Jersey is taking its place on the world stage as a digital economy

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MY past life and current one collided last week, as commercial DAB digital radio came to the Channel Islands.

I say past and present life because I used to be responsible for promoting digital radio in the UK a decade ago as chief executive of what is now Digital Radio UK. What it means for us all now is that we are able to listen to our local radio stations on DAB, as well as several national ones, including Virgin Radio.

That is good news for many of us who have struggled to get decent signals for radio listening, and good news for tourism as I was able to introduce Chris Evans’ team to Visit Jersey to celebrate DAB’s launch with a breakfast show live from the beach here, showing off what a great place we have to visit.

Concurrently, I was taking the time to reflect on the past decade for another reason. BBC World Service radio’s Digital Planet programme also came to Jersey last week. The programme, which covers tech and digital news from around the world, hosted a discussion panel with myself, fintech entrepreneur Nick Ogden, who founded WorldPay, and Rebecca Curtis, impact officer for Jersey Overseas Aid.

The title of the programme was ‘How Jersey is leading tech development’. The conversation focused on what we are doing here, and how that is being exported around the globe. It is another milestone for us as our digital industry gains recognition internationally, and I was delighted to see that the programme described Jersey as being ‘at the forefront of development for digital technology’. It also said of the Island: ‘Known for its financial tech, it’s also leading the way in ecological and medical technology too.’

In addition to the panel discussion, the team travelled around the Island in Evie electric cars, speaking to those who are harnessing technology in some of our more traditional industries. Dairy farmer Becky Houzé talked about how she uses digital to monitor her cows and milking, and the Jersey Royal Company showed the team their drones and Internet of Things sensors which they use to monitor potato crops.

The team also went up to the Airport and looked at the virtual control tower, viewing technology which enables our skies to be safe in the event of a catastrophic event taking out existing air-traffic-control provisions. This is also technology which is being exported away from the Island.

And they visited a Crab Shack to see how the JPRestaurants group had developed an ordering system to help combat the Covid pandemic and made their restaurants function more smoothly in the future.

Assistant Chief Minister Carolyn Labey, who has launched the Island Identity project, also spoke about how digital was helping to protect and enhance our identity as an independent island by supporting all areas of our economy and lifestyles. These interviews will be used in a later programme, giving Jersey another opportunity to showcase our successes.

The important thread for that programme was not just to look at how well our digital industry is doing as a separate pillar of the economy, but how much it is doing to help all the other businesses that make up the identity of our Island.

Which brings me back to why Jersey Overseas Aid was included in the BBC World Service discussion. They, too, have recognised the importance of digital and are increasing their funding for technology projects abroad. These include a biodiversity project in Rwanda, where technology is being used to record the effect that communities are having on their forests. These data are then shown to those communities so that they can learn how to work with their environment and make it work for their livelihoods, rather than destroying it.

Back home, in the late 1990s, Nick Ogden founded WorldPay in the Island. In 2019, it was sold for $43 billion. While the business almost certainly would have had to leave our Island due to its scale, it was forced to leave very early in its development due to the lack of necessary skills here.

We have been working hard since then to ensure that such a scenario does not happen again. Through the Digital Academy, we are upskilling our workforce, helping those displaced through automation and Covid, as well as ensuring we have the right skills for now and the future.

We have had plenty of other home-grown digital successes since Worldpay. Online beauty retailer feelunique has recently been sold, but its founders still live in Jersey. One of them, Aaron Chatterley, was also interviewed by the BBC for the upcoming programme. Yet there are plenty of other smaller-scale entrepreneurial ventures which are making a difference, such as Stephen Catterson, who developed the LinkPro Explore 1 ski helmet that uses digital technology to provide smart communications and music while skiing.

There are also fintech solutions being developed in conjunction with our world-class finance industry, which aims to be the easiest offshore finance centre to do business with digitally. In addition, our sandbox initiatives are encouraging entrepreneurs to come and test their digital solutions here, bringing investment, skills and jobs.

All of these technologies are enabled by our excellent connectivity, which includes full 1GB fibre available to every home and business in the Island, three 4G networks and three Internet of Things networks.

JT, which invested in that fibre network, has recently sold its IoT division, which is number two in the world in terms of IoT connectivity, to a private equity investor who is keeping the new business here. Apart from bringing money into the Island, the sale will also see JT continuing to supply services to the business, which means inward investment and employment. The sale again highlights that Jersey is a fantastic place to innovate and grow digital businesses that can be exported globally.

Jersey is taking its place on the international stage as a digital economy. Technology is not only enabling our Island to prosper by protecting and enhancing existing industries, but it is also tackling poverty and inequality globally.

We are not just originating technology here to use locally, but exporting it. There are benefits to every one of us, and we should be immensely proud of what we are achieving, and have yet to do.

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