It’s some years since anything related to ‘sand’ featured prominently in Jersey’s hopes for a strong economy. As the days of ‘bucket and spade’ tourism gave way to financial services as the island’s main earner, sand was relegated to a supporting role - good for the adverts and maybe a quick dog walk, but not going to bring in the millions.
But what if you swapped ‘sandy beaches’ for ‘digital sandbox’? Would that make a difference? Well, yes, actually. Quite a big one.
In tech terms, a ‘sandbox’ is essentially a testbed - a way of carefully checking something over before letting it loose in a live environment – and that’s exactly how some global companies may be starting to use Jersey.
It’s one of the areas which Digital Jersey plans to work on in 2018, to help diversify the island’s economy away from its reliance on financial services. But in the wake of the Paradise Papers – apparently derived from a massive data hack - how do we keep it secure? Before setting out plans for 2018, Connect spoke to Tony Moretta, the CEO of Digital Jersey, and asked what role it played in helping local firms to block the hackers.
Tony Moretta: "Well, the good news is, Jersey now has a cyber security policy and strategy. That has come from government. One of the things I agreed when I arrived here a couple of years ago was that government needed to take responsibility for those areas which required legislation, policy, and we agreed that included areas like cyber security and data protection.
"But, as you’ll see in the cyber security strategy, it talks about working with Digital Jersey as an interface with industry, and working with the Education Department to develop skills to raise awareness around Jersey. But even if in Jersey we do a fantastic job of protecting the data we have here, you’re always going to be vulnerable to data that is sitting elsewhere in the world. Every company has to have a cyber security policy in place. They have to train their staff because when you look at where the problem has come from, it normally comes from human error, in clicking on an email they shouldn’t click on, or clicking on a link somewhere they shouldn’t click on."
Pictured: Tony Moretta says Digital Jersey’s role primarily is to grow the digital sector. (Gary Grimshaw)
Connect: Is it one of, if not the, top digital issue for the financial services industry?
Tony Moretta: "I think so, yes. Use of technology in the finance industry is mixed. Everybody talks about money being in Jersey, but actually it’s data, and so that data has to be protected just as much as whether it’s actual cash in a bank vault - and I think people are starting to realise that now. I think we’ll see an increasing push from government to make sure that it’s implementing its cyber security strategy, and that the companies are implementing it as well. I think you’ll see a bigger role by the regulator, by the JFSC, in making sure that the companies it regulates are following best practice in cyber security - but I think anyone sensible running a company, whether it’s financial services or anything else, will be speaking to their IT director and saying, “…right, what are we doing to make sure this does not happen to us?
"It is entirely possible that you will see governments insisting that key data is not stored outside of a particular jurisdiction. It’s not my area of expertise, but I think that’s going to make companies think "…actually, we have to make sure that every single office that has access to any of our data has the same level of standards,” so if you’ve got one jurisdiction pushing higher standards of cyber security, you’ve got to make sure it’s not let down by the lowest common denominator somewhere else.
Connect: Moving on from cyber security, what has Digital Jersey achieved in 2017?
Tony Moretta: "So, Digital Jersey’s role primarily is to grow the digital sector, and especially in an economy like Jersey’s, that is about growing jobs - that’s growing ‘high value’ jobs in the digital sector. It’s diversifying the economy, and again the events of the last few weeks have demonstrated how important that is. There are risks that are ahead of us that we have no control over. We have a fantastic financial services industry, but we need to make sure we have a diverse economy that can stand up to any shocks in the system that may be ahead.
"On the industry side, we’re focussing on supporting any digital business here; so, you’ll see around us in the Digital Jersey Hub we have hot-desking resources for people to come in and use and work together. We now have 26 permanent desks which are virtually all occupied by start-ups. We did have 12 at the beginning of this year, that’s gone up to 26. We have a wide range of courses that we teach here. We teach courses in coding. We teach courses in data analytics and digital marketing, and one of the things I’m really proud of at Digital Jersey is the Digital Jersey Coding Programme, and that is teaching locals who may be coming from a job in hospitality or any other area, and they can come out of that and we have a 95% success rate at placing them in an IT company.
"There’s a great example, I’ve been told about a guy who was working in a fish and chip shop during the day, and then he went through the Digital Jersey Coding Programme. He’s now leading a team of five coders in a major IT company here and funnily enough, I think three out of those five coders came out of further courses of the Coding Programme. It’s a lot easier now to get licences for staff for tech companies. We’ve had a very good relationship with the Population Office, so we have resolved, I think, what was seen as a major barrier there, and we’re about to announce the ability to issue start-up licences as well, because it’s not just the big companies you want to support, you want start-ups.
Pictured: Digital Jersey recently secured £449,000 of funding to open Jersey's first 'Internet of Things (IoT)' Lab.
"We’ve just obtained funding from government to build a dedicated ‘Internet of Things (IoT)’ lab as well, and that will be a resource a bit like the Hub in terms of supporting businesses, but more focussed on IoT applications and businesses. I think if we can work on projects which will help digital industry, but which also deliver benefits to Jersey, that’s really important - so if you look at one of the other things I’m particularly proud of, which is the Digital Health Strategy, people will see the benefit from the integration of the Hospital and the GP systems. They’ll see benefits from better use of technology there in the same ways that they’ll see benefits from the use of technology in education and teaching - and of course we’ve not even talked about mobile parking.
"When I talk about a digital society, Jersey’s use of technology is mixed. So, we have amazing connectivity in terms of three 4G networks, and we have higher smart phone usage on average even than the UK. We will very shortly have a position where every single broadband connection in Jersey, commercial or residential, will be gigabit fibre to the premises; but we were still using scratch cards for parking, ten years after other countries had stopped using them. But our main focus, as I said before, is jobs – so, if you look in the government’s digital policy framework, we committed by 2025 to grow an additional one thousand high value jobs in the digital
"One of things that has been very important is understanding what is the digital sector today? We went through the raw data from the Population Office and Stats Unit, and what we found is there was about 2,700 people working in the digital sector already, and that’s not including people working in other industries like finance, where we think there’s about 600-700 people. What we’ve already seen in the last 12 months is that we’ve grown another 100-150 jobs in that sector so primarily, we’re going to be focussing on jobs creation and jobs growth. That is our main KPI.
Connect: Shouldn’t technology mean the need for fewer jobs, not more?
Tony Moretta: "You may see fewer people working in admin roles because of the development of automation. Everyone thinks of AI as being science fiction, but it’s more likely to be a software robot that will open up Excel spreadsheets and Word files and transfer data between them. Now the great thing about that is that if we have fewer admin roles but more technology roles, those technology roles are going to be higher value. They are going to be better paid, so I think it is realistic to think we can grow technology roles in finance."
Pictured: The Digital Jersey CEO says he will make sure that all things digital are part of the candidates' manifestos for the upcoming elections.
Connect: What’s the actual USP for Jersey compared to some of the other tech centres?
Tony Moretta: "I think you’ve got to look at focussing. We can’t be big in everything. We don’t have the scale to do that, but I think finance is a good example of where you can focus on a few niches, and still build a very strong economy, especially in a small place, and that’s why we’re focussing on three particular areas. So, that’s Fintech because actually, where do you get people that set up starts-ups? It’s people who are already working in industry, they have an idea, and then they want to go off and set up a business by themselves. That’s one of the reasons why we already have quite a few Fintech companies here, Fintech start-ups, and we need to do more than that. I think in Health and the Internet of Things, we need to exploit the fact that Jersey could be a fantastic test bed.
"So, one of the key initiatives we will be launching is an off-Island campaign called ‘Sandbox Jersey’-people talk about ‘sandbox’ as a term for regulatory testing, for example, in London for Fintech. They talk about sandboxes as testing pieces of software away from the main piece of software, if you don’t want to mess around with it. No one is really offering a whole country as a sandbox, as a test bed, and effectively Jersey can exploit the fact that it is a whole complex country in only 45 square miles. That would be of great interest for companies to come in and test their products / services. We’ve got companies like Honeywell and Sony already here working with the telecoms industry, working with our utilities companies, and with Digital Jersey, to actually test their products and services."
Connect: To achieve that you need the people, you need the money, you need the infrastructure. Does Jersey have those three?
Tony Moretta: "I think we’re getting there. I think ‘people’ is always going to be an issue, but you know, it’s also an issue in countries like the UK. Talent is always an issue, but in a small place with immigration restrictions, that’s a challenge. I think we do have a lot of tech people already, more than we realise, but we need to grow it.
One of the issues I want to look over the next few years is to increase the number of students we have here studying. We want to increase the higher education options around technology.
"Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of losing 18 year olds off-Island to go and study, we attracted 18 year olds here to study here, who could then work in the industry, and have ideas for start-ups? With other challenges like accommodation, I would like see an investment in communal living initiatives like they have in London, so you can have young people come and live here, maybe as a tech developer but they have access to a ‘hall of residence’ type facility to live in. It takes pressure off the housing market, and gives them an easier landing here."
Pictured: Tony Moretta talking about the Internet of Things at a Chamber of Commerce lunch in October.
Connect: What do you want to achieve in 2018?
Tony Moretta: "One of the important things for us is launching that IoT lab, and it’s not just the physical location, it’s about building an IoT data platform. Because we can get cooperation from people sitting around the table who own and operate all of the infrastructure in Jersey, we can put all of that data together, and make that available to people to test.
"One example of that is we’re working with the mobile operators to track, in an anonymised and aggregated way, how many foreign visitors are here, through their SIM cards. Now that’s very powerful data for Jersey. You’ll have seen that we published with the Education Department within the Skills Strategy, a Digital Skills Strategy. That’s something I’m looking forward to working on next year is having a much stronger Digital Skills Strategy to address some of those people problems we talked about earlier on.
"We had a conference a few months ago that we arranged where we had experts from around the world looking at the impact of artificial intelligence on the finance industry. I think that’s something we really need to understand here, and we actually need to be a centre of excellence for that.
"And finally, I think with an election coming up in May, we want to work to make sure that ‘digital’ is a key part of people’s manifestos. We will be running a digital hustings at some point, here in the hub, to test people’s knowledge of the digital sector, and to give an opportunity to ask candidates what they will do."
This interview also appears in Connect magazine, here.
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