Last month, the British Government announced its spending review. We caught up with Jan Quant, the CEO of Screendragon, a company that provides marketing collaboration technology to global brands like Kellogg's, Kimberly Clark and BP, to find out what he thinks, as the head of a small technology company, of that announcement and how, he believes, it might impact the way he runs his business.
Firstly, tell us what does Screendragon do?
In a nutshell, Screendragon's marketing automation technology helps brands and agencies add factory floor precision while allowing creatives to think outside the box. Screendragon calls this method, 'Lean Marketing', a technology which enables brands and agencies such as BP, Kimberly Clark, Kellogg's and WPP to achieve increased ROI and quality marketing assets.
So what do you think of the recent spending review?
The Government announced funding of science and technology will remain at £4.6 billion per year, which is decent news for to the industry as we saw cuts in other departments. However, the rhetoric from George Osborne about the vital role technology and research for the future of our economy made little positive impact on companies, like ourselves. I noticed the early separation between the subjects of science and technology, which is great. Technology has to gain acceptance as an individual component and as a commercial discipline separate to natural or social sciences or university research. As for the technology Strategy Board, an entity which help develop young technology companies and get them to the market, it has received a £185 million increase in funding. This is spot on.
Why was it beneficial for the UK IT industry?
Funding isn't cut, which is a good start. The Government clearly knows support is needed to keep UK on top of the world in emerging technologies such as graphene, social business and advanced mobile networks. However, Government officials need to be more diverse their support as there are tech communities growing out of Cambridge, Reading and Manchester which they have to look after alongside London's 'Tech City'.
What would Screendragon like to see more from the Government?
It would be very easy to say more funding for research and technology companies, but throwing money at the problem is not the solution. I would like to see more support from the Government in terms of educating and providing people, young and old, with the necessary skills to find a job in the technology industry.
In this sector, there has always been the demand for jobs but the supply has not been high in quantity nor quality. Start by encouraging the young into technology and engineering, make them aware of the apprenticeships available as firms start to hire students straight out of school, foregoing university talent.
Also, Screendragon is proud to be a UK company, providing marketing technology from Europe to some of the most famous international brands but we have to expand overseas. Businesses want to keep growing and Government mandarins can help by offering tax incentives and sign off trade agreements with emerging nations such as Brazil.
What are the biggest challenges seen by Screendragon and other UK startups in the UK market?
Finding talent to fit seamlessly into the business. This is a concern as the European technology job market adds 100,000 positions every year. Today's generation grew up with smartphones and tablets and as a whole they are technology literate. The challenge is to drive this enthusiasm to a career choice with British companies. Technology has always been one of the fastest growing industries but is often considered too complex and niche by the UK's "Generation Y".
How does Screendragon intend to take advantage of the spending review?
Screendragon will take advantage by looking into the Technology Strategy Board and find out what support they can give us as we are looking to expand the business globally. We need a hand up, not a hand out. I have recently been in North America just to see what opportunities are available.
Should the Government only focus on technology to spur growth in the sector?
Not only that but also education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) which is the buzz term heard from Parliament all the way to Glasgow's tech hub. The Government can give companies incentives to grow but the UK will lose out unless capable employees are hired. There is much talk about technical skills, but the importance of business skills such as clear communication and time management should not be underestimated.
Why is technology important to the UK economy?
The UK is famed for engineering. The Industrial Revolution traditional manual processes and today's revolution in IT, whether it be hardware, software, networks, security, mobile is even more far-reaching. In recent times, the UK has had its successes such as Autonomy, ARM and Sage which changed the industry and ultimately the way we live day to day. Technology is important and should remain so because it is high growth and if you do it right it brings jobs into the UK economy.
When can we see the changes as a result of the new policies?
As the spending review 2013 is not enshrined until 2015 and by then we may have a new Government, you cannot be 100 per cent certain that everything in the review will be kept. However if the full review gets implemented, I think we will start to see changes as early as 2018.
Do you have any advice for budding startups and other UK businesses?
I can only pass advice for businesses who provide technology solutions. Firstly, it depends how fast or slow you want to grow. Those who are looking to grow conservatively in the future can be happy with the Government's announcements as there is a future for technology and strong support if you are looking into emerging ideas.
If you want to grow rapidly, look at foreign markets, especially the US, because UK is still not fit again yet. As our education system is playing catch up with others, talent available to work is scarce and at a premium. But winning foreign business will let tomorrow's UK tech leader hire and train the talent they need.