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Martin Gilbert: Technology is the key to a prosperous future and the north-east is playing a leading role

Martin Gilbert.
Martin Gilbert.

Technology is now an indispensable feature of everyday life and its importance is increasing exponentially.

That was already the case pre-pandemic, but it took lockdown to demonstrate just how crucial an asset high-tech communications systems are, with Zoom replacing personal contact and digital technology enabling entrepreneurs to carry on with businesses which, in many cases, would otherwise have failed.

Technology isn’t just a help to business, its development is itself a major industry and this country is at the forefront in technical innovation.

Digital technology is Scotland’s fastest-growing sector for inward investment.”

Scotland is home to 11,200 technology companies employing about 100,000 people.

The sector is growing one and a half times faster than the overall economy and contributes around £7 billion to Scottish GVA (the gross value added measure of economic growth).

It’s a wide-ranging industry, embracing a vast variety of sectors, including data science, cyber security, the key financial services or fintech sector, water and wastewater services and even space technology.

The Scottish Government’s national strategy for economic transformation, published this month, announced the creation of a digital productivity fund to support businesses in implementing new technologies.

FinTech Scotland, the Scottish cluster body, has published an industry-led fintech research and innovation “roadmap” for the expansion of the financial technology sector over the next decade.

It aims to deliver an additional 20,000 fintech-related jobs and to increase, through innovation, the sector’s GVA from £500 million to more than £2bn by 2031.

Last year saw record investment of around £650m in Scottish technology start-ups and scale-up companies, as venture capital investors increasingly back this flourishing sector.

Digital technology is Scotland’s fastest-growing sector for inward investment.

Aberdeen and the north-east are heavily engaged in technology industries.

Driving this commitment is One Tech Hub, in Aberdeen, developed by Opportunity North East (One), in partnership with Robert Gordon University and One CodeBase.

It is home to the digital technology entrepreneurial community in the north-east, with a wide range of mentors and investors within reach to help promote innovation.

The terrible situation in Ukraine has led to a renewed focus on energy security and will hasten the move to renewables through technology.”

EnergyTech, delivered by One in partnership with Barclays Eagle Labs and CodeBase, is a programme connecting emerging digital tech companies with major players from across the energy industry to drive digital transformation and culture change in the sector.

Fifteen emerging digital technology companies participated in the first 12-month programme, including Aberdeen-based eCERTO.

Hugh Little, my old friend and former colleague at Aberdeen Asset Management and now north-east regional chairman of Par Equity, an investor in growing technology companies including Granite City-based Verlume, recently highlighted a need for culture change.

He claimed some energy operators had remained focused on oil and gas for too long, instead of addressing net-zero priorities.

The terrible situation in Ukraine has led to a renewed focus on energy security and will hasten the move to renewables through technology.

Hugh is confident the region will play a key role, saying: “There’s no question Aberdeen ought to be the centre of excellence in all of this.”

The city already has claims to be a leader in many technological fields.

Aberdeen was the first city in the UK to experiment with fibre-to-the-premises and the first to have access to super-fast broadband.

Digital ambition

In the digital tech sector, One’s ambition is to grow 10 to 20 of the region’s more than 200 digital companies to a turnover of around £20m and to have international operations by 2028.

These include Solab IT Services, developer of a software platform managing offshore crewing, training and certification, and Intelligent Plant, which uses real-time data to monitor and improve the performance and energy efficiency of equipment and processes.

An important technology-based contribution to energy transition is being made by the Net Zero Technology Centre, formerly OGTC, which I have the privilege of chairing.

It was created five years ago as part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal.

oil and gas communities
Oil and gas has a vital role in the energy transition.

Recognising fossil fuels can play their part in energy transition, the centre focuses on delivering technology to drive emissions reduction, energy systems integration, and deployment of digitisation and automation – the Offshore Energy 4.0 initiative.

Over five years the centre has co-invested £192m with industry, approved more than 300 projects, screened 1,450 technologies and completed 86 field trials.

Exciting challenges include exploring the potential of carbon sequestration, and blue and green hydrogen.

The Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub programme, a partnership between Aberdeen City Council and BP, will catalyse growth of green hydrogen use in the transport sector.

Technology is the key to a prosperous future and the north-east is playing a leading role.

Martin Gilbert is a co-founder and former chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management.

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