In our latest RECRUIT.FYI column, Gareth Biggerstaff, the CEO of Be-IT considers Brexit and asks what it all means for the UK’s IT sector.
All over the country small businesses, charities and just about every type of organisation from church groups to call centres are trying to work out what GDPR will mean for them.
There is no shortage of people with opinions to offer – Google ‘GDPR advice for small businesses‘ and you will probably find that the top-half of the page is taken up with Google ads on the subject.
The organic search results are full of companies keen to sell you their expertise in a subject which they have been frantically mugging up on, learning as they go over the last six to 12 months. Now, they are sure enough to charge you a fee for their expertise on GDPR, with its major implications for almost all of us – none of which have been tested in law yet.
Remind you of anything?
Events Dear Boy…
When it comes to Brexit and IT (or, to be honest, anything to do with Brexit), the challenge is to write something that won’t be overtaken by events. Although the media speculate daily on every utterance from Brussels and Westminster (because they have to), with each major newspaper taking its normal (i.e biased) editorial line, in reality, unless it all goes hideously wrong (always a possibility) it currently looks as if we’re going to end up with a softish Brexit after lots of the usual shenanigans, arguments and finger-pointing.
Clearly, it may go hideously wrong, or, let’s be fair, it might go hideously right and in five years time we’ll be counting our blessings that we didn’t stay in. Can you honestly say you know what’s going to happen between now and 2023 – or even 2020? It all depends on if/whether they – the government – get it right and, of course, on all those exogenous variables (MacMillan’s “events, dear boy…“) that conspire to boost or deflate the world economy.
A Big If/Whether
However, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that, given the way the Prime Minister and her team have conducted things so far, this is a big if/whether. Although it’s not really in the EU’s interests to knacker Britain, for all sorts of reasons, from commerce to defence, there is always the chance that, as in the fable of the scorpion and the frog, each side plays the part of the scorpion and fatally wounds the other.
Irrespective of anyone’s political views, no-one in business, surely, wishes for things to go badly wrong. We might despair about this or that outcome, the lack of clarity, the obfuscation, the (let’s be honest for they – EU and UK – are all politicians) downright lies, but at the end of the day we are here to make money, to create employment, pay the tax that’s due to fund public services and contribute to society.
A Well-Designed Immigration Strategy
This wish that it all goes well applies in spades for IT talent, where a well-designed immigration strategy ought to allow the people we need (and the UK people other countries need) to come and go worldwide (although the shambles of sorting out rights for EU citizens in the UK doesn’t fill me with confidence – that ought to have been one of the easiest things to agree). Certainly, an ability to bring in IT talent from outside the EU far more easily than is now the case would be a very desirable outcome.
In the medium-term, opportunities ought to improve for IT businesses in new markets as the greater part of world economic growth will be outside the EU in the next 10–15 years. We in the West need to realise that the 21st century is not ‘ours’ to control. It’s obvious to anyone taking a long view of economic history that the 19th century was controlled by the British, in the 20th century the Americans took over and in the 21st century China and possibly India will become the dominant powers. The amount of IT talent in those last two countries is frightening and, in an ideal world, free movement of peoples – free trade generally – would benefit everyone.
All of the above is, of course, underpinned by a degree of wishful thinking and the aforementioned desire on the part of business and industry to succeed. At present, the single biggest thing that we need from the Brexit negotiations is clarity.
Even if one doesn’t agree with what the government is doing, at least we would then know where we are (probably) heading. However, that’s assuming that the government does know what the end result of Brexit should be. At the time of writing, the cabinet are being taken away to Chequers to try and come to an agreement on a post-Brexit vision for Britain and Northern Ireland. This should have been the top item on an agenda the day after the referendum result…
In the short term, by which I mean 2018, Brexit will be beneficial for the IT sector. Although it’s not actually anything to do with Brexit per se, the GDPR ‘industry’ that has developed over the last 12 months, shows how this will work.
In the short-medium term, the need for changes to the regulatory framework between the UK, the EU and the rest of the world will also provide a huge boost to technology firms. The problem of what happens at our border (with Ireland especially) looms large and, while it may in theory only take a few minutes to clear goods via WTO rules, it seems obvious to me that virtually frictionless borders are what we should be aiming for.
The systems to allow this to happen will be large, complex and not cheap. And when we look at services (financial services in particular) it is again clear that technology will have an increasingly vital role to play as we all try to create the best possible result out of whatever Brexit actually brings. It’s going to be a roller-coaster ride, with a lot of very scary loops and the odd crash or three but unless we get the tech right –as it underpins Brexit and those regulatory frameworks and as a means to powering the economy at large – we will have more chance of the disastrous outcome that no sane business wants.