The Solent region has many competitive advantages that it should be rightly proud of. A fantastic location with its mix of coast and countryside. A cultural and ecological heritage with great attractions for those that live, work and visit the region. From a UK perspective, the Solent is one of the sunniest places (Shanklin, Isle of Wight got the top spot in 2020 with 262 hours, 19 minutes and 2 seconds of sunshine!). The Solent is a very special place.
One other advantage the region has which should generate more headlines is the size of the digital sector. Yet our digital and tech community is still a hidden gem. TechSolent aims to change this.
The regions digital economy in the central south is the fastest growing sector of the economy and supports over 100,000 jobs and c.20% of the regions GVA. This is massive and probably larger than published. Because many jobs in other sectors such as marine, defence and financial services are using digital skills, talent and services.
As we have experienced with Covid, the shift to digital working, shopping and understanding data (the 'R' rate) is becoming ever more important. We citizens are wanting to know more about the world around us. Who has got what, when and why? We are becoming hungry for data and stories that make sense of the data. This is important as we shift to a "smarter" world, where data will deliver experiences that we know are not magic, but when they happen they will be magical.
This shift to a data-centric world, be that for helping us make decisions; or, through enabling new experiences which match our needs and wants to the service we enjoy, are where the jobs of tomorrow are going to be found. Therefore, ensuring the region is equipped from a digital infrastructure and skills perspective to continue to thrive in this ever-growing sector is critical.
For me, the role I want to see TechSolent take on is to ensure that all of us living, working and visiting the region have access to this new digital world. Which means we need to knuckle down and remove the digital exclusion. No child, adult, community or group should be restricted in their access to digital tools and services.
So from an infrastructure perspective, for example, improving data access speed. Every home and business should have ultra-fast broadband (Gigabit +). Rural communities should have 4G at a minimum. Mobile blackspots should be a thing of the past. As we embrace 5G and look forward to 6G (yes, that will be here eventually), we not only have great connectivity but a trained and motivated population that can take advantage of it too.
This means we TechSolent will be a collaborator with other regionally focused groups such as PfSH (Partnership for South Hampshire); GreenTech South and Future South as well as the other key stakeholders including the local universities and colleges. All having a role in delivering a successful and sustainable region.
Regarding sustainability, the region has a chance to enable a rapid but smooth shift to a low carbon economy. This will likely involve changes to how we travel, how we consume, how we measure what 'good' looks like. Digital technology will have a part to play in this new how we live set up. So it is incumbent on those of us who are trained and motivated to share our passion and knowledge of how digital tools and services, datasets and algorithms can make this necessary change happen.
The second ask of TechSolent I want to see is for us to promote, develop and grow our talent and impact to society. Yet it also has to be resilient and sustainable to ensure we have the skills, the knowledge and the passion to exploit technology and the new digital services and experiences for the longer term and not just for today and tomorrow.
Overall, this means we as a community need to engage more. We need to shout louder. We need to de-mystify the magic of technology. Yet at the same time create well-engineered, secure, robust and resilient solutions, services and experiences. We, therefore, need to collaborate and learn from each other. We have to support all our stakeholders, organisations and the diverse business communities that make up the TechSolent ecosystem.