How many times do we hear the assertion that necessity is the mother of invention? Let us hope that it turns out to be valid when it comes to the reinvention of Britain as a fully digitised industrial economy.
For all the buccaneering talk in political circles, this country’s recent economic success has rested to a considerable degree on plentiful but low skilled labour and the predominance of financial services.
When choices have been available, in many sectors, business and government have not always opted for investing in the future in preference to the quick fix. Consequently the UK struggles to attain high productivity.
It is no consolation to know that respected rivals such as Japan have similar problems when our nearest European rivals manage much better.
Some remarkable examples of connectivity... point to the possibility of contraction to supply chains
But what if a sector that has relied on abundant labour and a massive internal market no longer can do so? Evolve or die seem to be the options on offer.
Brexiteers will approve the scenario as a vindication of their stance. Whether it will enable the UK economy to advance beyond the level it was in 2007 remains to be seen. If not then it will once again cast doubt on the wisdom of EU withdrawal.
However, there is little doubt that failure to adapt to the Industry 4.0 era will leave a future already uncertain looking worse.
Thanks to its previous reliances, the food and drink sector could be a proving ground for what will come next. And as our feature on page 11 outlines, it has achieved some remarkable examples of connectivity that point to the possibility of contraction to supply chains just when we need that most.
Whether that happy outcome is realised, however, depends on the degree of adoption of digitalisation – a theme explored in more than one feature in this issue. Without a total buy-in from one end of supply chains to the other, it will not work.
After all, one has only to remove a single link in order to have no chain worth the name.
Pic: Lontra's Steve Lindsey talks at length about digitalisation in our lead article.