Image: Spencer Cooper Image: Spencer Cooper

A new government review outlines ways in which the UK can sit centre stage of what has become known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It projects that the UK economy could see a half a trillion pound boost between now and 2030, if it plays things right. There is one snag: the report lacks ambition, and it is missing a key word.

The Industrial Digitalisation Review was launched by a collaboration of leading business figures as part of the UK government’s industrial strategy announced at the beginning of this year. And today has seen the unveiling of a plan – a business plan, if you will - for UK plc.

It projects a £455 million lift for UK manufacturing over the next decade and the creation of 175,000 highly skilled and better paid jobs.

Chaired by Juergen Maier, CEO Siemens UK and Ireland, the report highlights 3D printing (or additive manufacturing), automation and the Internet of Things as means by which manufacturing jobs can return home – and because these jobs will be highly productive, they will be well paid too.

Poor productivity has long been the Achilles heel of the UK economy, output per head is the second lowest in G7, but then poor growth in productivity has been a problem for the developed world ever since the finance crisis of 2008. It is something of a mystery as to why, in an age of such rapid technological change, growth in productivity has been so low. Possible explanations include the idea that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is only just beginning, so we need to give it more time, that it is creating a winner takes it all economy, with just a small number of companies seeing massive strides in productivity, and the rest left in a slow lane, relying on cheap labour, and fears that in fact, so far digital technology has been destroying more jobs than it has been creating, exacerbating inequality.

The Industrial Digitalisation Review Proposals include supporting individuals by creating a training allowance and business via financial incentives to invest in digital technologies, funding for digital networks, and the creation of certain standards in training, cyber awareness and data privacy.

Mr Maier painted a positive picture saying: “The good news here is Britain is not starting from nothing. The UK has brilliant knowledge, assets and skills”, but he warns that the UK “is sometimes not as organised as it could be.”

Drilling down, the report stated that “the UK has the strongest AI and machine learning market in Europe, with over 200 SMEs in the field (compared to just 81 in Germany and 50 in both the Nordics and France).”

But it warned of hurdles holding the UK back. It cited lack of leadership (“There is no clear narrative setting out what the UK already does well or the significant opportunity for UK industry,)” poor levels of adoption, (for example “businesses also face a skills shortage, particularly in digital engineering capabilities), and said “innovation assets are under-leveraged and not focused enough on supporting industrial digital technology start-ups.”

The plan is a good first step, the UK needs to embrace the digital challenge and opportunity.

But maybe it underestimates the scale of the change afoot – part of the problem here may be usage of the metaphor ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution.’ In fact, with AI, and nanotechnology advances, we are set to witness something more akin to a fourth, fifth and sixth industrial revolution rolled into one, technology is not accelerating, it is accelerating at an accelerating rate.

The missing word, was not totally absent, but then the report was over 200 pages long –– it may be quite difficult to find many words at all that were not in the report, somewhere.

But the report was missing the word entrepreneur, in spirit if not literally. Entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurial thinking provides the means by which the UK can truly embrace digital technologies.

What was quite interesting, were the recommendations for education and training, suggesting that certain digital skills need to be taught. They are:

  • Digital Identity
  • Digital Rights
  • Digital Literacy
  • Digital Communication
  • Digital Emotional intelligence
  • Digital Security
  • Digital Strategy
  • Digital Use

It is an interesting list, and maybe one could even go as far as to say quite an insightful list.

But the word entrepreneur was just listed as a sub-heading – digital entrepreneur under the category Digital Identity.

In fact, a more entrepreneurial way of thinking, with all that entails, including inquisitiveness, ability to collaborate, ability to adjust thinking, and dogged determination maybe the single most important skill set for the digital age.