Edinburgh will be the first of eight cities in the UK to pilot its Fibre First Programme and Cityfibre has committed to the construction of 150km of full Fibre network, making Edinburgh the first gigabit City project. That, in tandem with the world-leading Data and Technology Innovation being developed at the University of Edinburgh, will have a major economic impact on the city – we are sitting at the fork of transformational change.

But is this just “potential” benefit? Are we geared up and collaborating as a city, removing the barriers to delivering this impact? Does our planning process and city leadership accelerate or hinder the roll out? Are businesses tapping into the innovation being driven by our universities and are we really tuned in to how we realise this potential economic benefit?

I don’t think we are there yet and there is still a lot of work to get key stakeholders together to unite in delivering this opportunity.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Full Fibre will provide the core infrastructure to kick-start the next generation of digital technology businesses and new start-ups who can capitalise on the gigabit broadband. It will enable the development of Smart Cities that will be modernised, more productive and innovative, addressing energy use, congestion and flexible working.

Scotland has one of the lowest productivity performance in Europe, primarily due to a low adoption of technology, low investment in R&D and lack of investment in training our workforce in the digital and management skills needed to be a successful economy. With this enabling infrastructure in place businesses will have the competitive advantage of faster speeds, superior resilience and reliability, and a future-proofed economy. What can go wrong?

We need a city leadership willing to enable and accelerate this infrastructure and more importantly we need an effective eco-system that promotes awareness of the opportunities and innovation, how to access these and the benefits if these are adopted – an interface between the innovators, business and the public sector that delivers action, not inertia. I’m not sure this exists in Edinburgh yet, as much as we like to think we are a joined-up, compact and connected city.

As scary as the pace of change is, what is clearly emerging is Edinburgh is exceptionally well placed to become the data capital of Europe and should maximise the economic impact this mantle brings. We have many qualities and advantages as a city and with that the responsibility to deliver a strong and inclusive economy taking us into the digital era. The Chamber of Commerce is excited about the opportunities for the city and will fully engage and support the infrastructure providers, the innovators and businesses to work together and make this happen.

LizMcAreavey is the chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce