Digital Challenge reveals growth drivers in UK economy Print
Written by David Brunnen   
Monday, 05 August 2013 18:53

NextGen logoThe Next Generation Digital Challenge is an annual awards competition that tracks growth and innovation in the UK.  This year’s record entry reflects strong economic growth flowing from uptake of online capabilities. 

In previous years the focus has been almost entirely on the challenges of investment in digital utility networks to unleash the UK’s potential for enterprise and community development.

Now in 2013 the Digital Challenge reflects a far greater emphasis on the way this new connectivity is being applied.  After an Open Call for nominations the entries have been classified into six categories – three of which track the established infrastructure challenges and three new categories provide exemplars in the development of Open Data, Digital Skills and Digital Innovation.  The shortlisted finalists in each category are listed here.


The Open Data category captured a broad group of public and private initiatives reflecting greater awareness of the demand for mobile, cloud-based and high-performance computing.  The lead shown by the UK’s central government, the Open Data Institute and agencies such as Ordnance Survey, together with greater media attention to Data Journalism, is also evident in regulatory and societal pressures for greater transparency and openness in business and in local government.


In the Digital Skills arena where the awards category is sponsored by Go ON UK, the entries include a range of initiatives aimed at enterprise and youth education as well as the 15% of the population who are currently digitally excluded.  The rapid rate of development of new services and technologies underscores the need for continuing skills education.  In the UK economy there is no longer a simple distinction between the digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.  This and a number of design issues have been brought into sharp focus by the government’s ‘Digital by Default’ programme.


It has been long recognised that economic growth stems from innovations largely pioneered by small enterprises.  They bring massive benefit to local economies and often address global markets but they also illustrate another key characteristic of the digitalised economy – their leadership is intensely collaborative.  Out-dated and over-simplistic notions of competitive independence are at last being put into a more mature perspective.   The Digital Innovation category is sponsored by the Knowledge Transfer Network for ICT – a part of the UK government Business Department’s  investment in the Technology Strategy Board.


But underlying all these growth themes, the need for fresh approaches to provision of digital infrastructures is clearly evident in the Digital Challenge’s Network categories.  

Some cautious but influential investors have long been puzzled; asking ‘Why does anyone need this capacity?’, debating the strength of demand and seeking short-tem revenue justifications.   These investment challenges, however, are far less apparent when network enterprises take an intensely local perspective.

Distinctions between business and residential connectivity needs are increasingly seen as irrelevant.  This shift to a local design focus is most recognizable in community-centric Urban and Rural Fixed Network categories but, with only patchy improvements in Mobile cellular service, the popularity of WiFi and alternative wide-area wireless networks is also growing.  It is also becoming clear that the old notion of a single national service (such as that developed for telephony) is no longer relevant – particularly in fully fibred and future-proofed access networks.

As part of a wider evaluation of the major impacts of the UK’s increasingly digitalised economy the Next Generation Digital Challenge Awards Finalists will be featured in a special session during the two-day NextGen13 conference at Wembley in October.



The NextGen themes for 2013 were set out in the paper 'Economic Revitalisation' published in December 2012.







Last Updated on Monday, 05 August 2013 19:23