Wales Tech Week 2023
Technology Connected’s Welsh technology showcase event came to the ICC in Newport for the first time this week, and it was an impressive affair.
It would seem, as the keynote speaker at the Women in Tech lunch Dr Parves Khan said, that “Wales tech is really giving London a run for its money.”
Among the huge number of sessions, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend discussions on:
- Tech for business growth
- Tech in the public sector
- Women in tech
- Accessibility in tech
- Responsibility in AI
- AI and humans
Here are my 23 for 2023 takeaways:
Tech for business growth
1. David Tansley, Vice Chair and Consulting Technology Partner, Deloitte: We need the workforce to see productivity as a benefit that’s relevant to them. We need high productivity, but first we need flourishing places in which to live. “The idea that humans are going to become redundant is frankly farcical”.
2. Mark Pearce, CEO & Co-Founder, Wyser: Start with the user-centred research: “What is it you want? Then you can start to blend technology.” And if you really want your start-up to make an impact, you may need to consider selling your house like Mark did!
3. Lee Sharma, CEO of SimplyDo: Technology can be great at enabling inclusivity and providing all employees with an opportunity to have a say: “It’s about those with the quiet voices having a platform to implement change”.
4. Charlotte White, VP of People Operations, Bipsync: In a world where hybrid working has become the norm, you need to invest in good AV to support inclusivity. Also, don’t focus solely on qualifications: “Hire more for potential and enable people to develop skills to carve their own way to success”.
Tech in the public sector
5. Mark Sweeny, Chief Executive, de Novo Solutions: The public sector has done well procuring the technology, “We’ve not done so well at getting people to adopt it.” We need to drive a user-centred approach.
6. Karl Hoods, Group CD&IO, Department for Energy Security & Net Zero: It’s not just the pace of change; it’s the expectation that has made things challenging. We need to work out how we can shift the bureaucracy while still being compliant, so we can do things faster. We also need to ask: “What is the problem we’re trying to solve?” with this technology. “The biggest problem isn’t tech – it’s people”.
7. Dave Mann, HR Director People Services, Ministry of Justice: We’re on a massive journey and the governance process can be frustrating. “We’re trying to simplify policies and processes so when tech does come in, we’re ready.”
8. Debbie Green, VP, COO, UKI Applications at Oracle: Services need to be citizen centric. You need three elements to be successful: product, service excellence and customer intimacy, but the latter, the need to understand customers, is really coming to the fore now. Also, the challenges are not unique to the public sector; they can be the same in the commercial sector. Success comes down to leadership – you need a strong, consistent leader: “It really isn’t the technology; it’s about the people and the culture”.
Women in tech
9. Dr Parves Khan, CEO of ESOMAR: Only 19% tech jobs are held by women and only 4.9% of venture capital fund partners are female. “It’s not because of a certain lack or disposition; it’s because there are these structural barriers and lack of support”. We’ve got to address the diversity of the investor community first to solve the challenge women face securing investment, and “When we get to the top it’s our responsibility to get other women at that table too.”
10. Scott Jones, CEO & Founder, Illustrate Digital: Gender equality in the workplace is the responsibility of employers. Be aware of and accommodate the fact that women undersell themselves in interviews. “It’s our role to try and get some balance.”
11. Liz Jones, Partner at Deloitte: Women have needed a certain level of resilience and we’ve made great progress. But “there’s still so much we need to do, as the job is nowhere near done.”
12. Dr Clare Johnson, Cyber Capability Consultant, ITSUS Consulting: Become the role model for someone else and be visible – network, get on LinkedIn: “You have to be what you can’t see”. Assess your career path with the UK Cyber skills map and try out any cyber skills via the Tryhackme website.
Accessibility in tech
13. Eleri Gibbon, Director – Services Partners UK, Microsoft: Addressing Wales’ tech skills gap starts with teaching young people in schools and getting technology in their hands, “especially in getting young girls to leverage and love tech”. Wales is one of the world’s leading customers of Microsoft’s Minecraft education edition, and one of the first countries to give schools free access to Microsoft 365 which evidences their commitment to young people.
14. Louise Harris, CEO of Tramshed Tech: We need to make IT training accessible and interesting to everyone, and tier it. “There’s a lot of great courses …but there’s a lot of barriers to entry in those courses.” People need safe spaces where they can go and ask questions in person about technology, especially when they’re frightened of it. “We often feel like (technology) is something that happens to us…as though we don’t have control over it.”
15. Ben Allwright, Chief Executive Officer, Ogi: Connectivity is such a foundation stone for modern society. We need to give everybody the skills, the confidence, and the access they need to participate fully in society. “Technology is brilliant in so many ways but it’s also incredibly marginalising if you’re not on that bus… There are lots of exciting programmes underway, but there’s an awful lot more to do to get to a digitally confident Wales.”
16. Martin Downes, Learning and Development Programme Lead, Cwmpas: Digital will soon be just the water everybody swims in. We can make it more accessible by bringing people together to brainstorm social challenges and then asking “What’s the digital version of this: “start with what we care about…through a design thinking process.”
17. ChatGPT’s take: Collaboration between industry, public sector, government, and communities is essential for driving positive change and fostering a digitally inclusive society. “The speakers stress the significance of encouraging creativity, promoting skill development, and making technology accessible to all to bridge the digital gap effectively. Overall, the main takeaway is a call to action for concerted efforts and intentional strategies to advance digital inclusion in Wales.”
Responsibility in AI
18. Dr Albert Sabater Serra Hunter Professor of Computational Sociology, University of Girona: Responsible AI is an iteration process looking at the social impact of technology which means you have to really listen to all stakeholders. We need to drive impactful change positively by taking the lesson learned in other industries: “There’s no successful technology unless there is trust”.
19. Ben Stoffelen, Strategic Development Manager AI at imec: We need to stay aware of the environment we put AI systems into, complement education with community building, for example, as interaction is important. “Generative AI has put a magnifying glass on this (digital) divide. Very few countries have facilities that allow models to be trained.”
20. Prof Matt Jones, Professor of Human Computer Interaction and the Founding Director of Morgan Advanced Studies Institute at Swansea University: We need to make sure that new technologies don’t exploit people. Regulation is there to support, so we should take the caution of GDPR and not overlook the benefits. “Responsible AI for me is…. the first bit of that word: response. How can we ensure we’re responding to the real needs/ talents of customers. It’s about responding not inflicting… Keep your antenna out…and make sure your org isn’t using those regulations to stifle innovation but to use them in the right way. “
AI and humans
21. Danilo McGarry: AI forces us to discover what it means to be human. In the future, building AI or taking care of people may be what we’ll have to choose between. AI will benefit the healthcare and education industries the most: “It will help us solve the bigger problems that we haven’t been able to.”
22. Vaughan Gething MS, Minister for the Economy, Wales: Wales has this week launched a new collaborative innovation plan with Innovate UK. “Wales has never lacked ambition and this plan recognises the strengths and opportunities for growth within our economy.”
23. Indro Mukerjee, CEO Innovate UK: The new collaboration will support economic development and innovation in Wales, as well as addressing inequalities through data-driven approaches: “Wales has the capabilities, the heritage, and the people to embrace the new future economy; as the UK’s innovation agency, we’re here to help that journey”.