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Making the electronic systems sector more visible

The challenge of making the electronic systems sector more visible

Last year, Jamie Urquhart, once ARM's chief operating officer, got a call from Derek Boyd and Ian Phillips from the NMI. They were looking to improve the profile of the UK's electronics industry – and particularly in the eyes of the Government. Was Urquhart interested in helping them?

The short answer was 'yes' and Urquhart is now chairing the executive steering group for what has become known as ESCO – Electronics Systems Challenges and Opportunities. In this role, Urquhart is guiding the content of an extensive report, scheduled for publication later in 2012.

ESCO is described as a 'significant step forward' in collaboration between trade associations such as NMI, Gambica, Intellect and the UK Electronics Alliance; professional bodies, such as the IET; and skills organisation Semta. The work is being supported by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The report is not only intended to raise the profile of the UK Electronic Systems Community in the eyes of Government, but also to identify and sponsor initiatives that will help it to expand and prosper.

ESCO believes the report will show the UK electronic systems sector is not only world class, but also makes a significant contribution to the UK's economy and to employment. The report may also highlight challenges and opportunities to improve the sector's performance and outline how the community can benefit by being better connected and unified.

Urquhart believes it's an interesting time to 'start to stick things together'. "The UK has a broad spread of companies which are invisible, but whose technology appears in exciting products. The report gives the opportunity to take a longer term view again."

It's not the first time the UK's electronics industry has been put under the magnifying glass. In one respect, the report appears to be a reprise of earlier work undertaken by the Electronics Innovation and Growth Team. But Urquhart said: "It's a matter of understanding what we have and to give the sector a more strategic direction." However, he knows the challenge which ESCO faces is how to create action.

Part of Urquhart's motivation is his belief that the electronic systems sector can only get bigger; he wants to ensure the UK gets its fair share of the business. "Some might say the UK has had an interesting ride over the years," he suggested. "Nevertheless, a lot of UK developed technology finds its way into pervasive products."

Because the sector is important, Urquhart believes a strategic view must be taken of what it represents. "It's important for its capabilities and for the value which it generates," he continued. "But it is also important for the way in which it will be able to improve people's lives."

However, Urquhart doesn't want the ESCO report only to be taken to Government. "I'm interested in addressing challenges," he asserted, "and to tap into the need to solve problems."

ESCO is looking at a number of areas – some of which are explored in the following pages. But Urquhart says the focus of the report will be on the things that can be done better. "We can always do things better," Urquhart believes, "and part of that is the need for a longer term vision. While the industry really needs to think about the next couple of decades, management is usually focused only on the next quarter."

In the end, Urquhart said chairing the report attracted him because it was strategic. "The electronic systems sector needs to be seen by Government as strategic, but this won't happen if the industry carries on with its 'business as usual' approach. Change is possible," he concluded, "and the time is ripe for a new level of engagement."

Graham Pitcher

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