Guest Post: Are public-private partnerships the secret to digital transformation?

Ian GentIn this guest post Ian Gent, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Peninsula Enterprise, explains why public-private partnerships are the key to unlocking a much-needed step-change in digital transformation. 


The digital revolution is in full swing. The large scale openness and interconnected nature of the Internet is changing how businesses and governments operate and this is a complex and dynamic interconnected environment, in which the flow of data has a significant impact on innovation, value chains and the economy. However, there is still a significant way to go before we see the full scale benefits of a channel-shift to digital.

Technology has a vital role in the modern economic environment in which local governments are faced with fundamental challenges which force them to redesign and reorganise the way they deliver services. Amongst these challenges are a changing demographic, new public health responsibilities and changes to local government systems, compounded by a reported 40 per cent average cut to funding for local councils since 2011 (Institute of Fiscal Studies). These cuts are predicted to continue until 2020. Digital is a key enabler to delivering better services, at a lower cost. However, knowing this is not enough and without access to needed expertise, local governments will continue to struggle to realise the benefits.

Business owners are also facing similar challenges. The need for digital transformation is a direct result of the onslaught of disruptive technologies which have become mainstay over the last few years – changing forever how consumers and also employees behave and interact with services. As these new technologies become the norm then organisations are forced to update their legacy systems to meet these evolving demands and to reflect how the real world is changing. The biggest risk to traditional businesses which do not look to adapt is that their competitors are taking those steps to change, and that they are simply left behind.

It’s easy to also forget that nearly 20 per cent of the UK population still lack the basic skills to perform moderately simple tasks such as send email, search online, browse the internet or complete online forms. What is more, a third of those lacking these skills are vulnerable people who face poverty, are disabled or of an older generation.  Better digital skills by wider society is also expected to lead to more significant benefits – improving access to public services, improving education, reducing exclusivity by connecting vulnerable and isolated members of society and reducing unemployment; however a report from the Office of National Statistics confirmed that up to 6.4m people in the UK have never been online.

It is vital that the benefits of ICT are promoted to governments and enterprise alike; driven by digital pioneers with the aim to progress investments in better digital infrastructure and development of expertise to deliver the changes needed.

It is also important that multi-stakeholder co-operation is sufficiently encouraged, maximising the positive outcomes to the broader economy. Greater collaboration across private and public sectors, sharing expertise and knowledge, will help to develop stronger policies for the digital economy overall; and to the advantage of both future economic growth and society.  Demand-side policies which act to stimulate digital innovation (e.g. UK Govt. Enterprise Bill) are also important and help to further develop and address both social and economic goals; including productivity growth and inclusivity.

Partnerships between public, private and social sector institutions can help create beneficial change on a large scale. Local governments and supply chains need to establish better public-private partnerships and approach the digital opportunity in a more cohesive way. This needs to also happen with a commitment to improving social inclusion as a result, so that all aspects of the community are able to benefit.

Peninsula Enterprise, a business unit of Serco, has been working on services which help to deliver these much needed solutions; with an approach which looks to bring organisations, public and private, together along with social enterprise and the wider community to look proactively at innovative ways to exploit new digital technologies in ways which ripple out to benefit all aspects of society and the economy.

With 10 years’ experience in specialist business support, Peninsula Enterprise has delivered a number of digital support services to companies across the South West, Wales and Cheshire; helping them exploit opportunities made possible through use of digital technologies.

Ian Gent has over 15 years of experience in the development and delivery of regional economic development programmes at Peninsula Enterprise. Since 2012 Ian has led the development of seven regional programmes to help local businesses and communities exploit faster broadband infrastructure. He is a strong believer in digital technology driving the next phase of public services, economic and social development in our regions but believes equally that this requires innovative investment in advice and support to accelerate this process.

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