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24/09/2012 | Webreality

Thoughts on the IoD Debate about Digital Jersey

Webreality had a table at the Institute of Directors Jersey Debate 2012 on Thursday 20 September. It was good to host clients and friends, and the event was extremely professionally executed once again.

I went along a little apprehensive about what the debate would contribute to the process of creating some focus to the Digital Jersey project. Given the still wide-open debate about strategic direction, would the panellists agree on anything? Would the audience be abreast of the specific issues? Would the debate take us forwards or backwards?

I needn’t have been concerned about the panellists. They were very polite to one another and there was a good general consensus at least on the need for urgent action. The insights from the two international technologists, Dr Steve Moffatt and Peter Cochrane, were inspiring and sobering in equal measure, and were a particularly welcome injection of international context.

I know some people were disappointed that the evening added little (if anything) to the job of creating focus and direction for the island in its quest to find its digital niche on the international stage. For me, that wasn’t ever going to come from a room containing 500 various people from the worlds of business and education and politics, most of whom were new to the questions and opportunities at issue. After all, I doubt that the island’s historical ship-building, tourism and financial services industries finally found their way when 500 good people crammed into a parish hall for a big chat!

So what was achieved? I think three important things.

Firstly, a greater sense of urgency. In almost all of their contributions, the panel were invaluable in illustrating why Jersey can’t afford to take its usual complacent approach to everything that’s needed to enable rapid growth in this sector.

Secondly, pressure on the decision-makers to be seen to act. And “acting” was seen by all to include very important reforms of education and regulatory policy-making.

Thirdly, and perhaps for the first time, a broad cross-section of the business community were made to feel like active stake-holders in this emergent new pillar of our economy.

What can we hope for next? For Digital Jersey Limited to succeed in producing an ambitious and realistic road map within the three or so months that Paul Masterton said he was targeting. For the Education, Sport & Culture department to act swiftly and effectively to improve and advance the ICT curriculum and teaching in Jersey. For the Economic Development to do whatever it takes to create the conditions for growth in the industry (as defined by Digital Jersey Limited.) For the island’s largest established industry, finance, to provide all the support it can to the digital sector.

Gripes about the evening? Very few, although one panel comment disappointed me. Mark Loane was a great advert for home-grown enterprise in the digital sector, and I agreed with almost everything he said on the night, until he made his comment that Jersey could never produce world-beating new digital products. In the well-publicised presence of so many Jersey students, eager to hear about how Digital Jersey might open new life opportunities for them, I found this comment very unfortunate. It was left for Sir Philip Bailhache to restore a degree of national pride when he said that we should not apologise for being a mere 100,000 people and that Jersey could still lead the world. I’m a realist - I recognise that the chances are slim, but I disagree with Mark when he suggests that we should not aspire to a globally-famous product emerging from here. Great ideas can come from anywhere, and they don’t even need gigabit fibre to make them happen. What we need at this stage is not to stifle creativity, but to create an enabling culture and environment. Who knows what might come of that?