Predictions from the Real World

December 31, 2015

Charlie Hoult, Chairman, Dynamo North East IT network

There was some great data about the growth of the tech economy in UK from the economist Douglas McWilliams in his book The Flat White Economy last year. I would recommend anyone in the sector to consult it as it points to our future, from evidence of the present: the UK has the highest uptake of e-commerce of any economy; tech will account for half the private sector by 2020 as the knowledge economy grows; immigration will feed to try to cure the skills shortage…

From where I am sitting, in Newcastle, we have established the ICT sector as the region’s hidden hotspot and it is already the largest in terms of economic impact – with 35,000 workers and over 2,000 vacancies. So, it’s safe to say that the North East has an uncharacteristic problem of too many jobs in this sector.

I am sure we are not alone as a region – and skills will be a sore point everywhere. The sector will only grow faster as the Internet of Things, Smart Cities and the App economy continue to thrive. There is an age-related problem too – with a large cohort of ‘big tech’ employees now facing retirement, but with their systems needing legacy transformation.

But there’s a great ‘rabbit away’ up north. I predict more hot air on the Northern Powerhouse initiative trumpeted by George Osborne and Manchester. It has great resonance across the Northern cities and is definitely something worth ‘storming, forming, norming’ – but we are in the honeymoon phase even before the storm. The storms will whirl in 2016 as we move towards Metro-area devolution around Newcastle.

What will that mean for the region and the economy? And how will that feed the tech sector? Clearly there is scope for the public sector tech to look at more efficient routes to services – and this will provide lawyers with plenty to consider in governance, project partnership and outsourcing. There needs to be innovation, risk and investment in government at every level – which lawyers will love as this means meaty change and potential pitfalls.

Rev. Adrian Kennard, MD of UK-based ISP Andrews & Arnold Ltd – Twitter: @The RealRevK

One of the biggest new pieces of legislation in 2016 will be the Investigatory Powers Act – due to be presented in March and in force for some parts by end of 2016 before DRIPA expires.

My prediction is that there will not be huge changes from the current draft bill, sadly.

As MD of a small ISP, we are very concerned over the data retention provisions – whilst the Home Office say that they do not expect them to target small ISPs, once it is law they could change their mind. They do not even guarantee cost recovery in the draft bill.

I do predict that the ‘Internet Connection Records’ they want will not be very useful, just as was found in Denmark, and they are easily bypassed by the dumbest of criminals using Tor or VPNs outside the UK. They are also likely to be less and less complete as 4G mobile operators stop using web proxies and IPv6 kills the need for Carrier Grade NAT in networks – the main sources of this new ‘web log’ type data retention.

I think everyone has concerns over the GCHQ powers being legalised rather than quashed. I’d love to see some of these measures reduced before it becomes law as a result of pressure from privacy groups or even European court decisions in related areas. 

Justin Dear, Head of Online News Desk (Asia-Pacific), Agence france-Presse

As the media looks for new ways to develop with print runs shrinking, my main prediction for 2016 is that there will be a concerted move towards exploiting the growing use of mobile technology and away from traditional websites.

In particular the development of mobile specific apps will grow as media organizations seek to develop one-on-one relationships with readers, especially younger readers who are increasingly relying only on mobiles to gain the information they want.

The fun part is that this will also attract the advertising industry which has already made strides in this direction. This means that your everyday news reader can look forward to more content designed to work with smartphone technology (a good thing) and far more advertising directed at the individual (not so good).

There will also be a growth in video both for sending news content and for advertising.

Privacy is likely to take another thumping in the coming year (and years) as companies look to expand the uses to which apps can be put.

As high tech gadgets become increasingly synchronized, creating what high tech companies like to refer to as user environments (where all your gadgets talk to each other), apps are quite probably going to pick up a great deal more information. This will allow some companies to target users with specific content and, of course, learn a great deal more about what individuals get up to.

For example, many people have a news app on their phone to help keep up to date. For the editors producing the content what they put on the page still remains a bit of a one-size-fits-all operation, involving trying to predict readers’ wants. Perhaps not any more. If in the future a user also has an app on their phone connected to their TV box, for example, the news app could potentially read this data. This could give editors access to what a person watches, when and for how long and allow narrowly targeted content which they hope will translate into greater reader loyalty, increased sustainability and, not surprisingly, more revenue.

And it can be very targeted. By also accessing additional data such as online use, contacts, calendar and so on, editors have the possibility of narrowing the data down to not just an interest in say football, but what team an individual supports.

Even your fridge could join the action. It may already provide shopping lists to your phone and warnings when you are running out of milk. If other apps can collect this data then don’t be surprised when you start seeing lots of features on healthy eating or diet appearing when you log into your news app.

Granted this is a bit of a nightmare scenario and it may not happen, but given the amount of data that apps already collect it seems a little optimistic to hope companies will not extend their scope. What will be needed is a close scrutiny of user agreements, ensuring clarity and transparency (which are not necessarily the same thing).  The trick then will simply be to get users to read these agreements before downloading. In the long run that could be the hardest part.