In My Opinion: Alisdair Gunn: The digital opportunities are out there

ON a sunny day at the end of last month, more than 400 of Scotland’s most talented digital experts and entrepreneurs gathered in Glasgow for the sector’s flagship annual conference.

D14, delivered by Scottish Enterprise through its Interactive Scotland project, debated the strategic issues impacting businesses in the digital sector as well as identifying opportunities for companies designing – and adopting – digital services.

Some weighty keynote speakers – including Microsoft UK’s chief envisioning officer, Dave Coplin, Roger De’ath, head of apps and search at Google Enterprise UK and Tony Ageh, the architect of BBC iPlayer – outlined their vision of how technology is transforming society.

Organisations including Glasgow School of Art, prosthetics technology firm Touch Bionics, and ecommerce supplier INDEZ, showcased their latest digital projects while in-depth studio sessions focused on the key sectors being transformed most quickly by digital innovation – digital health and care, financial technology, retailing and education.

But D14 is more than an event; it is an ongoing conversation. By connecting with new opportunities, people and insight, digital businesses in Scotland could benefit from a substantial boost.

A quick survey of business headlines over the past few years suggests that Scotland’s digital sector is already ‘punching above its weight’. Among the internationally-acclaimed digital platforms developed here are best-selling computer game series, Grand Theft Auto, and travel search engine, Skyscanner, now one of the biggest websites of its kind.

However, the opportunities for new digital business in Scotland are only just beginning. As digital services continue to transform business and industry, Scottish companies have a fantastic window to win new contracts and grow.

The sector’s big advantage is that digital business by its nature has no regional, national or international barriers to overcome. Our start ups and SMEs are in a particularly strong position to benefit from the growing market for digital services. Small, agile and nimble, SMEs have the ability to be flexible in their approach and take advantage of the opportunities that are available.

One weak spot that many of our companies have is that they don’t know what they don’t know. To take advantage of new business opportunities, companies need to hear about them first.

Interactive Scotland was established to support the growth of Scotland’s digital sector. Services we provide include linking digital suppliers with adopters, sharing market intelligence and running year-round events, including D14. Our free help and support has helped our SME clients to access more than £2 million in additional revenue since February 2013.

One of our success stories is weather and climate content supplier, Weather2. The business, which provides everything from local weather-feeds for sporting and holiday websites to complex modelling platforms that determine the best location for wind farms, approached us after identifying an opportunity to sell weather content to international markets, especially BRIC countries.

Working with Weather2’s senior management, we conducted a review of their business and determined the steps they needed to take. Crucially, we also introduced them to specialist agencies, which helped to raise the £45,000 in funding that they required to develop a new platform – which is now due to be launched this year.

Beartrap Games, another of our clients, is working with one of Scotland’s top advertising companies after contacting us about interactive marketing opportunities.

Established by four award-winning games developers, Dundee-based Beartrap Games wanted to meet the agencies who are helping the world’s biggest brands to embrace interactive content. After researching the market, we initiated introductions that resulted in Beartrap being appointed by The Leith Agency to assist with a national energy efficiency campaign.

I’d encourage all digital SMEs who aren’t already members of Interactive Scotland to contact us and be part of the industry that is creating the future, all over the world.

Alisdair Gunn is project director, Interactive Scotland.