Should I stay or should I go now?

Probably one of the most memorable lines from any song that I remember while growing up in the UK. I was extremely fortunate to have been able to moderate a dinner the other week with colleagues from NetApp, IBM and the RT Hn Lord David Blunkett, probably one of the most well known politicians of our era and a former Home Secretary.

Also as I found out during my research, Lord Blunkett was a former Honorary Chair of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA-UK) Advisory Board and was until March 2015 and Chairman of the not-for-profit International Cyber Security Protection Alliance (ICSPA). Take a look at his bio and you’ll realise possibly just how excited and nervous I was undertaking this. 

The discussion for the evening was Brexit, specifically the impact on businesses and IT should the UK decide to either stay in or leave the EU. The challenge with this, which became more and more obvious during the evening is that there simply isn’t enough solid information to draw conclusions, but I thought I’d share a little of how the discussion went.

There was an extremely lively debate for the whole evening but I’ll summarise a few of the key points that have the most significance. There are many things that are important to businesses, but during this discussion we seemed to focus on the top three that are likely to be impacted by whatever decision is made for the future, Taxes, People and Data, as I said previously there cannot really be conclusions on this because the reality is that having been a part of the EU since 1973 no one really knows what the impact will be if we were to leave, by the way for context 1973 was just a couple of years after the first ever email was sent.

taxtimeTaxes, currently many companies setup HQ or trading centres based in an EU country that offers favourable tax benefits to them, this is why within the EU you’ll find many companies base themselves in Holland or Ireland, there are of course other beneficial locations but these two are probably the most significant especially for the IT sector. So in the event that the UK decides to leave what are the implications of this? Then there are organisations that have centralised their European procurement operations to specific countries inside the EU to centralise and manage spending, along with other alleged purposes that you can read about through a quick search around the Web. And there are links between Tax and Data as well, just recently we’ve had the Panama Leaks scandal, where a massive amount of leaked data on companies and individuals is now exposing significant Tax questions and potential liabilities.

PeoplePeople, we covered a whole range of different aspects of this, ranging from how industries that are seen as traditional or more conservative will be able to attract the necessary talent in order to transform themselves into the organisations that they need to become for the future. Recent research from ‘The Economist’ showed that the number of MBA’s entering the Finance sector declined from 43% to 29% from 2007 – 2013 and indications are that this decline is continuing, whilst the opposite is being seen in the Technology Sector, what is the longer term impact of this on traditional industries? The need to transform is huge but the ability to attract the right talent to achieve this is small, does the EU provide access to a larger and necessary talent pool? Would leaving hinder our progress by making access to this more restricted?

DataData, the business value is at a level never seen before, new companies are coming into existence that are based solely on analysing data and providing services to consumers based on these analytics, think Trivago who run massive analytics on data across hotels all over the world to find the best rate at any particular point in time, or for healthcare ’23 and me’ who for £125 (shipping included) will sequence your genome and provide a personal report to you to advise you on conditions that you may be susceptible to or should be aware of that might affect you in the future. Traditional industries are in a race to catch up, or to work out how to better monetise the information they currently hold in order to provide better, more personal and more valuable services to their customers. So how would a Brexit decision impact this? Well we’ve just seen the collapse of ‘Safe Harbor’ the agreement to share data from EU member states with the US, it’s replacement ‘Privacy Shield’ seems to be suffering from similar problems, same content, different name and therefore is taking a prolonged amount of time to get any consensus. Then we have the recently agreed, and soon to be implemented EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which harmonises the Data Protection Regulations for Individuals from the 28 different versions across the EU member states to a single Regulation for all EU members, this is going to have a big impact if the UK remains a part of the EU anyway, but what happens should we decide to leave?

I can’t talk to taxes as it’s not my area at all, but I can give you a brief summary of my thinking on People and Data. In order to attract the right talent for the future companies that are seen as more traditional businesses are going to need to get involved at an earlier stage in the education system, get involved with Schools to demonstrate that there are exciting and rewarding roles within their industry, sponsor Hackathon’s or local meet ups of DevOps style user communities, or even partner with Startups. A good example is the Finance sector, we’re already seeing the disruption coming from the FinTech’s, is the approach if you’re a large incumbent not to try to compete with them but to partner with them? Let them become the innovators that you need to transform and let them attract the talent needed to make this happen with your support. There’s also the cost aspect of skilled resource, should you consider how to build your Companies Application and Data Infrastructure such that it can be located or accessed securely by whomever is most appropriate wherever they happen to be, is this a security challenge? Probably, but is it any more of a security challenge than the number of access points that you currently have and the massive number of consumers that currently access your services through them?

And Data, regulations will continue to change that’s a simple fact of the world we live in and the speed at which technology and the information we create moves at compared to the significantly lower speed that regulations will adapt to keep up. Even if the UK were to leave the EU, companies in the UK who wish to do business with EU-based companies would still need to comply with the EU regulations. Maybe you can’t use Amazon Web Services today for certain data, but maybe you can tomorrow, what if a regulation changes and now you can’t again? Being able to build a platform for your Applications and Data so that it can be in the right place at the right time with the right performance and cost and adhere to current regulations isn’t a nice to have it’s essential.

‘If I go there will be trouble, An’ if I stay it will be double’

So back to Brexit, maybe the second line in this verse isn’t quite right as I’m still undecided and that’s even after an evening with Lord Blunkett who is in favour of staying in. One thing is for sure is that the UK and the EU will not be the same regardless of the outcome of the vote, and everything talked about above has to be considered

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