The future is up in the cloud – answering our computing needs
Superfast broadband is a key to unlocking growth and job creation, argues Adam Chambers
When Alexander Graham Bell made the world's first intelligible telephone call in 1876 and uttered the famous words to his assistant: "Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you," he could not foresee the enormous impact his invention would have.
Today, some 137 years later, communication has become instant, with fibre optic cables capable of transmitting 250 million phone conversations every second at the speed of light.
For most of us such speeds are unimaginable, but continued investment in the next generation of 'superfast' broadband technology means more people are able to take advantage of the communications revolution.
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The Government is committed to providing superfast broadband to at least 95% of the UK by the end of 2017.
And despite recent criticism about the pace of deployment, here in the South West many places are well ahead of the curve.
Cornwall, for example, where the superfast roll-out is being supported by up to £53.5 million of European funding and up to £78.5 million from BT, is on target to hit 95% coverage by 2014 and is widely seen as a model for others to emulate.
Elsewhere in the South West, BT is working with local authorities and others to bring superfast broadband to the countryside as part of the Government's Broadband Delivery UK initiative.
But it's an expensive and long-term business, so rather than criticise the pace of roll-out I think it's important to focus on the benefits, and to make sure we are prepared to take advantage of the higher speeds when they come.
A Government report published in February this year confirmed that as well as the short-term economic benefits of building superfast networks, broadband technologies increased business productivity and growth through better innovation, more start-ups, international trade and flexible working.
And earlier his month a survey by the Countryside Alliance found that four out of five adults – 80% – believed investment in superfast broadband would have a bigger impact on the UK economy than other infrastructure projects like HS2 or a third runway at Heathrow.
But the research also found that it takes time for businesses to realise the full benefits of broadband connectivity, and often depends on the managerial culture and skills of the business concerned.
Thanks to investment from the European Regional Development Fund, businesses across the South West can access a range of support designed to help them harness the potential of superfast broadband, grow their business and create jobs.
Delivered by Peninsula Enterprise, we are working with local authorities and other providers to support around 900 businesses primarily in the rural areas of Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire through a project called Superfast Business.
Eligible businesses can benefit from a fully-funded support package that includes a dedicated business adviser, events, one-to-one expertise and access to an online knowledge hub.
We are also working in Cornwall to deliver a separate superfast business support project which is aligned with the work of Superfast Cornwall.
Taken together, these projects are expected to create more than 320 jobs and boost the South West economy by around £27 million.
In my view one area with the biggest potential – especially for small businesses that make up the majority of those in the region – is cloud computing.
This gives any business access to all the computing power it needs without actually owning it, and by the end of this year more than 75% of UK businesses are predicted to be using a least one type of cloud service.
Rather than having the expense of running and maintaining servers and software in the workplace, they access it all over the internet and enjoy the best and latest technology and support, including the use of large and expensive programmes rented out on a per user, per month basis.
If used effectively it makes businesses more efficient, boosts productivity and drives innovation and collaboration, all of which can help a business grow and create jobs.
It also means your workforce can access your IT system wherever they can get a decent internet connection, whether from home or on the road.
And with flexible working proven to have a positive impact on the productivity and culture of a business, not to mention staff recruitment and retention, pushing some or all of your systems into 'the cloud' has enormous potential benefits.
But the cloud is just one facet of the superfast broadband revolution – find out more at www.superfastbusiness.co.uk
Adam Chambers is chief executive of Peninsula Enterprise, the region's foremost provider of specialist and business support services. www.peninsula-enterprise.co.uk