Many tech professionals may very well – and with just cause – eschew politics and its compromises, dark arts, and dubious practices. But they are canny enough to know that good or bad governance affects everyone.
Like every part of the UK economy, the tech sector has had to adapt rapidly to the short-term challenges of Covid-19. This has meant protecting staff, nurturing clients, securing funding and cashflow, meeting potential partners and customers in a period of unique and unprecedented economic uncertainty. In some ways, it’s been ahead of the curve – anticipating the need for more home working, new digital strategies and online shopping, the move away from city centre working, and remote ergonomic hubs.
The basics aren’t going to change any time soon. New startups and scaleups, whether they’re in cyber security, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robotics, biotech or digital payments, are still going to need to focus on the bread and butter realities of a competitive and fast-growing market. – That includes their unique selling point, branding, recruiting key people, product development and, of course, money. Investors need courting and private equity and venture capitalists are front and centre of UK tech. Pretty logical, as it’s a high-growth area with bags of potential and increasingly seen as a safe and secure asset class.
Digital tech services accounted for a £23bn contribution to the UK economy in 2019, this country is the fifth-biggest tech exporter in the world, and tech exports are expected to expand by more than 35 per cent in the next ten years, according to the Department of International Trade.
It’s a given that successful tech businesses need vision, flexibility, clear values, and realistic but ambitious growth objectives focused on the bottom line – and an agency like FieldHouse has the track record and expertise to help deliver demonstrable competitive advantage.
That said, the sector cannot rest on its laurels. A year ago, institutional investors lauded commercial office space and shopping centres as reliable asset classes for their pension fund clients and just look what happened then. In short, rapid change comes at you very fast. Apple is the first company in global history to be valued at $2tn but, even as I write, the big four tech giants are under attack in the United States Congress for competition abuse, which may lead to their break-up in a sustained attack on corporate power in the technology industry.
The zeitgeist means that tech is going to be at the heart of everything we do pretty much forever – especially in areas like payment systems, on-demand platforms, virtual reality, data ownership, management and security.
So what’s that extra element that might give your business a long-term competitive advantage? In the post-Covid era, as the reach, power and influence of government at all levels, in all parts of society and commercial sectors expands, – understanding the policy, regulatory and legislative ecosystem might make all the difference. How so? Government awards procurement contracts to the value of £49.6bn each year. That’s a big pie to share out, and tech companies have been favoured by politicians of all stripes in recent years, as the government has sought to make itself more responsive, efficient, accountable and cheaper.
Those tech players who understand how government works, how politicians and civil servants think, who makes decisions and why, who influences them, and how advocates get results, are most likely to prosper in a complex and confusing intersection between business and politics.
Many tech professionals may very well – and with just cause – eschew politics and its compromises, dark arts and dubious practices. But they are canny enough to know that good or bad governance affects everyone – and that to be at the table with your voice getting heard is not ignoble but in fact a key imperative. That is where government relations, public affairs, and political intelligence comes into play. A good lawyer and accountant and PR firm – is foundational and transformational in the success of your business, but it might not be the whole story.
Political lobbying has delivered the Future Fund, the Enterprise Investment Scheme and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and Innovate UK loans and grants. It will influence, for instance, the UK’s new National Cyber Security Strategy from 2021 and, among other things, policies on IR35, Time to Pay arrangements for VAT and corporation tax, intellectual property law, VAT deferment schemes, new tax reliefs, share option schemes and investor rights’ regulations.
Covid-19 has thrown the business models of so much of British industry out of the window and has accelerated demographic and commercial trends to warp speed. Whenever the whirlwind subsides, you’re still going to need to know about the business of government and politics, which – whoever is in charge – impacts your company, workforce, investors, shareholders, and customers.
Stewart Jackson is a former MP and special advisor and is founder and director of Political Insight UK