In the shift towards hybrid working, the UK is well placed to unlock the potential of digital transformation as part of Levelling Up, according to Lou Cordwell OBE, Chief Creative Officer of Fluxx. She is Chair of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, and is also its SME representative. She is also lead for the Communications, Digital Broadcasting and Skills Fund, and Chair of Design Manchester.
“Digital transformation is fundamental to the Levelling Up agenda. We’ve seen how it’s worked in Greater Manchester, where the long-term strategy around digital has already seen it become the fastest growing tech city in the UK,” she says.
The key to success in building a digital city comes down to some common factors:
Quality of place
This is about making places attractive to digital-first organisations to set up roots, build and scale, says Cordwell. “That starts with attracting people.”
“Humans are at the heart of making digital transformation work,” she says. “Truly understanding the needs of the communities being served (and not just the agendas of those that hold the purse strings) ensures lasting and sustainable shifts towards a more prosperous and fair future.”
Connectivity and skills
Investing in digital infrastructure can drive economic growth, create jobs and improve the daily lives of local people. Residents can benefit from improved connectivity and free access in community spaces, says Cordwell, enabling them to use online services for banking, completing school work, looking for employment or developing digital skills.
“Making these services more accessible gives everyone equal access (no matter your employment or economic status) and can make a real difference to everyone reaching their potential and being part of the digital economy in local communities.”
While large, complex and extensive strategies might appeal to stakeholders, more often than not, they won’t succeed, says Cordwell. “What’s the point of big tech if nobody has the skills or confidence to use it? We need solutions that can be tested and iterated quickly, adapting to the changing needs of the people they serve. These are highly effective, and offer sustained impact.”
This requires public-private collaboration when it comes to creating policies that work. Businesses can help local authorities drive the right skills and make sure that their needs are represented.
“We work with organisations at various ages and stages on the transformation journey, including government, start-ups, SMEs and global businesses. Cross-industry collaboration and insight are core drivers in approaching challenges with the necessary fresh perspectives, and connecting the dots.”
Small businesses face a particularly tough challenge, says Cordwell, facing 10 years of digital change in the last two years. “It’s a huge challenge for SMEs that don’t have the budgets or resources large businesses have. We’re helping fight back with much-needed design and innovation skills.”
Fluxx is working with Innovate UK Edge on a Design for Growth Programme, helping businesses accelerate growth with design skills. People are entering the post-pandemic economy with a view to correct mistakes and make positive changes, says Cordwell. This means creating a more inclusive growth model.
“Digital investment could help grow the UK economy by £232bn by 2040. One thing is for sure: it will transform the way we work and live, have a huge impact on productivity and output, radically improving our economy, creating jobs and making our communities healthier and more secure in a post-pandemic and post-Brexit world.”
Levelling up: making it work
The Levelling Up agenda is hugely ambitious, incorporating everything from infrastructure to education and skills, private investment to public procurement. Many factors must align in order to make a real difference.
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