Good morning and welcome to the Tech Report Weekly for 12 October. This week in tech there are a wide variety of virtual events to choose from, and we’ve selected the two most important to include.
All eyes will be on Zoom this week with its annual user conference, Zoomtopia. In other circumstances, this would have been the biggest physical event the company has ever held, but with remote working buoying its profits, it is only fitting that it is set to be a virtual heavyweight of the events season. Over on the AI side, we also profile World Summit AI, the must-attend event for anyone interested in, or actively making use of, artificial intelligence. Plus we also preview ASOS’s end-year results, as the company is set to be a key indicator for both ecommerce and the fashion industry.
In this week’s Spotlight, meanwhile, we look at the latest takes on the UK Industrial Strategy, while the Verdict team has also highlighted top technology journalism, and key reads from our own reporting.
Have an excellent week and we hope you enjoy our Tech Report Weekly for 12 October.
Three things happening in technology this week
Zoom basks in WFH glory at Zoomtopia
What’s happening: Video conferencing giant Zoom will hold its annual user conference, Zoomtopia.
Why it matters: If any company has won 2020, it is Zoom. The rise in remote working has seen its revenues soar by 355%, and while it has come under fine over security concerns, it has made considerable efforts to combat the issue.
Given the success of the company, Zoomtopia has become a key date in the technology diary, with big-name speakers including NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang and entrepreneur Mark Cuban.
The event is likely to be a celebratory affair, but will also contain key insights into how the company plans to build on its meteoric growth – and whether it can sustain such speedy momentum.
ASOS results provide ecommerce litmus test
What’s happening: Fast fashion major ASOS will be announcing its end-year results for 2020.
Why it matters: ASOS is a key test case for the fast fashion industry and wider ecommerce, with its results set to provide an insight into whether the drop in apparel purchasing amid lockdown is a problem for just bricks-and-mortar or the industry as a whole.
Signs on this front look good, with the company forecasting sales and profits ahead of expectations, including revenue growth of between 17% and 19%. However, there may still be some surprises.
AI defies borders at World Summit AI
What’s happening: World Summit AI, the world’s biggest conference focusing exclusively on artificial intelligence, will be held this week.
Why it matters: AI is one of the defining technologies of our age, and World Summit AI is renowned for bringing together academia, industry and innovators to showcase the best emerging technologies and actionable innovations.
What’s more, the theme this year is Without Borders, with many of the talks tackling issues related to the biggest issue facing AI: bias. From discussions on how to overcome diversity issues to the challenge of data handling, there are many must-attend sessions for anyone working with – or considering working with – AI.
How to follow it: The event will be held on 14 October from 10:45 – 18:30 CEST, and can be signed up for on the World Summit AI website.
From the magazine:
The American Civil Liberties Union is this year celebrating its centenary amid one of its most challenging years in existence. We hear from ACLU president Susan Herman about what challenges it faces, and how technology can play a role.
Spotlight on: The UK Industrial Strategy
The UK’s Industrial Strategy is the Government’s roadmap for “building a Britain fit for the future”, a whitepaper outlining its strategy for creating jobs, developing skills, encouraging innovation and supporting industries.
However, the three years since the industrial strategy was first published in 2017 have seen a change in government, the UK’s exit from the EU and an ongoing pandemic, leading some to question whether the strategy is still fit for purpose. In fact, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy is currently exploring the creation of a new strategy, with technology at its heart.
Last week, the Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Committee heard evidence from individuals from across industry on this issue, including deputy CEO of Tech UK Anthony Walker. Although Walker said that the tech industry welcomes the industrial strategy, after calling for its creation for several years, it lacks some necessary detail, he told the committee:
“The industrial strategy itself is very valuable and certainly something that we want to build on. A lot depends on the documents that come in and support the industrial strategy and the areas of more detail that sit underneath it. I think it’s fair to say that landscape is a bit patchy.
However he warned on government “zig-zagging” between different policies, recommending that a new strategy should build on the current one:
“What we definitely don’t want is zig-zagging. What we need is building on and layering on the basis of the original industrial strategy.
“The past three years have been exceptional in terms of the profound changes that have happened so I think it’s inevitable that we need to look at it again. But I think we should be building on the structure that we have there rather than suddenly ditching large parts of the strategy. I think it’s adding to it, adding depth and adding detail.”
With the pandemic and the switch to remote working highlighting how indispensible technology is for the economy, Walker stressed that an updated strategy should have an even greater focus on digisation and innovation:
“We still don’t think it quite recognises quite the extent to which digitisation is driving change globally. The process of digitisation is a horizontal process. It’s happening right across sectors, right across the economy, public sector, private sector and so on. Whereas the industrial strategy to us still feels a bit more vertical rather than horizontal with the strong focus on the sector deals in particular.”
“I think we would like to see a stronger focus on this issue of the process of digitisation across the economy and then how do you focus on those intersections between specialisations and how do you get those spillover effects? Because that’s where we see innovation happen.”
It is therefore clear that an updated strategy should reflect not only the increasing role of digitisation in society, but also to better prepare the country for post-pandemic recovery.
Walker also called for a new strategy to examine how the UK can further encourage innovation following drastic changes to the world of work:
“There’s one big question for me about the long-term impact and the changes that will arise out of Covid and that is about the impact it has on cities because we know that historically cities have been profoundly important as places where innovation happens…we know over the last six months that we can all work from home, but there’s a really big question: can we innovate from home?”
– Ellen Daniel, senior reporter
Last week’s highlights:
Quote of the week:
“Whilst the ubiquitous Microsoft Excel spreadsheet can be a useful tool for basic manipulation and analysis of small data sets, it’s clearly not the right tool for the job of correlating and reporting on the national infection rates of the pandemic.”
Matt Walmsley, EMEA director at Vectra, reacts to the news that Public Health England lost thousands of Covid-19 test results as a result of using an Excel spreadsheet to manage the data.
What the Verdict team has been reading
Kieren McCarthy provides a special report on the ongoing Google vs Oracle case – and the implications for software development – for The Register.
– Lucy Ingham, editor in chief
– Ellen Daniel, senior reporter
Although urbanists have been preaching the virtues of a 15 minute city for years, Cath Everett highlights how, as the workforce shifts to an at-home setting, we could see planners accelerate the practice.
– Peter Nilson, associate editor