Learning from London Technology Week – how we can all be a little more start-up

It’s no secret that London has earned a reputation as one of Europe’s foremost hotspots for tech start-ups – and that’s not just hype. Over the next ten years, London’s digital tech sector is predicted to generate £12 billion in additional economic activity, creating up to 46,000 new jobs. When the research hubs of the South East and the East of England – including Oxford and Cambridge – are factored in, this ‘tech triangle’ is set to grow faster than California .

These impressive stats reflect the fact that this country boasts some of the world’s most creative digital talent, as demonstrated by the success of companies such as Rockstar North, makers of the hit Grand Theft Auto series, and Mind Candy, which is behind Moshi Monsters.

But worryingly, these figures also highlight the opportunities that we aren’t taking as a nation. Right across the UK, I hear that businesses are struggling to make the most of the talent and cutting edge technology that they have available to them. Research we conducted at O2 recently found that British businesses are losing out on £30 billion each year due to a failure to make the most of connectivity technology that can help us all work smarter. This research also revealed that the economy will need an extra 745,000 digitally skilled workers by 2017, a fifth of which could be captured by people under 25, people entering the workforce for the first time, or those retraining from other roles.

These are serious problems. Despite a promising economic recovery, youth unemployment remains stubbornly high and UK productivity levels remain far below our G7 peers. Thankfully, there are some steps which businesses of all sizes can take now to help solve these problems and get a leg up on their competitors:

Big businesses should act more like small ones – not just by using technology to become more agile but by emulating start-ups to become more responsive. As new technologies emerge, small businesses are constantly given fresh opportunities to thrive, whereas businesses with strategies based on scale rather than speed get left behind. At O2, we run a technology accelerator, Wayra, to utilise the energy inherent to start-ups by providing funding, training and easy access to customers in exchange for first dibs on new ideas. This keeps us close to the most promising minds and companies of tomorrow.

And businesses of all sizes should make use of the technology to enable them to work smarter instead of harder. Steps as simple as choosing laptops over desktops are a start, and combining those with smartphones and 4G dongles makes an enormous difference, because then you can be connected no matter where you are. Cloud office software like Google Docs and Microsoft 365, as well as video conferencing tools like Skype and Google Hangout, mean that teams can work from anywhere too. Small businesses that embed these practices will have the edge on their competitors as they grow, and they’ll be contributing to the future of the British economy in the process.

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