‘We are on the crest of another wave of technology’

Data science and robotics are among new technologies which can drive growth in the Scottish digital economy, according to the country’s tech trade body.

Polly Purvis, Chief Executive of ScotlandIS, said the new opportunities in artificial intelligence and data analytics represent the next great leap forward in the industry.

Speaking at Scotsoft, the annual gathering for the sector at Edinburgh’s EICC, she said whilst there may be anxiety around the recent Brexit vote, the nature of tech as a ‘transnational’ business should give cause for optimism.

“It’s a very exciting time, and I think we are on the crest of another wave of technology and digital transformation, data science, and robotics are all playing into this,” she said.

“There are lots of opportunities coming through new breakthroughs in technology, and data science has come of age creating those opportunities.

“The Internet of Things is now with us, so much so that the ordinary man or woman on the street is beginning to use it – and it’s enabling smart cities, smart health, and smart energy.”

Purvis said the tech sector in Scotland has now been long-established and there are an increasing number of start-ups, helping the sector to thrive.

“For Scottish businesses and technology businesses based in Scotland I think the sky’s the limit in terms of aspiration and ambition,” she added. “What we need to do is share and highlight those experiences of how you go from coming up with a bright idea to starting a company and building that to a reasonable size, and then how you can really go global.”

She said the enthusiasm and creativity of digital entrepreneurs, though, needs to be supported by strong management experience to help those firms ‘think big and move fast’.

“You need to be able to balance the enthusiasm and innovation the founders often have with the experience particularly around sales and marketing and breaking into new geographies, taking those lessons and looking to build sustainable businesses with real growth potential.”

On the issue of Brexit, Purvis said it’s still “early days” in terms of what the impact might be on the Scottish tech business, but she said ScotlandIS is playing an active role with both the UK and Scottish governments to ensure the sector’s voice is heard.

She said she is meeting with the Scottish Government’s ‘Brexit Minister’, Mike Russell, shortly there are strong ties already with the Digital Directorate of the Scottish Government.

“We are getting our messages across to a variety of politicians and officials. That’s the relatively easy bit of the challenge. In terms of where are we getting to at a UK level, it’s very early days in terms of engagement. I don’t think there is a significantly different story or that we are arguing on different factors to the rest of the UK’s technology industry. The key issue is that the technology industry has access to a skilled workforce, providing security for people who are already here and giving them the confidence to stay.”

She said there was also a particularly salient issue for Scotland with regards to research funding – which has a 20 per cent share (greater than its relative size to the UK) of funding for computer science and informatics.

However, she did point to some upsides in the short-term, such as the devaluation of sterling which has made the UK a more attractive place to do business. But she cautioned that she would like to see the “right sort of buy” for investors interested in buying Scottish companies.


Picture by Thomas Haywood