Technology has a pivotal role to play as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic argues John Trower, chairman of leading Scottish-headquartered telecoms provider Commsworld

The world’s technology revolution faced a critical moment when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Networks and infrastructure, put under massive pressure as organisations everywhere switched to homeworking, might have collapsed under the strain. 

They didn’t. In-built resilience, driven by the futureproofing of data and internet providers, mean that they coped admirably with the extra burden. Of course, economies are going to be badly damaged by the effects of the virus. But if the internet had failed, there would have been total devastation. 

John Trower is a Scottish businessman who can take significant satisfaction from this. The company he chairs, Commsworld, is one of the UK’s fastest growing and most competitive telecoms providers and with long experience in the sector, he has seen the technology revolution unfold. 

Trower, whose booming company is planning a major expansion across the UK, believes that society is at a crossroads. The Covid-19 outbreak has highlighted the world’s dependence on technology: it is critical, he believes, that there should be a debate about how to best harness it for public good. 

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“We are at a fork in the road right now, and as a society, we have to make decisions about the kind of country we are,” he explains.  “The economic scenario is bleak. Our GDP to debt ratio is going to increase to more than 100% and perhaps 120 per cent.

"That level hasn’t been seen before outside wartime, which may take generations to pay off. 

“Clearly we have to take this very seriously. Technology has a fantastic role to play in solving this greatest economic problem of our time. We need to create enough prosperity to share that wealth out among the population.” 
This challenge, he adds, is already clear and will become even more profound 

“The benefits of growth many people have enjoyed over the past 20 years or so have not been shared equally across the population, and that growth in inequality is potentially going to get worse unless we consciously do something about it.” 

Technology has a vital role to play in this. With investment in the right places it can create a level digital playing field offering equal access across the whole country.  

Trower reckons that one significant step in creating this level playing field is to ensure that all social housing is equipped with high-quality internet connections. “This would be a game-changer for tens of thousands of families across Scotland. It would allow them to be more economically active, give vital connections for education and other public services. And companies like Commsworld can make it happen quickly at a reasonable cost to the public purse.”  

Another big idea that the Scottish Government should invest in is a publicly owned connection to the vital technology cables that carry huge quantities of data and information across the Atlantic.

John believes Scottish ministers should aim to take advantage of Scotland’s location and get a direct connection into these cables.

“This would be another game-changer. Scotland is much closer to the eastern seaboard of America, and cities like New York, Washington and Boston, than London and the south east. A direct connection would mean that information could be transferred more quickly than at present and give, for example, the financial sector in Edinburgh a significant advantage over competitors in the south. Again, Commsworld could easily become involved in this.”             

These are not the only areas, John adds, where fundamental public policy decisions need to be made. “We are also facing the huge challenge of net zero carbon. Scotland has the target of achieving this by 2045 and the rest of the UK by 2050. 

As a technology company, Trower adds, Commsworld has a legitimate voice in this hugely important debate. “We need to contribute to it and use the platform that we have to advise politicians and public policymakers about the sort of society we want to see.” 

One driving factor is that Covid-19 has forced the rapid adoption of technology, with people having to adapt to its use very quickly. Video conferencing platforms such as Teams and Zoom have suddenly become ubiquitous, leading to disruptive change in the way everyone works. 

“In the past, we would have jumped in the car and driven to another location, gone for a coffee or to a more formal meeting, and then had a chat in a cafe or meeting room. 

“That would have meant taking a car to drive there, consuming petrol and taking up a chunk of the working day. Looking back now, doing it that way looks profligate in terms of both time and carbon, and it’s also inefficient.” 

One of the good things that has come out of the pandemic, he says, is that society has discovered it can work in an entirely different way and yet still be economically productive. 

This has changed minds in areas such as presenteeism, the art of the possible and the ability to remotely service customers. 

“Necessity is the mother of invention and we have passed the test on that. Can you imagine just how bad the Covid-19 crisis would have been if we didn’t have the internet or access to the technology we can now use? 

Faced with an unprecedented challenge, the infrastructure coped. “Politicians at Westminster and Holyrood were worried about whether the networks would be able to handle people working from home and so still support society and the economy

“The answer was yes. They were designed to have the resilience, the capacity, the survivability, the security. I’m very proud of the way our industry performed. 

“We proved that a new economy is possible, and that technology can actually increase efficiency. It will become the key building block of the future economy, but we do need public policymakers to decide what kind of society we are going to have.”  

commsworld.com

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A high capacity digital network with its roots in Scotland 

Commsworld is well placed to play a central role in Scotland’s digital revolution. It has grown rapidly in recent years, offering clients a secure high capacity digital network covering the whole of the UK.

Catering largely to the public and SME sectors, it has built a reputation for providing cloud, data, telephony and other associated services. It now employs 100 people and has offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London.

Turnover last year was £24 million. An even more impressive achievement, however, was the company’s appearance in April in the Sunday Times Profit Track league table, which charts the UK private companies with the fastest growing profits over the last three years. It ranked Commsworld at number 23.

With this success under its belt, the company does not intend to take its foot off the pedal. “We do service the whole of the UK, but our reputation and brand strength is currently in Scotland,” John Trower says. 

“We think there is real scope for a Scottish-headquartered and led  organisation that could grow right across the country, and that’s what we aim to do.

“We’re looking at the north of England, perhaps the Manchester-Leeds corridor, and growing out from the London base we already have. 

“We think there is a latent market there for bringing the kind of services at the sort of competitive price point we already offer in Scotland.”

He is optimistic about the future. “The emergence of Covid-19 means that technology take-up over the next 10 months is likely to be pretty much equal to earlier predictions for its growth over the next 10 years. That presents challenges, but 
opportunities too.”