UK manufacturing: a digital future

Brian Holliday, Managing Director of Siemens Digital Factory UK


The welcome announcement concerning the UK’s new Industrial Strategy made by the Government in January contained a number of important points. Chief among these was the prime minister’s desire for government to ‘step up to a new, active role that backs businesses’.

Looking at this from the business community’s perspective, it is clear that establishing how we help the UK manufacturing and industrial sectors adapt to a highly digitalised future, and benefit from the opportunity this brings, will be a fundamental factor of any future economic success.

Indeed, it is evident the industrial sector uptake of new digital technologies will be central to a successful post-Brexit future, improving our national productivity, creating higher value jobs, and arming our workforce with the digital skills required in the decades ahead.

In light of this, I am delighted to contribute to the ‘Industrial Digitalisation Review’ to help lay the groundwork for a manufacturing digital future.

Along with colleagues from some of the UK’s most prominent businesses including Jaguar Land Rover, IBM, and Accenture, we will engage with stakeholders, influencers and large and small businesses to see how the design, development and deployment of digital technologies can support and drive the UK’s digital industrial revolution – more commonly referred to as ‘the fourth industrial revolution’.

The industrial digital roadmap will offer a clear insight into what needs to be done to prepare our economy for the coming waves of technological change. It will ensure a thriving digital infrastructure supports the growth of new, digitally enhanced small businesses, the creation of higher value jobs, and the delivery of a digitally skilled workforce. It will drive higher productivity across our important manufacturing and industrial sectors and, ultimately, the achievement of long-term economic success that will benefit society at large.

We have a good way to go. According to the EEF – the manufacturers’ organisation, just 11% of manufacturers think the sector is geared up to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution*. We must change this mindset through collaboration and communication so, UK companies gain the confidence to invest in digital technologies and are able to overcome whatever barriers stand before them.

We will fall behind our competitors if we do not take up the challenge, but it is not too late. A digital future is not a case of if, but when. Prioritising the rapid digitalisation of UK manufacturing and the economy as a whole, and ensuring innovation is supported, sits at the heart of improving our overall competitiveness, making the most of the new technology opportunity, creating better living standards and setting the foundations for a more vibrant future for the next generation.

The Industrial Strategy Green Paper and significant initiatives such as the Industrial Digitalisation Review, mark the start of an important journey for British industry. The UK is already a great place to do business and boasts many examples of being at the cutting-edge of technological advancement.

The business community and government must also do a better job of explaining how radical the changes to the economy will be if the UK goes full throttle with digitalisation. The technologies will transform the economy, as AI, robotics and automation accelerate the changes in our everyday lives. So getting business behind a fourth industrial revolution as an antidote to Brexit is not a ‘nice to have’ but a must if UK PLC to create new jobs and new industries.

We now need to make sure the digitalisation message is reinforced, understood and accepted by businesses in all sectors across the length and breadth of the nation, so we witness a step change in its adoption and the undoubted benefits it can bring for all.


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