Our economic growth through digital ‘is vital to all industries’

Digital Jersey chief executive Tony Moretta Picture: DAVID FERGUSON (37471285)

Jersey is well-positioned to invest in its digital sector to benefit not only the local population but grow the economy and avoid being left behind as a jurisdiction. Emily Moore reports

“WE may be an island but we don’t have to be insular.”

These words, uttered as a parting comment by an attendee at Digital Jersey’s annual review made a particular impression on Tony Moretta because, as the organisation’s chief executive said, they exemplified the approach undertaken by his team to position the Island on the world stage.

“A lot of our work is about connecting people and organisations and when you look at the partnerships and collaborations we struck up last year with companies such as Mastercard, Formula One In Schools and Innovate UK EDGE, you see the diversity and reach of these initiatives,” he said.

Indeed, with such a broad range of activities taking place, Mr Moretta said that the organisation had “never had a busier year”.

“We have never engaged with so many companies, we’ve never had more people at our Tech Awards or seen so many applications for it and we have never launched so many initiatives – whether our Bootcamp for local young entrepreneurs; Grindstone, to help businesses to scale up; or Impact Jersey, to further investment and innovation within the sector.”

The reason for this unrelenting drive, Mr Moretta adds, is twofold.

“Firstly, digital is an important strand of the economy in its own right,” he said. “In much the same way that the financial services sector does, digital creates high-end jobs, has a high level of productivity per role and makes a valuable contribution to tax revenue, enabling the government to provide services. As a standalone sector of the economy, digital is now of a similar size to hospitality.

“But, critically, this is not just about a standalone sector, as technology plays a significant role in other areas of the economy. We want to see a sustainable growth in the economy but we don’t want to grow the population. We want to care for an ageing population but we don’t want to stoke immigration. Therefore, investing in technology is really important to enable economic growth without increasing the number of jobs.”

And while some of this digital innovation may still be to come, there are, says Mr Moretta, several examples of technology already having been deployed across a range of sectors.

“If you look at the finance industry, fintech is a huge area of growth while, in agriculture, innovations have included using drones to spray fields and installing sensors in the ground to enable farmers to apply fertiliser and water in a more targeted manner, thus reducing cost and time.

“Sensors have also been used by Andium Homes – one of the recipients of the Impact Jersey funding – to support an initiative designed to enable the use of sensors in the homes of more vulnerable Islanders to monitor energy consumption, temperatures and damp or mould issues.

“Through this Realtime Sensor IoT Project, equipment has also been installed at Grands Vaux to detect any rising water levels in an effort to prevent any repeat of the flooding of homes which some residents experienced last year.”

And these practical applications of technology, Mr Moretta adds, are not the only ways in which the Island is “benefitting from Digital Jersey’s mission to accelerate the Island’s digital future”.

“Last year, we relocated 11 tech businesses to Jersey,” he said. “This is significant because not only do these businesses, if successful, create jobs and contribute to the economy but the founders of these companies get involved with the community, passing on their knowledge and running courses in our academy to help upskill Islanders, something which is vital to all industries.”

Their presence, he argues, also builds on the Island’s reputation as a jurisdiction at the forefront of digital innovation.

“Jersey will become more digital over time but, by accelerating that process, we avoid getting left behind as a jurisdiction,” he explained. “Jersey was the first place in the world to have a regulated Bitcoin investment fund, we have the fastest internet speeds in the world and we have just established the world’s first proper data trust, capitalising on our world-renowned trust laws.

“Combine this with the lifestyle benefits that living in Jersey brings, the low business taxes, lack of capital gains tax and a world-leading mobile network, and you have a really attractive proposition.”

While the rate at which individuals and businesses are adopting technology varies significantly, Mr Moretta is confident that, through education and awareness, this will develop.

“A lot of people are understandably wary of all this technology,” he said. “We run a lot of beginners’ courses, often around LinkedIn and social media, which get people really interested and engaged. Once they start the course, they realise that the subject isn’t as scary as they think and they start looking for the next thing.

“Over the past decade, the Island has come a very long way. We’ve always had a good infrastructure and now we are getting there with government technology as well, both in terms of its availability and adoption. I remember how much wariness there was when PayByPhone was introduced as an alternative to paycards for parking. Now, though, 80% of all parking payments are made through the app, something which underlines the fact that people like using technology.”

And the Island’s infrastructure, Mr Moretta says, makes Jersey an ideal sandbox for companies and entrepreneurs to try out their ideas.

“Whether you are talking about autonomous vehicles, drone flights or data trusts, we are in a great position to advertise Jersey as a technology island,” he said.

“Islands are known for being really good test beds and, because we control our own air space, have our own regulator, our own information commissioner, our own air-traffic control and the right infrastructure, we can pilot all these ideas.”

Of all the projects launched or nurtured during 2023, the one which perhaps excites Mr Moretta the most is the data trust.

“Jersey has been setting up and running trusts for 60 years and is famous around the world for doing so,” he said. “The future of artificial intelligence and technology is centred around data, and yet no one has cracked how you control the stewardship of that data.

“Organisations have set up structures which they call ‘data trusts’ but they are not based on any trust laws or regulation. Now, imagine if you combine a data trust with Jersey’s digital twin [a virtual representation of the Island designed to enable data-driven decisions to be made in a low-risk environment] and there are so many potential uses to help shape the Island’s future.

“As an example, you could map people’s journeys, with information about different modes of transport and data from the bus company to look at areas such as transport links and energy consumption. By sharing all that information to plan future infrastructure developments, you would really position Jersey as a smart island.”

While the technology options may be unlimited, Mr Moretta says that discipline is key.

“You have to measure the impact of any innovation,” he said. “There is no point just throwing technology at the wall and seeing what sticks. Any innovation should have a measurable benefit for the individual, community or sector using it. With that in mind, we will be looking at ways to address healthcare and environmental challenges, and will be making more announcements about these areas in the coming months.”

Also in the coming weeks or months, this year’s cohort of Bootcampers will complete its 12-week training schedule, another Grindstone accelerator programme will take place, a number of courses will be delivered through the Digital Jersey academy and the next round of Impact Jersey funding will be announced.

“This only scratches the surface of the work which we will be carrying out in 2024,” said Mr Moretta. “There will also be a lot of work to continue the initiatives launched last year, and before, and we will continue to represent Jersey on the global stage while also building our data trusts – which are now attracting interest from overseas – as well as further expanding the work of Impact Jersey. While last year’s applications were for relatively small amounts of money, more funding will be available this year to support those projects which focus on some of the specific challenge areas – such as healthcare, productivity and the environment – which we have agreed with the government.”

With so much on the cards for the next 12 months, it seems a fair assumption that 2024 could just surpass 2023 as the organisation’s busiest year.

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