Stop, collaborate and listen...

You may ask what a law firm's role is in an event and report on Disruption. And you'd be forgiven for asking this… We're not regarded as the most cutting-edge of industries and are very often late adopters to innovation. That however is changing rapidly as new entrants come in to the legal market and challenging established practices, fee structures and ways of working.

For us at Foot Anstey, tech innovation isn't about always investing in the latest technology – although that's going on too – but being innovative in the ways that we work with businesses, understanding the challenges they face and helping them address these. One of the advantages we have is that we work with a cross-section of businesses and very often support them through major technology and other transformative projects. We work with businesses on all sides of the disruptive fence – from start-ups seeking investment and strategic alliance as their businesses grow and mature, to corporates looking at ways to introducing new technologies into their evolution. This gives us opportunity to help our clients navigate through the seas of change while also making connections for them to businesses, advisors and investors in the local market, or their sector, to help them keep afloat and prosper.  

As a part of the South West and Bristol business communities, we've been watching with interest the thriving local tech scene – it was great to see Bristol recently upgraded to the UK's leading smart city by Huawei index and we were delighted to participate recently in some really exciting discussion around AI, automation and smart city innovation as part of the Festival of Future cities. What we're observing is an abundance of new ventures and innovation across industry sectors and that there is investment and funding available for those who seek it.

For us one of the interesting challenges is how we harness this energy – all of the good stuff that is going on and is attracting headlines for the region – to support the next 'unicorns', benefit the end consumers and perhaps even more importantly the wider community. You just have to look at the 'smart city' landscape to understand that collaboration is not always easy. With greater fragmentation of solutions, data sets and technology standards the picture is getting increasingly complex.

We recently launched a report looking specifically at this issue for the energy market and hypothesised, with the help of data from our partners Qbots, on the amount of money that could be saved if all those involved in the energy market shared data. Don’t get us wrong, we know this is a utopian vision – we are commercial and understand that there is value to be gained, but greater collaboration and an open data market is something that cities and sectors all over the world are exploring and someone will win the race to get this right.

In our discussions with business leaders and technologists, there are clear concerns as to how best to 'centralise' and guide innovation whether at the sector or connected city level. Without greater collaboration between local authorities, businesses and technologists to identify common ground or standards for the use of technology, data repositories and/or communication networks is there a risk that greater solution driven benefits to a sector/city will be stifled before they get started? Ultimately will the consumer need to invest more and more on different kit/software/SaaS based products in the future simply to keep its connected solutions...connected? 

Identifying and agreeing common requirements and standards as well as horizon scanning future opportunities with greater industry/city collaboration is obviously difficult and challenging but seems to be a much more purposeful way of arriving at a common goal in contrast to leaving the industry without this sort of focus.  Perhaps a controversial view but this feels as though we are at a tipping point between technological opportunity and our ability as a society to take control of how we may guide and control the core industries and cities of the future without the potential for undue cost wastage and more complex issues of interconnectivity in the years ahead.

So for us, Disrupt SW has been an opportunity to collaborate – first with Tällt and ADLIB, who are also working with a cross-section of businesses in this space, and secondly to bring together our combined networks to share and celebrate what's going on in this great region. We hope that by helping to facilitate this, we'll not only hear about some great success stories but also hear the seeds being sown for future collaboration – whether that's securing potential investment or learning from new tech to benefit a more developed business. We'll be listening carefully.

Author: Martin Cuell, Head of Technology and Partner at Foot Anstey.

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