WHEN the sector diversification strategy for the Aberdeen city region was conceived, it initially focused on four pillars: tourism, food and drink, life sciences and building on our oil and gas experience to become a global all-energy hub.

Alongside improved access to business growth funding and creating a more aspirational culture, digital was listed as a key enabler in our economic growth and realising the renaissance region vision. This referred to the need for world class digital infrastructure and connectivity and using technology and big data to power our businesses of the future.

It would have seemed to the casual observer that this definition of digital was about as far as it went for this region and that other cities around the UK had secured first mover advantage in this space. But as we delved further into the topic it became clear that a strong but fragmented and under-the-radar digital eco system already existed in the North-east. Many companies were delivering leading edge work, supporting clients in our main sectors, under various monikers including training, oil and gas consultancy, solutions, data, technology systems, you name it.

And so a fifth pillar, digital and entrepreneurship, was added and the challenge now being led by Opportunity North East, the region’s private sector response to the long-term economic challenges, is to harness this into a recognisable digital cluster with a real opportunity to build on existing strengths and create significant competitive advantages including establishing a unique selling point around use of artificial intelligence in the energy sector.

So what’s the scale of ambition?

That our universities are recognised for their excellence in digital research and generate large numbers of graduates with related skills every year. Creating 50 new indigenous start-ups including spin-outs from those universities. Attracting five major global anchor businesses and 25 start-up companies to choose this region to grow their operations. And that ultimately the region is home to 15 to 20 £30-50m turnover, digital companies. Why shouldn’t the next Skyscanner be conceived and grow in Aberdeen rather than Edinburgh?

Returning to the point that this level of ambition has to be backed up by world-class infrastructure it is encouraging to see progress towards Aberdeen achieving Gigabit city status by 2021 supported by city region deal investment and delivered by CityFibre and Vodafone. But we are starting from a low base.

In the Centre for Cities 2020 Outlook report, Aberdeen was in last place in the UK with only 23.3% of premises achieving ultrafast broadband speeds in excess of 100Mbps. And that’s before we even start to consider the challenges facing businesses and communities in Aberdeenshire.

The Chamber has consistently called for this region to be prioritised as a full 5G pilot area to demonstrate the value of this aligned to our economic strategy. Both UK and Scottish Governments talk a good game about delivering on 21st century connectivity but we need real action and investment, not platitudes and meaningless statistics.

Currently 33% of internet requests and calls on trains fail, so, as we develop our campaign to finally deliver sub mile-a-minute rail travel between Aberdeen and the Central Belt, alongside this we will push to ensure that time spent on trains is productive time.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport aims to make Wi-Fi and 5G mobile broadband speeds of 1Gbps available on all UK mainline train routes by 2025 but this is not soon enough. We want to see progress now with the Project Swift proof of concept trial that could deliver consistent coverage regardless of tunnels and cuttings allowing passengers to ‘download the entire Beatles back catalogue, in under two minutes’.

Russell Borthwick is chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce.