Edge computing is essential to accelerating the UK’s regional regeneration
By Wendy Shearer, director of Smart Cities and Ecosystems at Pulsant.
Regional investment, innovation and growth will depend on access to edge computing
The UK government is committed to levelling up and growing the economies of all regions through collaboration with devolved administrations and local partners.
And with the national economy facing many challenges, the tech sector has moved into pole position as a driver of this much-needed growth. It was no accident that during the British Chambers of Commerce Global Annual Conference, key figures including the Chancellor, Leader of the Opposition, and Governor of the Bank of England stressed the need for British businesses to embrace technologies like AI if they are to succeed in an increasingly digital world.
To see how this could develop into a genuine success story, cast your eye no further than Manchester – increasingly seen as the UK’s top digital Tech City with a thriving £5 billion digital ecosystem. Greater Manchester Council has set a clear vision in its digital strategy, prioritising solutions delivered in partnership with the regional ecosystem for the benefit of its residents. When other regions, as well as those leading tech hubs, consider how to emulate this digitally-driven success, the answer is in two words – edge computing.
Edge infrastructure is the devolution of computing power
With data volumes expanding exponentially, edge infrastructure has become an essential underpinning. It meets the hugely increased demand for data-processing by bringing it closer to the source to make it viable for businesses of all types and locations. This proximity facilitates the use of 5G technologies, video analytics and advanced IoT, whilst also meeting the demands of emerging technologies such as AR and VR.
Regional edge infrastructure, comprising the network and distributed computing power, enables large amounts of data to travel shorter distances, allowing local capture and processing. Low latency connectivity and edge computing will help leading tech hubs such as Manchester achieve its ambitions, whilst also developing regions outside of the capital such as the North-East and the Edinburgh-Glasgow central belt.
Delivering new capabilities across many industries
Edge infrastructure releases the pent-up innovation and energy across a multitude of sectors. Consumer-based services, such as gaming and entertainment, won’t be the only ones to reap the benefits of edge. As digital technology is increasingly referred to as the fourth utility – just as essential to society as water or electricity – edge computing will play a significant part in this process.
It will enable the construction industry to transform its efficiency through a much more significant level of automation. Smart agricultural technologies increase the efficiency of machinery and chemical use to increase crop yields. In medicine, new healthcare models will employ remote diagnosis and monitoring solutions, accelerating diagnosis, personalising treatment and requiring less travel from patients and clinicians. In design and engineering, skilled practitioners will collaborate on projects remotely in real-time using sophisticated design software.
Public services, from healthcare to car parking and waste collection will use edge infrastructure for much greater efficiency, allowing organisations to deliver more from budgets that are likely to remain constrained for some time. This explosion in the numbers of IoT devices, AI-powered computing, and streaming services will generate substantial data that can only be effectively processed through edge computing
Regeneration from regional data centres
In the realm of the smart city, edge infrastructure is what incubates better services and new opportunities in almost any region of the UK. By changing what is possible, edge computing is central to the realisation of benefits from a data-driven economy for cities, communities, and businesses up and down the country. From regional data centres, edge computing provides the low-latency processing required for advanced applications and AI implementations, while maintaining access to the services of the major cloud providers. In contrast, conventional on-premises or centralised approaches are less well-suited to today’s heavy demands on data and infrastructure.
Building a comprehensive edge infrastructure
There is an important set of relationships that should be established for this to succeed. The full potential of edge computing requires a network of partnerships that ensure everyone has access to the opportunity. These ecosystems will drive the provision of connectivity and achieve the necessary collaboration that enables local businesses to innovate and compete on the national stage and overseas. The partner ecosystem is what unleashes the power of the regional edge in the longer term.
Local knowledge and expertise are invaluable. While bigger businesses often outsource their IT to system integrators, regional SMEs should collaborate with regional edge providers to build their own solutions. Local authorities must ensure their residents and business communities have fair access to this technology framework through partnerships with specialist infrastructure, transport, health, and content delivery providers.
Equal investment from public and private sectors
When public funding is squeezed, as it currently is, edge infrastructure becomes vital for the public sector to meet consumers’ ever-increasing expectations of digital technology. While network roll-out completion remains a priority, attention and investment must also be directed towards applications and infrastructure that drive utilisation.
The public and private sectors should match one another for the resources and energy they invest in edge infrastructure, quickly delivering benefits to residents while ensuring UK tech businesses develop solutions that keep the country relevant in a rapidly changing global market. The time has arrived to grasp the opportunities provided by data, digital tools, and collaboration. This is how to revive regional British businesses, stimulate fast-growth start-ups, and act as a job-generating magnet to established companies that relocate because of regional infrastructure excellence. Edge computing infrastructure has become the essential ingredient in regional regeneration.