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THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION AND THE ROLE OF R&D

2018, like most years, is set to break all records in terms of the amount of global investment in Research & Development (R&D). Digitalisation, through the development of Robotics, RPA, AI, Big Data, Analytics and Blockchain is fuelling the growth in R&D and all evidence suggests that investment will continue to accelerate in the ensuing years.

To give one example, HFS Research predict that the global market for RPA software alone will reach $998m in 2018 and is expected to grow to $2.2bn by 2021, a compound annual growth rate of 54%. While not every technological advancement will see such a growth rate some might surpass it and others will be close. So, what is driving the acceleration?

In terms of what some are calling the digital revolution we’re about to hit the hotspot, and unlike other times in our global history, many more countries and continents around the world have joined this particular revolution at an early stage. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, gross expenditure in R&D from North America and Western Europe, fell from 53% to 48% between 2009 and 2015. Over the same period gross expenditure from East Asia and The Pacific’s rose from 32% to 38%. Interestingly, this happened at a time when R&D expenditure, as a % of GDP grew in North America and Western Europe.

Governments, economists and business leaders from around the world now recognise the need to be at the heart of the digital revolution to ensure their place in the value chain. And that’s important not only in terms of national wealth but also in terms of the quality of life and future careers of their people. Creating the workforce of tomorrow is intrinsically linked to growth and with the potential of technology widening all the time, education is fighting to keep up.

The role of business enterprise

Funding from business enterprise continues to be a very important and the major contributor of investment in R&D. When looking at the world’s top ten leaders in R&D investment, around 70% of the total combined investments of the top ten come from the USA, China and Japan and between 70 and 80% of investment by those three countries is from business enterprise.*

Korea also make the list of top ten investors in R&D where business enterprise contributes close to 80% of R&D spend. In Germany, Russia, France and the UK the figure is lower, between 65 and 70%. The rest of R&D investment falling to governments, higher education and to a lesser degree the ‘not for profit’ sector.*

*The UNESCO Institute for Statistics ‘Global Investments in R&D 2018’ report covers the period of 2009-2015.

It isn’t possible at this stage to say exactly where we are in the overall digital revolution curve, but clearly it’s climbing steeply right now. How long that curve continues to rise will depend on the emergence of new technologies and making the best possible use of the ones currently in early stage development. What is known is that the role of business enterprise in providing the investment into R&D and creating the workforce of tomorrow will both have a huge role to play.

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