Defying gravity - are Britain's digital tech export set to boom?

Tech Nation predicts a 35% increase in British tech exports in the next 5 years. So what underpins this prediction?

Conceptual illustration of the convergence of disparate technology threads in a binary environment.
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London Tech Week is traditionally a time for enthusiastic flag-waving as the UK's digital industry celebrates its achievements. An appropriate juncture, then, to publish new research projecting a 35 per cent increase in technology services exports between now and 2025. In five years' time, according to a Tech Nation report, Britain's digital companies will be ringing up annual overseas sales of £31.45 billion compared with £23.3bn in 2019.      

Overly optimistic? We are, after all, still battling with a pandemic that could have major ramifications for years to come. Unemployment is rising and no one can predict the economic damage that could be inflicted by further Covid-19 outbreaks. Meanwhile, the prospect of a messy Brexit hangs over Europe. 

All this raises the question of whether Britain's digital tech exporters can in some way defy economic gravity and continue to grow while other sectors struggle to get back on their feet.

Certainly, exports of digital services - defined as software and consultancy - have been increasing in recent years. The Tech Nation report - Unlocking Global Tech - says overseas sales grew by 25 per cent between 2015 and 2019. That's by no means unimpressive but there is a caveat. Towards the end of that period - 2019 to be precise - exports began to fall back. And since then, the economic headwinds have been building.

Export drivers

So, what's going to drive accelerating export growth? According to Tech Nation CEO, Gerard Grech, there are a number of factors, including the increasing number of digital economy companies making the transition from startup to scaleup.  

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