The Digital Drivers Reshaping Cardiff Capital Region

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With the digital revolution continually redefining the way we all live, work and play, Cardiff Capital Region today begins a series of features on the digital dynamics of our region – exploring the key drivers, discovering the up and coming innovators, spotlighting the major service providers and employers, celebrating the key collaborations, investigating the talent pipeline – and identifying where CCR can lead the UK (and the world) in digital ….

One momentous day in late 2005, the number of people using the internet reached the landmark number of One Billion, causing social scientists to start talking in earnest about the onset of a third industrial revolution, characterised by a globalised society and economy being driven by Web 2.0, social media, smartphones and digital TV.

A mere 16 years on, with 67% of Earth’s human species now ‘connected’, those same scientists now describe the world as moving into a fourth industrial age: an era technologically defined by increasingly advanced artificial intelligence that permeates our everyday lives, be it as a ‘live’ chatbot conversation when making a purchase, or an augmented reality experience when we’re at work or play.

A revolution that’s become an ongoing evolution

‘Digital’ is at the heart of these extraordinary transformations: a revolution that’s become an ongoing (and fast) evolution, to such an extent that most of us simply couldn’t imagine a non-digital world – and understandably so. Digital has ceased to be just about the computers, tools and technologies that constantly shape and reshape every part of our lives. It’s far bigger than that. Digital now offers the potential to deliver a better experience of the world to people everywhere: enhancing our enjoyment of life, empowering our participation in society, enabling businesses to create a more resilient future, strengthening the delivery of public services and the work of government – bringing a new outlook and capability to solve problems old and new.

Digital is more than computers, tools and technologies. It’s changing our culture to be more open, data-driven and designed around ‘Us’.

In essence, Digital is changing our whole culture – making us more open and transparent, allowing us to take data-driven decisions; and ultimately creating a new world where services are designed around the needs of the user, whether it’s the 24/7 Always On ‘How & When’ of making a transaction, or the individualisation of bespoke healthcare programmes tailored to the specific needs of one person.

CCR is a region at the epicentre of digital evolution.

In so many different yet all-encompassing ways, Digital is critical to CCR’s goals of building a region that’s Connected, Competitive and Resilient. It’s a connector of people, their ambitions and the opportunities to fulfil their true potential. It’s a catalyst for the continuity of investment that brings key clusters and the foundational economy to life. It’s a focus for creating the conditions where our businesses and our 1.5 million population are best equipped to embrace the future. And it’s why CCR is at the very epicentre of this technological, social and economic transformation – as a co-investor in a diverse range of digitally-based enterprises such as Creo Medical, FinTech Wales and Pharmatelligence; in a region that’s home to some of the most pioneering digital innovations, most notably in the CCR priority sectors of Artificial Intelligence, Creative Economy, Compound Semiconductors, Cybersecurity & Analytics, Energy & Environment, Fintech, MedTech and Transport & Engineering.

There are four key pillars underpinning the CCR digitalscape

The foundation is already in place to build an inclusive, prosperous digital future in CCR, with four key pillars underpinning the wide and varied South East Wales digitalscape. We’re a region being built on Digital Collaboration, Digital Connectivity, Digital Skills and Digital Opportunity – and it’s that combination of factors that may ultimately define the depth of digital success we enjoy for the decades to come.

Pillar 1: Pushing the boundaries through Digital Collaborations

Increasingly, companies of all sizes and sectors across CCR are working in close digital collaborations with academia. That could be a 12-month-old start-up such as Eat Sleep Media working with the Data Innovation Accelerator (DIA) at Cardiff University to get the insights into how, where and when their audience wants their content delivered; or industry leaders like Airbus, BT, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman working in key partnership with the University of South Wales (USW) to establish the  National Cyber Security Academy at USW’s Newport Campus.

The Cardiff Capital Region is fast becoming an ecosystem of ecosystems, built on digital centres of excellence and business-academia collaborations – and we’ll be exploring this in much deeper and wider detail later on in our series.

Pillar 2: Building the Digital Infrastructure that drives Connectivity

First class digital infrastructure is critical to achieving social and economic prosperity for every community – and it’s vital that all areas of our region have the connectivity they need to flourish. Openreach Cymru has been working valiantly throughout the COVID crisis to build superfast and ultrafast broadband networks across CCR and the rest of Wales, with newly established locally based digital providers such as OSGi also playing an increasing part in making sure that every business and community benefits from an inclusive infrastructure.

Connecting everyone to everyone is more important than ever, with the pandemic cramming an estimated five years of digital acceleration into less than 12 months – and CCR has been far-sighted in looking to power the regional digital economy in the most reliable and eco-friendly way, with our plan to incorporate a green-powered Data Centre Gigaplant as part of the proposed Fusion Nuclear Prototype Project at Aberthaw. Strong infrastructure needs sound governance of course – and the Welsh Government has been a pioneer in crafting the public sector framework that can make the very most of a super-robust network, launching the Centre for Digital Public Services in 2020 to embed consistent digital service standards across all public services. The result? CCR will be an exemplar of digital user-centricity, in all sectors, businesses, homes and communities.

Pillar 3: Nurturing Digital Talent and a Future-proofed Skills Pipeline

When the fintech start-up Wagonex moved from the digital capital of Shoreditch in London to the Tec Marina in Penarth, they cited our region’s 20,000+ people fintech talent pipeline as a key reason for their relocation. With the Fintech Research Group at Cardiff University boasting 13 academics and a range of courses, it’s little surprise that CCR is fast-becoming a major player in this fascinating and highly valuable field – and that investment in skilling-up is being replicated across all our digital specialisms in the region, including unique ground breaking facilities being established at the National Digital Exploitation Centre at Ebbw Vale and the Institute of Compound Semiconductors at Cardiff University.

Our skills strategy for the region is focused on bringing together schools, colleges and employers, to make career pathing much more seamless, through developments such as the Venture Skills & Talent Hub. There’s no room for complacency, but ‘Digital’ has been front and centre of the CCR Regional Skills Partnership 2019-2022 Skills Strategy – and despite the disruption of the pandemic, we remain on target to reach our goals and meet our ambitions across all the training programmes, with notable digital skills collaborations and development milestones achieved with each of the region’s six FE providers.  

Pillar 4: Delivering Digital Opportunity

Creating a richly diverse employer-base that offers a wide variety of career pathways is essential to attract, retain and develop digital talent in our region. Across South East Wales, we have a number of prestigious employers who house digital centres of excellence – at Admiral, Airbus, Alert Logic, BAE, BT, Cap Gemini, CSC, General Dynamics, National Office of Statistics, Next Generation Data, Openreach, SPTS Technologies and the Royal Mint – accompanied (sometimes spectacularly so) by digitally-led world-leading SMEs such as Amplifi, Antiverse, CoinCover, Credas, Digital Health Labs, Doopol, Jellagen, MyPinPad, Sonovate and TrakCel. Giving these enterprises the conditions, they need to recruit, grow and inspire digital hearts and minds will be critical to our success as a home for outstanding human capital and an economy that’s committed to realising world-class ambitions.

In this series we’ll be looking in detail at these companies to understand how digital is driving their operations, helping define their offer – and enabling them to shape the digital industry itself. And in a region where there are record number of digital start-ups year-on-year, we’ll also be discovering how co-working spaces such as IndyCube, Tec Marina and Tramshed Tech (which is expanding fast across CCR, building strategic partnerships with the likes of Barclays EagleLabs and Microsoft) are playing such an important role in incubating and accelerating digital enterprises with real promise.

With every organisation being driven in some shape or form by technology, we’re focusing our next feature on the stand-out digital performance (and performers) in our priority sectors – discovering ‘The Exceptional’, celebrating ‘The Outstanding’ and gauging our global status as a centre of digital excellence.   

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