My Column

Business and society tech the initiative

  • Date: Monday 4th May 2020
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Like myself, I imagine the vast majority of the Scottish public are getting a little square-eyed spending so much time indoors staring at a computer monitor, tablet or television screen. 

However, whether it’s for work or for play, this digital way of life has created a ‘new’ normal for people all across Scotland, the UK and even the world.

Businesses have been no exception to this innovative, yet necessary approach to the norm - with certain sectors in Scotland turning this digital redefinition of daily life into a technological revolution.  

According to a report published last week by ScotlandIS, Scotland’s trade body for the digital technologies industry, the demand for digital tech companies has skyrocketed due to the Covid-19 lockdown. With working from home impacting on the very way business is done, optimism in the sector is showing. 

The research found that out of the 200 businesses in the sector, a third believe that they will see an increase in demand for digital tech services such as app development, cloud services, digital connectivity, remote working technology and digital health solutions.

The need for businesses to adapt and respond to the current climate and the unprecedented challenges that Coronavirus has brought with it has created a huge boost for the tech sector.

You don’t have to look far to see who is doing well at this current time. As food and drink businesses closed their doors to the general public under lockdown, the demand for Dundee-based software firm Hungrr surged.

The web design development team saw its customer base double in the first two weeks of lockdown in March, as their web design and ecommerce software is tailor made to help restaurants and hotels create a streamlined process allowing customers to order food online, set for delivery. 

A number of cafes and restaurants who’ve never delved into the cyber world of online ordering before have been able to reach their audience thanks to this software, and it’s not the only way that a burgeoning tech sector has been able to aid businesses across the country.

Social distancing and further new policies introduced by supermarket chains during this time has made popping out for a simple loaf of bread a much more challenging affair. While these restrictions are in place to protect members of the public, Edinburgh-based technology company Neatebox has flagged that it could have an adverse effect for people with either visible or hidden disabilities.

To help support those most in need for assistance while shopping, Neatebox have developed their free ‘Welcome’ app, which allows users to give their supermarket or shopping venue a head’s up about any specific assistance that they may need whilst there.

Neatebox founder Gavin Neate said that the application was vital in reacting to the sudden implementation of new rules for supermarket staff, who may not have received the training required to assist customers with additional support needs, such as the blind or people with autism. 

The software will not only notify the shop with an overview of the customer’s condition, it provides staff with necessary guidance from appropriate charity organisations to ensure they have everything they need to assist the person in every way they can.

As uplifting as these new innovations are and the general optimism from ScotlandIS, there’s still plenty of challenges that the sector is expecting to face.

A survey undertaken by Turing Fest, ahead of its annual conference for tech businesses in Edinburgh this August, has suggested that start-ups within the sector could be most at risk.

According to the statistics, more than 100 tech start-up founders and senior executives in Scotland believe the pandemic will have a significant impact on Scotland’s digital economy, by potentially putting promising early-stage companies out of business and leaving thousands of jobs at risk.

As shaky as the ground currently is however, I feel that several weeks into lockdown the Scottish digital tech sector has showcased that the best defence is a good, outside-of-the-box office through innovative quick thinking.

Regardless of what the future brings, as long as businesses react accordingly with smart ideas and the technology to help get us through this - Scotland’s digital industry may still live ‘app-ily ever after.

Side 

These are unprecedented times, so that’s exactly why the government and business should be working together to get the economy back on track.

 

Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case and a group of small businesses has been forced to go to court to force the Scottish government to honour a £2.2 billion commitment.

 

Two Edinburgh companies, Bruce Taverns and Kilimanjaro Coffee, are seeking a judicial review, arguing ministers behaved in a way that was “irrational” and “unlawful” by failing to fulfil a pledge to hand over every penny of emergency funds made available by the UK chancellor.

 

The action – supported by affected companies across Scotland – seeks to secure exactly the same compensation as in England and Wales.

 

And Judge Lord Fairley has agreed that the petition is “competent” and “suitable for urgent consideration” in the Court of Session.

 

Controversy erupted last month after Mr Sunak announced a £20 billion UK-wide fund to help retail, hospitality and leisure companies maintain cash flow, providing a one-year rates holiday and grants of up to £25,000 for every property operated by a business.

 

Nicola Sturgeon said she would pass on “every penny”, however within days it emerged that Scottish businesses would receive only one payment of £25,000, regardless of how many properties they had.

 

A backlash from Scottish firms forced Holyrood ministers into a partial U-turn but many are still receiving 25 per cent less in grants than their English counterparts.

 

Jon Sharp, of Kilimanjaro Coffee, said: “There is no logic to the Scottish government’s behaviour. We simply want the same deal as businesses in England and Wales.”

 

I have to say I agree entirely with him and it will be interesting to see what the judicial review finds.

 

If judges find that money has been withheld from Scottish businesses by their own government, that’s a national scandal.

 

Laugh

In times like these it’s amazing to witness communities coming together to raise awareness and funds for fantastic charities and local causes.

There are countless examples of Scots making a difference including Olivia Strong who created Run for Heroes campaign raising £5 million for NHS workers. 

Who can deny the global sensation that is Captain Tom who raised more than £30 million for NHS Charities? He’s certainly been an inspiration to many including Perthshire grandad Alan Harper.

He’s walking around his garden 20 times a day for 20 days, dressed as a garden gnome all in aid of child bereavement charity Richmond's Hope. 

You can always count on Scottish humour to get you through and it’s amazing to see the positive results of communities coming together.

Weep

Losing loved ones is always difficult but as I’ve touched on before it feels more heart-breaking now than ever before due to lockdown measures.

Government enforced restrictions mean only immediate family can attend funerals and mourners are not allowed to take a cord or shake hands following the ceremony.

One business which has tried to overcome this is Fosters Family Funeral Directors who are offering to live stream ceremonies so that friends and family can view services and pay their respects from home. Digital orders of service and memorial cards can also be made available.

It really is inspiring to witness the innovation of businesses at this time especially when it’s not created to make a profit but simply to overcome barriers, connect people and enable them to say goodbye.

 

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