Chamber of Commerce Digital Forum – 2021 Annual Review

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If you were around this time last year you might remember that I took over as Digital sector lead from Deb Byron at the AGM. The phrase ‘big shoes to fill’ was made for the situation. In fact ‘gigantic clown shoes’ might have been more appropriate, because Deb had shrewdly steered the Digital committee for over 20 years.

I have had more than my fair share of moments in the past 12 months where I have felt imposter syndrome, but I’ve been lucky to have so much support from Deb, the team at Chamber, and the other members of our sector, who have helped me to settle into the role.

Like every other sector, we have been disrupted by Covid. We have had nearly half of our meetings over video conference, and you might find it comforting to know – sorry, can you hear me? – that even the Digital sector is not immune to the technology issues that come with remote and hybrid meetings. We’ve made the most of it though, and dare I say our meetings have been downright enjoyable. I apologise in advance to anybody who sits on the chair I broke from laughing so hard last month.

When you start a new role it’s always tempting to rush in and make sweeping changes. Well, trust me, I looked really hard at how things were being done and I couldn’t find any big, bold changes that needed to be made. I spent a great deal of time talking to the members of our group, and discussing the future with my counterparts in Chamber, but it didn’t seem necessary or appropriate to make a major transformation.

That said, I did have two goals. I wanted to make the group more diverse and less formal – representative of the digital sector as a whole, which as you know, is made up of charming, good-looking people from a wide variety of backgrounds, who get up in the morning and put on their best shorts and flip flops for the office. When I first joined, our meetings took place at 8am, making them practically inaccessible to anyone with childcare responsibilities. We had as many members named ‘Chris’ as we did women and, as one of the younger members of the group (I am in my late thirties!) I remember feeling somewhat intimidated for a while, until I eventually found the confidence to speak up. 

I knew that we were making progress on the diversity and formality front the first time one of our members breastfed her child during the meeting (no, it wasn’t on Zoom), but there is plenty of work still to do. 

On that note, the Digital Forum (as we call it now – ‘Committee’ sounds so formal) welcomed new members from companies like BlueWave Communications, Riela Cyber, CND, Scratch and Readynez, and we will gladly welcome more members with an interest in the Digital sector – enthusiasm for tech is the only qualification needed.

Besides asking our telecoms providers when Douglas Promenade will be dug up to install the telegraph poles, two things have cropped up in our meetings more than anything else. The first is skills and education.  

I continue to believe that education is the best lever that we can pull to improve our quality of life in the long term. Climate change, mental health, the future of work, the obesity crisis, vaccine hesitancy, religious and political extremism, the popularity of Love Island – all of these challenges benefit from a better-educated population. If we really wanted it, the Isle of Man could have the best education system in the world. No really – what is stopping us?

Unfortunately, we hear about young adults leaving the island at the age of 18, and not returning until mid-life, resulting in a skills shortage in entry-level and mid-level roles. We hear worrying stories of teenagers leaving secondary school without the basic skills they will need in business or higher education, like the ability to write a report, give a presentation, or use spreadsheets to prove you can’t afford the mortgage payments on a house. These skills aren’t ‘digital skills’ anymore, they are bog-standard life skills. Twenty years ago, you’d put ‘Microsoft Word’ on your CV, but if you did that in 2021 people would look at you like you’d just coughed on their unvaccinated child.

Just as we take it for granted that somebody can use Microsoft Word today, in ten years’ time we’ll take it for granted that a job applicant can edit a Youtube video, create a web page or write simple code. Some businesses and universities already do. We need to be ready for this or kids on the Isle of Man will fall behind.

I’m happy to say that members of the Digital Forum were instrumental in attracting and establishing a high-quality provider of digital skills training, Readynez, to the Isle of Man. Readynez offers a huge range of courses. You can learn everything from entry-level digital life skills, to cloud infrastructure, to how to configure Cisco MDS 9000 Series switches (yes, that’s a real, 4-day-long course).

My hope is that this goes some way to helping with our skills shortage, both by raising the bar in terms of local education quality, and by providing opportunities for those affected by Covid and the changing nature of work to retrain and find their potential in a new career.

Finally, our other regular discussion point has been Cybersecurity, and especially ransomware, which is without doubt the most significant cyber threat to local businesses. From a physical security perspective, we are lucky to live on the Isle of Man, which is one of the safest places in the world. We leave our doors unsecured, and the worst thing that happens is that sometimes, somebody stumbles drunkenly into the wrong house and we all have a good laugh about it.

Leave your router unsecured however, and you may wake up to find you have been penetrated by a North Korean. From a cybersecurity perspective, we are part of one open internet, at no less risk than anyone else in the world.

In the Digital Forum we’ve had regular updates from our members on current trends, and we’ve been lucky enough to hear presentations from OCSIA and witness simulated cyberattacks in real time. If cybersecurity is a subject that you need help with, then any member of our forum can signpost you to appropriate assistance. You can also look forward to cybersecurity articles from our members in the near future. 

Alternatively, why not consider joining us? We meet at 9am on the last Wednesday of the month, usually at the Eagle Lab, sometimes on Google Meet. New members are always welcome!