The UK private sector must take more bets on technology if it is to compete with its European neighbours.
Speaking to City A.M., the UK & Ireland chief executive of American tech giant IBM, Sreeram Visvanathan, urged businesses to “be bolder” and “find niches” to give UK inc. an edge above other markets.
“We can’t just leave it to the startups – the billion-dollar companies that are being created digitally. We also have to move existing big companies that have been the bellwethers for economies to be digitally native,” he said. “Be bolder about taking risk. Don’t look at these technologies as being nice to have but think of them as being essential for future survival.”
IBM, the 111-year-old tech company behind the barcodes you see in the supermarket, has been supporting businesses looking to pursue avenues into artificial intelligence (AI), as well as cloud and quantum computing as part of a £210m Hartree partnership with government, announced last year.
“Every industry is going to be reinvented, reorganised in the next ten years and we’re going to see winners and losers emerge,” he said. “The winners will be those who have been investing in tech over the last five years.”
The UK’s current tech and STEM skills shortage, however, has weighed on businesses attempting to break through into the digital sphere.
While the UK government has “attractive” programmes that subsidise graduate hiring and internships, allowing businesses like IBM to “really lean in and invest ahead of demand”, the private sector could be doing more.
“Businesses need to take ownership frankly,” Visvanathan, who succeeded Bill Kelleher in the top role in 2020, continued. “If you don’t address that skills issue at scale then the markets that do cross that skills issue are going to get the advantage.”