'Why Digital?' Seriously? You plainly don't Get It enough. Or at all
Get on board the future train, grandad, it's about to achieve escape velocity
¡Bong! "Why Digital?", some of you occasionally ask me. Some get into more detail: "Why Digital, Steve?"
It's a question that invites pity and contempt, naturally. Merely asking marks you out as a knuckle-dragging revanchiste. But sometimes I put pity aside; this is a brave thing to ask in 2015. So today, I'm here to help rather than to sneer at such ignorance.
Thanks to the booming economic miracle of our Digital Clusters, and the extraordinary far-sighted work of the coalition – the stellar, brilliantly led Year of Code is just one example – the UK now fully gets Digital. It sweats Digital, much as a Frenchman sweats garlic.
The Government understands that we're in the middle of the greatest upheaval since the Industrial Revolution. It needs to follow today's real pathfinders – like digital marketing agencies, SEO optimisers – and cast aside "skills" that were once deemed useful. Modern, Digital Skills – like "Getting Digital" – are taking their place.
So, for example, we have Digital Ambassadors. Whitehall has done away with specialists in old, dead skills like IT and networks, that are no longer relevant, and appointed Chief Digital Officers. Then given them honours. The Prime Minister even appointed an Ambassador to a road junction.
Even if your job doesn't have "Digital" in the title you can still be a lynchpin of the new economy - as an Engagement Manager, Simplicity Engineer, or Meme Wrangler.
"But Steve, what's Getting It?"
Now permit me to two examples of ways that the UK truly "gets it".
A digital BBC
As you know, when the vacancy for the Director General of the BBC arose in 2012 I sadly had to turn the job down for an obscure accounting reason (before it had actually been offered, but that's a minor detail). Yet my bold and visionary blueprint for re-inventing "Auntie" – which I shared here – is now being followed.
Out go the so-called "experts" spreading their elitist views. Reporters are entirely pointless now that people get their news from Twitter. James Harding has cut 415 jobs from the BBC's news department, which is nowhere near the cuts needed – but it's a start.
The money now goes on digital skill gurus. They in turn will train unpaid interns on vital career skills for the Digital Economy, such as posting videos on YouTube.
Now some of you are thinking:
"Is this really why I pay my licence fee? To fund some kind of giant useless BTEC training college that you find in a godforsaken provincial town where people race pit bull terriers and vote for UKIP? Is that what Lord Reith really had in mind?"
You're missing the point – this is a bold new platform. For Digital people. The whole point of Digital is to ensure Digital people expand their career opportunities, and this new platform is a fabulous example.
Export Digital Government
But still that puzzled expression lingers on your Neanderthal brow.
"Why Digital, Steve? Why? What is it?"
I answer this with Three Words:
Government. Digital. Service.
Not only does the GDS have a "Chief Digital Officer", but he has a CBE. The GDS is of the web, not on the web. That's Getting It.
Of late I have been very disappointed with this publication, The Registrar, for describing GDS activities as a failure. That's not how I see it. GDS has made millions of web pages disappear. For the rest, it has "gamified" the experience, by introducing the elements of randomness and malignity to a formerly mundane and unchallenging experience. What were once boring, static pages are now highly interactive and engaging, with millions of people asking: "Who knows if it will work this time?" "Where's the search engine taking me now?" and "Oh please, I just want to know what the law requires".
But the most vital, and the most digital, part of GDS is very healthy. It's expanding. The Government has signed a partnership with the USA meaning lots of travel opportunities and job opportunities will arise for our GDS people over there. Australia has got a GDS too.
GDS is a scheme to expand Digital Opportunity, just like it is at the BBC.
Hopefully now you see: Now, at last you "Get It".
Many years ago our forefathers had a problem – the feckless and illiterate couldn't find work. A program of Outdoor Relief was created, providing made-up jobs to give these people's lives shape and meaning. Today, we have Digital. Digital isn't Outdoor Relief, but Indoor Relief, and it isn't the feckless and illiterate who are the beneficiaries – but uniquely talented pathfinders.
That brings me to the most fundamental misunderstanding about Digital. You think it's about the "user", or maybe "user empowerment". But it's not about you at all.
It's about me. ®
Steve Bong (official title: Lord Bong of #businessmodel) is the founder of Bong Ventures, an early stage investor and incubator focussing on innovative new technology start-ups based in Shoreditch, London. When he's not helping rear the next generation of business models, Steve enjoys parties and foreign travel, extreme cuisine, Open Data and draws his inspiration from Ayn Rand and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. He advised (then hired) No.10 policy guru Rohan Silva on mindfulness and innovation, Lily Cole on innovation in giving, Mark Zuckerberg on the Perfect IPO, the Republic of Kazakhstan on emergent social media strategies, LOCOG on brand enforcement, and imagineered the Olympic Opening Ceremony with Danny Boyle, Shoreditch's #guardian coffee coffee shop with Jemima Kiss, and was the social media consultant for Edward Snowden and Lady Thatcher’s Funeral. A recent attempt to arm the Syrian rebels with iOS7 sadly failed, however. He emphatically declined to assist the Islamic Caliphate in creating viral and engaging content.
At the personal invitation of Kim Jong Un, he is a strategic consultant on the Nextification of North Korea . Steve wants to pivot the BBC into the 22nd Century, blue-skying its hugely successful Digital Media Initiative, and advises the UK Government on icon design and the new National Curriculum. He favours Small Government but Large Catapults, the Soft Power of Tiny Coding Fingers, and wants more taxpayers to engage in Ambient Crowdsourcing.