The Dragon has awoken and is finding its voice - de Novo Solutions

The Dragon has awoken and is finding its voice

08/12/2022

As Featured in ERP Today | Written by Mark Sweeny, Chief Exec of de Novo

As my three-year tenure as an expert contributor to ERP Today sadly comes to an end, I wanted my final swansong to promote the wider technology evolution that is geographically occurring across the UK.

With the HM Government policy around ‘levelling up’ coming back into focus, many tech hubs are flourishing. We have the Newport-Cardiff-Swansea corridor in South Wales, which is close to my beating Welsh heart. Throw in ecosystems around Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne and the Glasgow-Edinburgh corridor, and you will find there’s a lot more going on in the tech space these days outside of London.

In Wales, the tech dragon is well and truly roaring and finding its voice. It comes aided and abetted by a series of business-friendly Welsh Government policies that look to encourage entrepreneurs to develop Welsh based-businesses that actively contribute to the local economy, as well as independent trade bodies such as FinTech Wales and innovative organisations like the Alacrity Foundation.

The Welsh Government recognised early on that the local economy was lagging behind other regions across the UK, and the need to drive growth would only come from transitioning away from the traditional industries and market sectors of heavy manufacturing, agriculture and tourism, to one that is firmly based around advanced engineering and digital technology. In return, this has been unlocking the potential of the rich talent pool that is available in-country, driving specialism and economic growth. It is a generational project, true, but unless started, a journey can never be travelled.

It is a generational project, but unless started, a journey can never be travelled

The markers of intent

The Welsh Government has been clear with its mission: “drive economic growth, productivity, resilience by embracing and exploiting digital innovation”.

Turning strategy into viable tangible action, its intention is to deliver by (1) encouraging collaborative and shared workspaces; (2) recognising the wider role colleges and universities have beyond research and structured education; (3) relentless focus on niche technology skills and products that service long-term growing markets – e.g. cybersecurity; (4) supporting businesses in accelerating adaption to the future of work and skills based upon principles of a green sustainable economy; and lastly (5) improve procurement practices and processes by working with suppliers to deliver better outcomes.

Outcome-based results delivering tangible value include:

  • A thriving digital business sector and community, with a mixed ecosystem of small, medium and large technology-based companies
  • An ability to capitalise on new areas of digital innovation, to stand out in global competition for new markets and industries and attract new talent to Wales
  • Ensuring people have the skills to be able to take the jobs of the future and employers have a pipeline of talent for digital, data and technology careers
  • Developing a global reputation for leading technical innovation and a thriving export business
  • Adoption of leading procurement practices that will enable Wales to move forward

Shy bairns get nowt 

Whilst the mission is well intended, it is pleasing to see that Welsh technology entrepreneurs are not just waiting around, but instead moving forward, investing time and money ahead of the economic curve. As they say in Newcastle, ‘shy bairns get nowt’. 

Part of the game is calculated risk taking and having resilience. We can only build and grow the economy by getting out there and doing stuff, kicking down doors, not accepting the status quo, and refusing to accept no as an answer. 

In South Wales, for example, a partnership between Wesley Clover (the family investment company of billionaire Sir Terry Matthews), the Welsh Government, and The Waterloo Foundation (David and Heather Stevens) has resulted in the Alacrity Foundation

In recession the need for economic recovery always starts with government spending

Alacrity actively attracts, develops and promotes graduate entrepreneurial talent to create the next generation of technology companies. However, it is much more than a study course. The Foundation actively links entrepreneurs, corporations, universities, risk capital and government in one network. The programme is unique because no one is required to enter a cohort with an idea. The ideation is instead developed through challenges and problems sourced from the public and private sectors. This approach ensures solutions are designed to address customer challenges at a repeatable and expanding scale.

“Young graduates are a blank canvas and see challenges through a new lens,” says Simon Gibson, CEO of Wesley Clover. “By empowering young entrepreneurs with an applied business and technology curriculum, complemented by more than 100 professional mentors, innovations are being developed with considerable market potential.”

Tech always needs people 

Organisations like Tramshed Tech meanwhile look to bring like-minded startups together through collaborative sharing of experiences and space. First in Cardiff and now in Newport, these spaces are designed for entrepreneurial early-stage startups and collaboration of like-minded technology businesses, thereby facilitating a key ingredient of any successful entrepreneurial community – effective networking. 

The technology industry needs people, and one of the many benefits of regional technology hubs is that they reach communities and ecosystems of talent that many of us did not know previously existed. The days are long gone when the best resource was the perceived monopolistic domain of Oxbridge and that all things had to revolve around London.    

‘In-house’ of the dragon

The Welsh tech-dragon needs to keep roaring. But the often-missed opportunity, and perhaps the most obvious, is that in recession the need for economic recovery always starts with government spending. Central and local government organisations and bodies need digitalisation to deliver services more effectively, and therefore need technology companies and technology service providers to facilitate this. 

Whilst competition between suppliers must be maintained for the markets to work effectively, spend should be targeted towards small/medium enterprises who can actively demonstrate that they are contributing to growing the local economy. 

Government spending in any form should be seen as an investment and not a cost. Just like entrepreneurs, public sector bodies must see their spend as investment to accumulate. If you don’t invest, the only guarantee is that nothing ever changes.

Innovation is the hotbed of SMEs and not large corporations. Large established vendors find it impossible to deliver niche innovation and have a strong reluctance to pioneer new technology in-house as it does not make an immediate cashable return on investment they can demonstrate in-year. Organisation pricing and political dynamics both internally and externally with market expectations, especially at publicly listed companies, always work against them.

Finally, we should proactively challenge thinking around offshoring – why is it that when we are making arguments to develop our own talent, we still consider moving work and money offshore? I have long been vocal about the ‘race to the bottom of the ratecard’, but we can achieve similar financial models through labour arbitrage across the UK, stimulating our own economy. 

Offshoring does nothing for the local economy as we do not see the benefits of monies spent re-entering the local economy. It sounds nationalistic, and it is hard to avoid politics here – but if we are truly serious about creating new ecosystems of home-grown talent then the answer will not be found in this outdated commercial model which does not drive the outcomes we are looking for to grow the economy.   

Why are we still considering moving work and money offshore?

Apprenticeship schemes – ‘learn while you earn’ 

Apprenticeship schemes surely must be one of the key ways forward across the country for attracting, developing and retaining the next generation of talent. I have personally never believed that an individual’s future should rest solely on a score achieved on one hot sunny day in an exam room. What we want is access to the raw material that we can encourage in the workplace to innovate and learn, injecting real life working experience alongside continuing a structured education.  

The Welsh scheme is simple. An individual is employed by an organisation for four days a week, and on the fifth day they are enrolled and attend an approved degree course at a local approved university. The course fees are picked up by the Welsh Government. The individual is employed and can ‘learn while you earn’. They do not leave university with student debt levels which they are then unable to repay.

We know we are short on talent, without getting drawn into the political arguments that all of us in this country know too well. Regional technology offers a multitude of different opportunities and resources, from lower cost base to access to a wider diverse range of talent. We talk about diversity and inclusion every day; well, here’s the opportunity on a plate to do something about it.

Challenge of regional technology – getting noticed

Wales, alongside other regions, has a long way to go in marketing itself effectively to the world. What starts within its own borders needs to break out quickly, both across the UK and also across the world. The bigger the market, the bigger the opportunity – but being able to access that market in a cost-effective way has and remains key. However, effective outward promotion is the starting point, and again this is where government in partnership with business can lead to success. It is a much needed area for further capital investment.    

For our economy to recover successfully, this will always require like-minded individuals to take calculated risks and invest. Regional technology hubs geographically spread and supported by business-friendly policies like those developed by the Welsh Government, bring success, as we make available all the resources we have available to us – innovation, people and capital.  

As for Cymru, the region is well placed to stimulate and grow its economy over many years to come as it transitions to become a market leader in digital products and services, something #wearedenovo is proud to be a part of.

Yma o(07) hyd!

It’s been an absolute pleasure and reassuringly cathartic to have been part of the ERP Today story. What a success it is, and my thanks to Paul Esherwood and team. I have met so many great people and learned so much over the past three years, but the time is now right to pass the torch onto new blood who will bring different perspectives and no doubt even wider diverse thinking. 

One word of advice though, echoing the words of Daniel Craig to the actor who next inherits the 007 mantle: “Don’t be sh*t!”

As for me, ‘Yma o hyd.’  

Mark Sweeny, Chief Executive, de Novo Solutions