Shaping Scotland’s Digital Future

Maybe it was confirmation that after almost three years I have shaken some of the shackles of journalism and graduated as a businessman.

More likely it was absolution of my wife and her claims that I have turned into a geek.

Me, I’d like to think maybe it’s a bit of both and that, by blogging, I maybe just about retain those journalist credentials too.

But whatever the reason I found myself being roused a little earlier than usual to make my way to Glasgow for a morning seminar.

Shaping Scotland’s Digital Future.

Not everyone’s cup of tea admittedly, but a fairly well attended event threw up at least one surprise for me, a novice of such occasions.

And that was the wide spread of people gathered representing different fields.

It wasn’t loaded with know-all geek speaks clutching the latest technology driven toys.

No.

This was a genuine attempt to have a conversation about Scotland, its grasp on technology and the web in particular, and what we can all do to help drag our nation into the next century.

About how we can ensure Scotland leads, as it has done over the centuries, from the front rather than being stuck on constant dial up.

Iain S Bruce of the Sunday Herald was the genial host, something of a cross between Jools Holland and Kilroy as he bounded about the room clutching his trusty microphone.

His mixture of wit and wisdom with some probing questions of the panel helped what could have been a difficult subject matter flow with pace and poise, and bodes very well for future occasions.

Guest speakers for the day were pretty heavyweight too, and not just because of the tasty fresh pastries laid on with the morning coffees at the comfortably impressive Teacher’s Building in Glagsow’s St Enoch’s Square.

Gordon Thomson, the Operations Director for Cisco Scotland and Ireland was the first on the floor posing the question, “What Is Innovation?

He said companies all too often had to make difficult decisions in their quest for developing the new.

Or as he put it, having to “find, filter, decide”.

He argued in order to stem the waste of potentially great ideas, Scotland need not always fear competition, but take advantage of it through greater collaborations.

Doing so, he said, could strengthen the ability to help take invention from being a blue-print on a table, to tangible sales by working together and bridging the existing gap.

Raymond O’Hare, Regional Director of Microsoft Scotland, was equally forthright about Scotland having to lead.

In his view: “Innovation is the heartbeat of the technology industry.”

But while Scotland registers more ideas than the rest of the UK per head, he bemoaned: “Why is there not a higher conversion rate of patents filed?

And he said it was vital for ways to be found to help push through the innovations, rather than see them falter.

Former scotsman.com editor Stewart Kirkpatrick, now of web specialists w00tonomy, ruled that content is king in whatever we do in the age of web 2.0 with everyone battling to be seen and heard.

He said: “Attention is the scarcest resource in the online sphere.”

You have to be interesting.”

Accepting the fact that anyone who has an online presence is, by default, a de facto publisher, was the minimum requirement, he said.

But understanding a brand, what can be achieved with it and the intended audience were vital, he explained, citing the Unicef football shirt sponsorship of FC Barcelona as a prime example.

Steven Thurlow, Technical Director at Graham Technology, argued that it was “user demand” that now dictated success or, for that matter, failure.

He said Scots innovators and facilitators had to be encouraged to take the risks needed in the pursuit of success, else we run the risk of them giving up before achieving what is within their grasp.

And he made a point that certainly resonates with small business people like myself when he called on the public sector to engage more fully with SMEs and to make it easier for such organizations to be involved.

Red tape, bureaucracy and the amount of time needed to be spent to try and hack into the public sector pot of gold, with no guarantee of success after the effort, restricts the ability of many firms to even try.

What he argued was that by deliberately developing a strategy that would encourage such two-way involvement would not only serve the PS, but help towards the potential success of tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.

But as Iain S Bruce summed up, the over-riding message to come out of what was the second event in the series, is that there must be a change of culture if Scotland is to get the best from innovation.

It has to ask what can it do, not what can’t be achieved, embrace young ideas and listen to old heads in equal measure.

But most of all turn fine conversation, into positive action.



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