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Review: London Tech Week 2020 – Embracing the Virtual

Last Monday marked the start of this year’s London Tech Week. Organised by Informa Tech, this year’s event, as a sign of the times, was fully virtual. Over a two week period, the mixture of panels, keynotes and Q&As are being recorded via video call, and hosted on a customised virtual platform.

Usually held in June, London Tech Week 2020 was postponed slightly due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With large-scale indoor events still off the table in Europe, the decision was taken to fully embrace the capabilities of a virtual platform.

The innovation, purely in virtual event hosting, in the last few months has been staggering. London Tech Week was still able to display a comprehensive events platform, with some more novel features including Live Online Q&As, and the participation of a truly global audience. So, whilst few things will compare to in-person meetings or hearing a talk/panel live, virtual events do still have a lot going for them.

Variety of Events, Big Names in Attendance

London Tech Week, known for being Europe’s most influential tech event, was able to match this comprehensive agenda with a strong virtual line-up across the two weeks. Over the fortnight, attendees can expect to hear from some of the biggest names in tech including Eric Schmidt, former CEO & Chairman, Google, Jack Dorsey, CEO and Co-Founder of Square and CEO of Twitter, Matt Hancock MP the Secretary of State for Health, and Dr. Indra Joshi Director of AI at NHSX, to name but a few.

The key ‘summits’ within the larger event included TechXLR8, the 5G World Summit, the London Borough Tech Spotlight and accelerateHER, which addresses the under-representation of women in the industry. TechXLR8, billed as the ‘flagship event’ of LTW, took place during the first week. Within this sub-event there were a number of different strands, including AR + VR World, Blockchain for Business Summit, Cloud & DevOps World, and the AI Summit 2020. This smorgasbord of talks, panels, and round-table discussions, meant that you were spoilt for choice when looking to hear about the latest trends from with AI, Blockchain & the Cloud.

Tech & the New Normal

Of course, the elephant in the room with all of this is the Covid-19 pandemic. Nearly every talk, even without meaning to, would stray into discussion about the impacts of the novel Coronavirus, lockdown, and the ‘new normal’ that lays ahead of us. Whether you are attending the upcoming talks, or checking out the recordings of the week just gone, you can expect to hear about how firms have been responding to the crisis, and how they are doing their best to overcome the unexpected issues that it has thrown up.

Some companies have so far weathered the storm, others have disappeared, and many more are pivoting to new revenue sources, or embracing brand-new technologies. In addition to the discussion surrounding COVID-19, plenty of time is also being given to address the myriad topics with regards to BAME within the tech-space, and the role of women as well.

London, Tech, Comes Out Fighting

London, and the UK, is considered a global hub of technology and innovation, and it was clear that the goal of London Tech Week 2020 was to re-affirm that, despite everything that has been going on. Offices may be quiet right now, but many tech firms are still providing vital services and innovation, thanks to their remote-working staff. Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates and Chairman, London Tech Week Advisory Committee, is a firm believer in this view, saying that “When the country went into lockdown, tech played an instrumental role in keeping businesses open and families connected. Technology has an even greater role to play in helping people to feel safe, in supporting the next stage of our NHS, in protecting livelihoods and in defining our international competitiveness.”

Business, Blockchain & the Future

One particular area of interest was the ‘Blockchain for Business’ summit. People are now getting excited for next stage in the evolution of Blockchain technology. Beyond Cryptocurrency, business leaders are starting to investigate how Blockchain could be the next game-changer in their particular field. One area of such focus, is within the Energy Sector.

Blockchain, the Energy Game-Changer

With regards to Energy, there has recently been a great deal of focus on how Blockchain technology can be successfully utilised, in order to accelerate the modern energy revolution. Renewable, clean energy is the goal that everyone is striving for, and energy giants such as BP and Shell were in attendance to outline their vision for utilising this nascent technology to achieve this. Providing a keynote talk on behalf of BP was Julian Gray, Technology Director. His talk focused on how Blockchain can be used to decentralise the energy sector and, additionally, how that fits in with the new renewable agenda.

For Julian, he sees blockchain as being the tool that can re-shape an industry that is ‘pre-digital’, and one that is made up of many different parts, few of them connected. In terms of the consumer, he stated that “We are looking at the pressure that consumers are coming under to transition to more environmentally-friendly energy sources.” These energy consumers want to start making that transition to clean & renewable energy, or at the very least get some insight into where their energy is coming from & how it’s being used. The problem at the moment is that the tools to enable this are fairly inadequate, in the current system.

Rise of the Prosumer

As part of this empowerment for consumers, Julian explored one of the most exciting trends in the energy space, that of a new category of customers, ‘prosumers’. These prosumers, who have often have excess energy that they have produced (via solar panels etc.), could be linked up with the wider energy marketplace, utilising a network running on Blockchain.

Julian explained that this process would happen via a mobile application, run by their new company: Strala. After a lot of early-stage discussions in previous years, it was exciting to finally get some true tangible details about how this new, blockchain-powered energy marketplace would look like, and to hear the enthusiasm with which some of these energy companies are now pursuing renewable energy – better late than never.

Technology, Regulation & Inclusion

This week’s discussion, as the event enters its second and final week, will be looking at tech in a much broader sense, away from the (admittedly exciting) niches such as AI, Blockchain & Cloud. You can expect interesting conversations with governmental bodies, tech leaders, along with a reflection into what the industry can do to address ethnic and gender representation imbalances. As Gerry Grimstone, Minister for Investment, put it: “The next two weeks are a real celebration of all that London and the whole of the UK has to offer and I look forward to seeing how the many events, discussions and meetings become commercial opportunities at home and abroad for tech firms in the UK.”

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