What’s on the horizon in 2021 for UK tech?
It’s not been the easiest year for many market sectors, but for the most part, the tech industry has remained relatively buoyant over the course of the year, heavily weighted by the fact that most organisations and sectors have had to go through some level of digital transformation (whether they like it or not) in recent months.
2021 is looking like another big year for the sector, so we’ve pulled out the top themes and events we think are worth watching over the next few months.
Online Harms Bill comes into force
High up the list is the long-awaited Online Harms Bills, released last week, which will finally hold tech companies more accountable for content on their platforms by tasking them with removing and limiting the spread of harmful content. Under the new rules, OFCOM, who has been confirmed as regulator, will have the power to fine tech companies up to £18m or 10% of their global turnover (which could be in the billions for many of the big firms) for failing to comply.
Following a string of high-profile tragic news stories over the past couple of years linked with young people being served harmful content on social media, the long-awaited move has been generally well-received by the sector, and we expect to see a bigger focus on compliance and accountability, particularly in big tech, as a result. The internet has traditionally been pretty difficult to regulate, so we imagine this is at least a step in the right direction. One of the big questions here will be whether this will end up being an afterthought, or whether more tech and social platforms will start to be designed with a safety-first outset from the start. Which takes us nicely onto our next one to watch…
Age-Appropriate Design Code compliance deadline looms
Feeding into the Online Harms Bill is the Age-Appropriate Design Code (AADC), which comes into effect next year and aims to put the safety of children at the heart of the design of tech products aimed at young people – think social media platforms, apps and digitally connected toys. Currently in its transitionary period, firms need to conform by September 2021. As a result, we’ll be seeing more firms rushing to ensure they’re compliant by the deadline, and as a result, hopefully lots more consideration going into the safety of children when designing online services for them.
New challenges for cyber security
While not all tech subsectors have had a great time of it over the past few months, growth in many remains strong. Cyber security and FinTech remain two of the sectors that look likely to sustain growth in coming months. Cybercrime has grown steadily over the past few years, with a 37.5% increase in the past year alone. Instances of crime have increased drastically over the past few months, as more services have been moved online. UK cybercrime is now an emerging growth story over the course of the pandemic, with research from Plexal and Beauhurst showing that cyber start-ups have raised £126m since the UK entered lockdown, with only one fewer deal than in the same timeframe last year. However, the rapid development of new technologies, all with different vulnerabilities, and a large number of people working from home, making cybercrime more likely, means that cyber professionals have a lot to navigate in the new world of cyber security – making this another one to watch in 2021.
As one of the most invested in sub-sectors of the UK tech market, FinTech is still performing well – particularly as more moves online and we edge closer to being a cashless society. In July, Government launched an independent review of the FinTech sector, aimed at identifying priority areas for industry and policy makers to support the ongoing success of the UK Fintech sector. The review is expected to report back to Government at the start of next year, so, expect to see more on that one in 2021 and beyond – let’s hope they put as much focus on the smaller innovators as they do on bigger fintechs!
Upskilling / talent will be crucial
With unemployment on the rise, yet many career opportunities still open in the digital tech sector, it’s likely we’ll see professionals from other sectors look to move to a role in technology. This is good news for the sector, as diversifying, embracing new ideas, ways of thinking, and a more varied pool of candidates will only create better products and services. However, businesses will need to look at how they can upskill, train and retain this new pool of talent, which will need hopefully lead to innovations in L&D and how we manage and engage with our teams.
Tech for good becomes more prominent
Following a year of pretty depressing stuff, we’re hoping tech for good will shine bright in 2021. We’ve already seen lots of amazing applications of tech over the past few months in line with our reliance on technology increasing – whether that’s to make healthcare more efficient, making services easier to access for vulnerable people or those in remote locations, providing those who need it with access to tech products, and ensuring we can access services in a contactless way. We expect to see loads more innovation throughout 2021, and we’ll be doing a focus in the new year around tech for good, so if you do know any companies doing amazing things with tech, let us know!
Trust will remain key
And last but not least, the resounding consensus is that trust in the sector will become even more important in 2021. With trust in Government at what feels like an all-time low, and conviction in big tech not much better, tech firms will need to work hard to gain the trust of customers and build true, human, empathetic relationships with them. Expect to see tech firms upping their customer-centricity, marketing and value propositions as we enter the New Year. The robots aren’t taking over, it’s going to be the year of the human.
We’d be keen to hear your predictions for the sector in 2021. Let us know over on Twitter @RefreshPR or get in touch.