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Digital commerce industry should benefit from Government ‘modern industrial strategy’

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The ecommerce and multichannel retailing industry looks set to be well-placed to benefit from the Government’s modern industrial strategy, unveiled today.

The strategy will focus on 10 pillars, including two that should directly benefit the industry: encouraging trade, and cultivating world-leading sectors. Online retail should also benefit from a commitment to become a more innovative economy by investing in science, research and innovation, and from a commitment to invest in skills, including digital.

Companies from Argos , its new owner Sainsbury’s , and Shop Direct to Ocado (pictured), Tesco and M&S have invested heavily in technology and innovation as they build multichannel retail services around the needs of their customers.

Yet there is just one direct mention of retail in the 132-page consultation document, published as part of today’s green paper. It says: “Innovation is not just about breakthrough technologies or scientific and engineering processes. Effective adoption of technology throughout businesses and improvements in management and workforce skills are just as important, as are new ways of providing services, from financial services and retail to professional advice. Innovation can sometimes be disruptive, but ultimately we must embrace innovation to keep ahead of the competition, create more good jobs and make sure jobs in the UK are secure.”

However the sector should benefit as the Department for International Trade works to “build the global appetite for British goods and services”. Ultimately, however, this will remain subject to the trade treaties that follow Brexit. The consultation document points to potential deals with countries including Canada, China, India, Mexico, Singapore and South Korea.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy today launched a consultation on a strategy that it says included an offer to businesses “to strike new sector deals, driven by the interests of firms and the people they employ, to address sector-specific challenges and opportunities”. Government support will be available to enable this to happen.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The modern Industrial Strategy will back Britain for the long-term: creating the conditions where successful businesses can emerge and grow, and backing them to invest in the long-term future of our country.

“It will be underpinned by a new approach to government, not just stepping back but stepping up to a new, active role that backs business and ensures more people in all corners of the country share in the benefits of its success.”

Business and energy secretary Greg Clark said: “This is an important step in building a modern, dynamic industrial strategy that will improve living standards and drive economic growth across the whole country. A modern British Industrial Strategy must: build on the UK’s strengths and extend excellence into the future; close the gap between the the UK’s most productive companies, industries, places and people and the rest; and ensure we are one of the most competitive places in the world to start and grow a business.

“We are inviting businesses and workers to contribute to this vision to help us create a high-skilled economy where every place can meet its potential.”

Commenting on the news, Tudor Aw, head of tech sector at KPMG UK, said: “In a post-Brexit era, it is crucial that the UK tech sector is front and centre of the Government’s new industrial policy. I am therefore delighted to see that key areas such as robotics, artificial intelligence, Smart Energy and 5G have been identified as areas that will underpin the Government’s approach. The hope is that this is just the start and we will see other future disruptive technologies such as Nano technology, autonomous vehicles and IoT/“Connected everything” get similar focus and funding.

“As has been long recognised, to be successful in tech, we desperately need to upskill our workforce in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and to see investment in these skills as well as in science, R&D and innovation is hugely promising.”

However, Francis Turner, UK managing director at ADYOULIKE, said technology companies should not count on Government help.

“Today’s announcement by the government to put significant funding into developing technologies like artificial intelligence is to be welcomed,” he said. “Technologies such as AI aren’t just the future, they are already here and are making a significant impact on the businesses and industries that are using them.

“For example, there is now an established link between a business’ growth in revenue and how long it has been using AI. Early adopters of AI are seen to experience faster growth than those who have not implemented the technology. The government is right to try to put Britain at the forefront of developing this type of technology which can impact positively upon industry, the economy and also everyday life.

“However, as the government has already admitted, when launching this strategy their proposed approach mirrors what is already happening in some industries, whereby individual companies and trades bodies are driving cutting-edge innovation. For example, my own firm was the first to adopt AI technology, IBM’s Watson, to enhance semantic targeting for native advertising and to help improve digital advertising.

“The vast majority of innovation will come down to the founders and staff of individual companies and from my own experience, government, to date, has done little to nothing to support our own business. My partner and I built up Content Amp, a UK native advertising technology firm, which was completely self-funded, into a successful company. Yet when looking for options to scale up and expand our business, both the UK government and also financial institutions were not interested in helping us. Due to this situation we ended up merging with ADYOULIKE, a French native advertising company, in 2014 to fuel a combined global expansion.”

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