The Digital Sector is Dead. Long Live Digital

Much has been said, asked and prophesied about jobs in the digital sector over the next 3-5 years. This framing of the debate fundamentally understates the impact of the current transition in which every business is becoming a digital business. Although some businesses will be more digital than others, 90% of the workforce will require digital skills to do their jobs. Any consideration of impact or policy in the context of a ‘digital sector’ misses the point. Digital is an attribute of businesses in all sectors and not a sector defining characteristic. To illustrate this point, consider, one of the new breed of digitally enabled businesses emerging from the East London technology hothouse. Hassle is an online marketplace for residential cleaning. The business succeeds because technology enables service discovery, booking,payment and reputation management. But nonetheless, Hassle is disrupting the cleaning services sector, not the digital sector. And it is the digitally savvy micro-businesses within the cleaning services sector (i.e. self-employed cleaners) who will benefit from the disruption by using Hassle to cost effectively acquire, interact with and retain their customers.

One category of loser in this transition is traditional agencies who relied upon economies of scale through greater reach and the affordability  of marketing and other important business processes at their scale.  The other category of loser is the self-employed cleaner who does not embrace and use digital technology to acquire the competitive edge that it offers.

It is this last point which makes the learning of core digital skills so important for all children, not just for those who will become big data analysts, game developers or rocket scientists. Being digitally intuitive will be akin to being literate or numerate – a sine qua non in the modern world.

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Chris Mairs

About Chris Mairs

Chris is Chief Scientist at Metaswitch Networks and is also Chair of Code Club, a Not For Profit organization providing after school clubs in over 2,000 UK primary schools. He is a fellow of The Royal Academy of Engineering and in the 2014 New Year’s Honours List was awarded a CBE for services to engineering. Being blind himself, he delivered the 2006 IET/BCS Turing Memorial lecture entitled “Lifestyle Access for the Disabled – adding positive drift to the random walk with technology”. Chris’s 35 year career has been in communications software, working with many of the largest global players in the computer and telecommunications industries, including IBM, Microsoft, AT&T and BT. He has a first class degree in Computer Science from Cambridge University and was one of the founders of Metaswitch, where he spent many years as CTO. He now spends much of his time mentoring UK start-ups around Tech City, where he is also an active early stage investor.