WHEN I look at the UK and the ongoing Brexit uncertainty, plus the recent general election campaign, then across to the United States where the headlines swing between 2020 election campaigning and the inquiry which is threatening to impeach the President, it is a helpful reminder that Jersey’s relative stability, its world-class infrastructure, and the ability to make decisions in a fleet-of-foot way when needed might be something we take for granted, but is also something other jurisdictions look at with growing envy.
2019 has been a hugely significant year for both Digital Jersey and the Island’s growing digital sector, with major gains across the board and a year of implementing some very solid and meaningful foundations to ensure that 2020 is a year where we can continue to grow our success in the Island and our reputation for excellence away from our shores.
I think back to the start of the year when we opened DJX, the Digital Jersey Xchange, in St Brelade. It is our dedicated technology space and research centre where we have been able to show off to delegations from around the world the advances that are happening on our doorstep.
Indeed, we presented our annual report in virtual-reality format at the start of the year, a novel way to showcase what we are doing but also to acknowledge that Jersey has a really talented cluster of virtual-reality businesses developing new and exciting projects.
But DJX has also been home to machine-learning projects, myriad courses and workshops, and I have been heartened to see so many schools connecting with our space as part of their own commitment to developing digital skills.
And it is skills which we placed at the centre of a key piece of work, which began just last year, to create a formal Digital Skills Strategy, which – in the space of just 18 months – led directly to the official opening of the new Digital Jersey Academy.
To see our first cohort of bright, curious and digitally focused students starting the Digital Leadership Programme is a tangible outcome of the hard work put in by my team, by many in industry across the digital spectrum, and by those in government who have been instrumental in championing our work and recognising the difference it can make to growing the Island’s economy as a whole.
Indeed, we commissioned the Tech Nation report to give us an ‘outside-in’ perspective on just how we are faring. It found that Jersey’s digital sector is now on a par with hospitality in terms of its contribution to the economy, and we now regularly hear people talking with pride about all things digital, in the same breath as finance and tourism, when they trumpet to visitors what Jersey is excelling at.
And, before anybody points out I’ve not yet mentioned agriculture, that is a sector which deserves praise and attention for the way many within it are themselves embracing the opportunities digital offers to boost their own productivity and to show that even the most traditional of industries can lead the way with innovation.
Part of Jersey’s 2019 story has been the ability to shout about its world-class fibre broadband network which reaches every home in the Island. We have the third-fastest download speeds on the planet. If you have been to the UK in recent months and downloaded a movie to your device, you may well have seen the difference, and realised just how good we have it here.
Our Sandbox Jersey proposition, pitching Jersey to the world as an all-island testbed for businesses looking to test products and services in a ready-made user group is paying dividends. We had huge interest following the official launch of our proposition at TechUK in London, and our new project with AirSensa to install an Islandwide air-quality-monitoring network is now under way. This is about solving problems in Jersey, but also giving people around the world the chance to see how these things work. We can achieve proof of concept, and then export our homegrown success.
While those in the digital sector tend to keep their heads down and get on with their innovative work, the Jersey TechAwards were an opportunity to shine a light on some of that work.
We had a record number of entries, from a more diverse range of organisations and sectors, notably from the finance sector where the opportunities afforded by the growth of fintech, position Jersey as a place to innovate.
We are developing what we are calling a fintech ‘roadmap’ in conjunction with Jersey Finance, and are recruiting a fintech champion to lead this work to drive the technological transformation of the finance sector. We have created a steering group where Digital Jersey, Jersey Finance, government and the Jersey Financial Services Commission are working as one to really drive the fintech agenda.
If 2019 was about putting all these pieces in place, 2020 will be about maximising potential. It will be about focusing on growth with all our members, it will be about targeted digital marketing overseas so the world knows what Jersey is doing. And it will be about doubling down on my team’s work to make doing business and getting things done in Jersey as easy as possible.
It is the perfect time to reflect on all we have achieved over the past 12 months, and a time to commit to making 2020 one where Jersey’s digital sector grows in size and success.