Brexit as catalyst for change for good

One of the reasons cited by expert commentators for Donald J Trump’s shock election to the highest office in the world was that it was “America’s Brexit”.

Which says a lot. The word itself is being used internationally as something unstoppable, usually negative, but at its most positive, the harbinger of change.

It seems ‘The System’ is repeatedly being given a bloody nose by those citizens who feel they have no power, no voice, and that this is their only chance to regain them.

Only a fortnight before the new US president was elected, BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, held an expert-led event in Media City in Manchester to discuss Brexit and the impact on the IT industry at this crucial juncture. This was particularly considering a potential brain-drain of talent, as well as to formulate a plan for policy makers, so the opportunity to remain at the forefront of European and world technology leadership is not lost as we negotiate our way out of the status quo.

BCS has a specific remit as the membership body for IT professionals, to make IT good for society.

Long gone are the days when computers were something you used on your desk, at work, and which you left behind to go home to fire up your floppy-disk-driven IBM (if you had a home computer at all) to play a game of Pong, or write some letters to print out and post. Nowadays, everything, and I mean everything, is driven by data; from our healthcare system to schools, from transport to telecommunications.

Small children go to school with computers in their pockets, and learn about computing, thanks largely to the BCS successfully lobbying for the transformation of Government policy on computing in schools.

Since the Brexit referendum, BCS members have been in dialogue about the issues and opportunities that arise from this change in relationship between the UK and Europe. Much uncertainty remains, and whilst there may have been some initial negativity around Brexit, our members can see the potential opportunities that might arise in delivering economic and social progress – for example, on personal data – in a more independent legal and regulatory environment.

Most of the issues we see are not new, but are heightened, more urgent, or need to be modified because of this change of course. BCS’s primary conclusion is that the UK’s future success outside the EU will be underpinned by the choices we make right now on major digital issues.

So, what’s needed is a view on data protection, digital literacy, online security, connectivity, and how we inform a social etiquette around social media so that our politicians understand, and work with the many benefits that social media can bring.

The UK needs to keep all of this in mind in our negotiations out of the EU, ensuring we can lead on everything digital, and maintain our role at the forefront of IT developments and big data in years to come.

We must see beyond mere data protection compliance, and instead start seeing personal data relationships as a strategic opportunity; a point made by Shami Chakrabarti, CBE at a BCS event back in the summer. To build on the IT talent we already have, we need the lowest possible barriers to entry for appropriate digital professionals, and to invest in educating the UK in digital capability - with specific focus on security, software development and data innovation.

We must protect our critical infrastructure, and maximise UK information security capability. And we must keep existing relationships with European bodies - such as Europol - strong, post-Brexit, and continue sharing intelligence with the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, among others, as an individual nation.

Government needs to commit to a refreshed infrastructure strategy - such as Fibre to the Premise, 4G, and investment in future connectivity such as 5G.

And we must create a civil society partnership to encourage positive online political engagement. Each political party should have in place a specific strategy to support office holders and party members in constructive online debate, and help them deal with abuse.

The digital economy is highly international in its outlook and constituent parts. As we exit the EU, we have a duty to support welcoming and inclusive environments. The IT profession can, and should, act as ambassadors for an open and inclusive UK that welcomes positive relationships with non-UK citizens and a diverse UK society.

We need to be sure this whatever the uncertainties now, the outcome that is delivered for all of us is not just an economic success but is also a social success, and the BCS is ready to play its part in that.

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