by Richard Sykes

Welsh government investment driving innovation

Jun 19, 20144 mins
Cloud ComputingGovernmentIT Strategy

And so to Wales! ‘The Welsh Government has instructed me to invite you….’ ran the letter. Digital 2014, a two day gathering focused on igniting the Cloud revolution across the Principality.

The location in Wales? Celtic Manor – in the words of the FT ‘ a minature country run by a golf–obsessed government’. Very true! And thus the preciding genius of the two days, the Welsh-Canandian serial high tech entrepreneur (and Wales’ first billionaire) Sir Terry Matthews.  Sir Terry’s initial success was to create, launch, nurture and sell on Mitel in the high tech communications field. He has since founded or funded over 80 further companies in the high tech communications field.

And the connection? Starting its life as the mid-1800’s grand home of a local (very wealthy) coal magnate Celtic Manor was in the hands of the local health authority and run as a maternity home by the 1930’s. Sir Terry was born there (1943). Returning to Wales from Canada many years later, his fortune made, he found his birth place closed-up and derelict. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The first of the two days of Digital 2014 focused on the youth of Wales, on their engagement in the digital revolution, and most especially on the relevance and focus of their education in this new era of the Cloud. The twitter sphere  is alive with the results. I joined the event at the evening networking reception and it was clear that the day had positively and successfully engaged a diversity of youth through its workshops and events.

That evening’s networking was certainly impressive. The axis of businesss and industry that runs east/west across southern Wales is rich in technology ventures, large and small – and the growing spread of supporting insitutions, including strong Universities. The Welsh Government invests in a number of initiatives designed to ‘fertilise the land’ and to drive the development of key sectors. Sir Terry spoke, describing his experiences building Mitel as a motivator for more entrepreneurship across the Principlaity.

I spoke on the second day, telling the story of four companies that I have written about in these columns: Brain Station 23 in Bangladesh (professionals operating over the Internet to work of technical platforms in the USA to create specialist services for clients in Singapore and Australia); Patchwork (creation of two social workers in London exploiting the SCC (Birmingham) compute platform and otherwise routine tools such as e-mail and SMS to enable local social workers, teachers, police, housing staff etc. to connect easily in their rapidly changing work environments); Oriac / SaaSInsure (pioneers in exploiting services integration in the insurance systems space – by integrating the document management capabilities of SaaSInsure with the CRM capabilities of; and Ffastfill (where the focus is on staff with deep technical, operational and commercial understanding of derivatives trading – what I call the deep intimacy factor).

Here are four business models that are of the Cloud and which should inspire, a la Sir Terry, in Wales. Operating globally from Dhaka (internet & networks, and US technical platforms): social workers exploiting their first hand experiential knowledge, simple tools and a more local platform to deliver effective local social work enabling services; exploiting services integration to allow ease of rapid bespoking of new services in a particular market vertical; exploiting deep intimacy of the techno-commercial operations of a specialised vertical market….

It is now a recognized reality that the Cloud enables entrepreneurship as never before.  Sir Terry launched Mitel ‘with only $4000 borrowed funds’ and a hand picked team of university grads paid a pittance and shares (each worth $2.5 million a decade later). That is a model that is a lot more tractable now in the era of the Cloud Platform and the Internet.

My challenge, in a number of conversations with the players driving the Welsh Digital Agenda, was to observe that there is actually a real continuity of the South Wales west/east axis across the Severn estuary into the equally powerful technocommercial realities & focus of the Bristol/Bath axis. Sir Terry launched his new Digital Tuesday Club at Celtic Manor, intended as a serious monthly networking exercise to bring the diversity of interests represented at Digital 2014 together on a more regular basis. Absolutely right. And across the Severn Estuary in Bristol there is an already well established parallel exercise, First Friday (held at Bristol’s  Watershed). Will First Friday now talk to Digital Tuesday?