New name, new outlook: Interview with techUK's chief executive, Julian David

4 min read

Graham Pitcher hears from techUK's chief executive about how the organisation can help to grow the UK's tech sector.

When asked about trade associations, people will generally fall into one of two camps: enthusiastically in favour or violently against. It's an area where there's little middle ground. Intellect was one trade association that engendered much discussion about its validity. Formed in 2003 by a merger between the Federation of the Electronics Industry and the Computer Services and Software Association, Intellect was often seen as slow to react and inward facing – a typical member's club. When he was appointed director general of Intellect in 2012, Julian David was also told to take a hard look at where the organisation was positioned, was it in the right place and was it serving industry in the right way? David said: "The good news is that we do what we do well and that is appreciated by our members. But the sector we address has got a lot bigger. It's more diverse and we don't have good connections to some parts." The result of the process has been the emergence of techUK, which claims it represents 'the companies and technologies that are defining today the world that we will live in tomorrow'. "We decided someone needed to 'join it all up'; an organisation which understands what's going on and which can talk to stakeholders and government about what's needed. We need a 'tech country'," he noted, "tech cities aren't good enough and that's why we relaunched as techUK. We're the biggest trade association and are trying to represent the whole of spectrum – from chips to clicks." Where Intellect could have been accused of being an organisation that didn't look very far beyond the interests of its members, techUK has a wider ambition. "We want to make the UK a good place for technology companies to grow," David asserted. "And we want to make sure that technology is good for everyone in the UK." He said this ambitious goal is being pursued in four ways. "Technology is a global industry," he observed, "so UK companies must be exporters. We've formed a partnership with UKTI to create a specialist focus and our goal is to get 1000 more companies exporting over the next two years." Included in this goal is mentoring by larger corporates. "Then we have to make sure we have an infrastructure which can support the internet economy. We are hosting and resourcing the UK Spectrum Policy Forum to determine what industry wants to do with the available spectrum and how it can be managed. We need to get the UK back to the leading edge. "We also need to make sure the internet economy is a safe place to do business. One of our new focuses is cyber crime because around one third of the UK's small businesses don't transact online because they fear they'll be subject to some sort of crime. "Finally, we're taking a radical approach to skills. This is a problem right across the technology space and the solution starts in schools. We're working with Code Club, which aims to get eight and nine year olds coding. Code Club is currently in about 1500 primary schools; we want to get something like it into all 21,000 schools and are looking to get volunteers in place to make it happen. "There have been a lot of initiatives in these areas," David reflected, "but they all start and stop. Our ambition is to coordinate – to be a platform – and to join them all up." The burning question, of course, is how? David believes the answer is partnerships. "Not everyone will want to become a member of techUK," he said, "so we need to develop a strong 'offer' for those who want to engage. While we will continue with meetings and events, we will also develop more communities and more networks. "We'll have networks of people who will never come to the techUK office, but who will join virtual conversations, special interest groups and so on." And one of the first such instances is the bringing into the fold of the Electronics Technology Network. "It's the first instance of techUK becoming more of a platform," David offered. "It's a collection of small companies with practical interests. ETN is a good example of a network and will be the first of a number of similar moves." On a more formal level, techUK has a connection with Cambridge Wireless, which brings together around 400 companies with a common interest. "And we need to have better links with the automotive sector," David noted. "We won't be controlling it all, but we will be looking to coordinate activities. We want industry to pick the themes and to say 'this is what we need'. But if some other part of industry wants to take a lead, we should fall in behind and support them." techUK will be active in influencing government procurement policy, where David says things have to change. "Our big member companies have active supply chains of small companies. In conventional government procurement, there's a problem because of the way it uses contracts. We need to change this because big and small companies need to be involved and that's the techUK proposition." And techUK is also interested in helping small companies grow. "We already have Imagination's chief executive Sir Hossein Yassaie looking at this," he added. With such ambitions, what impact does David think techUK will have had in five years? "I want at least another 500,000 jobs to have been created in the tech economy and I want the UK to be a 'powerhouse' exporter of technology. "But we want to make a difference," he concluded. "And, to do that, we have to work with other people." Julian David Julian David was appointed director general of Intellect in March 2012 and has led its transformation into techUK, where he is chief executive. He has spent more than 30 years in the technology industry, including 28 years with IBM in various positions in the UK, Europe and Worldwide. His last two roles were vice president of small and medium business, UK, Ireland, Netherlands and Africa and vice president, public sector, UK, Ireland and South Africa. He is a board member of Digital Europe and represents techUK at the World IT and Services Association.