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Our Ask from the Next Mayor of West Midlands

As the Mayoral election is approaching, techUK asked the Centre for the New Midlands for their ‘asks’ of the winning candidate.

The UK strategy towards developing knowledge economy and innovation as a superpower within the international stage is heavily dependent on advancement in technology and sciences to ensure social and economical growth and drive innovation and productivity across the regions.

The West Midlands tech sector is worth £15bn to the UK economy and with further investment in areas such as the regions Gigafactory, 5G and Connectivity Infrastructure, National Physics Laboratory, Innovation Centres, skills development, and support for our SMEs, therefore the region has been seen as the pivot of UK knowledge economy and innovation.

techUK’s Local Digital Index demonstrated that the West Midlands has some significant strengths noting “the West Midlands CA area has strong digital infrastructure scores with gigabit broadband at over 88% coverage and 5G coverage over 95%” but also need to improve finance and investment for firms in the region. Additionally the region has a Digital GVA of £2,055 per head, above the UK median but behind the North West and almost £500 per head behind the East of England.

As the West Midlands region gears up for its Mayoral election in May, the digital leaders board of Centre for New Midlands Think Thank believes that the next Mayor of the West Midlands should address the key points from the following areas:

Complex Adaptive Systems Engineering – Professor Ardavan Amini

As technology capabilities are developed to address societal and business challenges, the importance of simplifying our systems through systems engineering approaches and system thinking in order to capture and transfer the knowledge for optimal innovation and productivity of the solutions is key to our future success.

The West Midlands Mayor should invest in regional programs and projects with the aim to develop skills in systems engineering and systems thinking to balance the pure technological advancement and enabling human creativity and foster an environment with focus on critical thinking and problem solving.

Cyber Security – Professor Steve Furnell

In cyber security, we believe that the focus should be to address the fundamentals, advocating for a baseline cyber literacy for individuals and cyber resilience of organisations.  One of the headline findings from the most recent UK Cyber Security Breaches Survey was a decline in basic cyber hygiene practices amongst UK organisations (particularly amongst micro businesses).  This included areas such as timely application of security updates, network protection, and issues around authentication and access rights.  Unfortunately, inattention to basic safeguards leaves exploitable vulnerabilities, which can in turn lead to the very types of cyber breach reported elsewhere in the same survey.  The fact that many incidents track back to vulnerabilities involving people also highlights the benefit of having a more cyber-literate society, which would work for the benefit of citizens themselves, and the organisations they work in.

It is all too easy for cyber security to be set aside as something for another day, particularly with budgetary challenges and competing priorities, but to overlook it opens the door to problems that can affect business at a more fundamental level.  Helping to encourage core cyber security actions at the organisational level (e.g. addressing Cyber Essentials), and promoting accompanying awareness for the people within it (e.g. following the advice from Cyber Aware) will work towards building a more fundamentally protected and resilient context for ‘business as usual’ to operate in.

Digital Transformation – Tracy Pound

Digital Transformation is such a widely abused term, many have stopped listening, but in an increasingly digital, fast paced world, tech cannot be ignored and we are struggling to prepare and skill up to face the challenges of today and the future.

Digital Transformation is transitioning from paper based, or manual non-integrated systems, into digital streamlined, and effective processes. This then enables real time data analysis in order to support future growth initiatives or prevent failures that result in a poor customer experience or the loss of a job or business. As much as Digital Transformation applies to private sector businesses, it applies to the public sector and to government, but the problem is that it needs significant investment for an organisation to understand a) how its people and systems are currently performing, and b) what and how to digitally transform.  Organisations of every size suffer from a lack of digital literacy, leading to poor digital transformation – smaller businesses because they lack the time, expertise and understanding of the benefits, and bigger businesses because often their staffing levels mask inefficiencies, and they become too big to change.

Over the last 24 years running a business in the region, I’ve been a consultant on initiatives funded by councils, local government, Business Link and ERDF, some of which have been more successful than others. Given that real change takes time and therefore costs more, what focus will there be on helping educate organisations across the board on the benefits of digital transformation, and what practical support will be available to help organisations embed sustainable, long lasting change?

VR & AR Technologies – Sargithan Senthilselvan

In the West Midlands, leveraging Digital Twin technology presents an unprecedented opportunity to revolutionise travel and tourism while enhancing city planning strategies. By implementing Digital Twins, the Mayor's office can create immersive, virtual replicas of key landmarks, attractions, and transportation networks across the region. These digital representations enable tourists to explore the West Midlands virtually, offering a preview of popular destinations and facilitating trip planning. By integrating real-time data feeds into these Digital Twins, visitors can access up-to-date information on transportation schedules, crowd densities, and event schedules, optimising their travel experiences while reducing congestion and improving the overall efficiency of transportation networks.

In terms of city planning, Digital Twins provide invaluable insights into urban infrastructure and development projects. By simulating various scenarios within the virtual environment, city planners can assess the potential impacts of new construction projects, transportation upgrades, or public space renovations before implementation. This proactive approach allows for more informed decision-making, ensuring that development initiatives align with sustainability goals, enhance community well-being, and foster economic growth. Furthermore, Digital Twins facilitate collaboration among stakeholders, including government agencies, businesses, and residents, promoting transparency and inclusivity in the planning process. By harnessing the power of Digital Twins, the Mayor of the West Midlands can pave the way for a smarter, more resilient, and visitor-friendly region, driving sustainable growth and prosperity for years to come.

Digital for SMEs – Hollie Whittles

When it comes to digital for SMEs skills and connectivity our key.

On skills, apprenticeships are a great way to help bridge the digital skills gap.  The AI era has ushered in the need for digital transformation. Organisations need to adapt their approach and upskill their workforce in order to thrive. For West Midlands businesses, leveraging apprenticeships is not just a strategic move; it is a great solution to help unlock the potential of digital skills and securing a competitive edge.

On connectivity we need to ensure when 3G is switched off that the rural parts of the West Midlands will still have mobile coverage, there’s too much emphasis on upgrading the cities and not addressing mobile and broadband issues in the outer regions.

Internet of Things – Haydn Povey

When it comes to IoT, driving connectivity for public good is important in supporting social innovation, enabling transport integration, and supporting net-zero initiatives with smart energy innovation.

From a West Midlands perspective, we believe the mayor should focus on critical projects that demonstrate the possibilities of IoT in these critical domains, enabling local skills development, and industrial leadership in key domains including connectivity and device security.

Find out more about techUK’s Mayoral Manifesto to support vibrant digital economies and better public services by following this link.


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