Blog: Innovation must be at the heart of Aberdeen’s future

Andrew Holloway
Andrew Holloway

Andrew Holloway is head of technology & emerging markets in Scotland for Grant Thornton


In recent times, the news in Scotland has been dominated by job losses in the North East.

The downturn in the oil and gas sector is continuing to bite hard and it’s leading many to ask some difficult questions about the future of the industry.

This isn’t the first time Aberdeen has faced up to economic challenges. The oil and gas market by its very nature is cyclical, meaning that we can occasionally get too close to boom and bust moments As many observers are quick to highlight, this time is slightly different and likely more worrying. Declining oil prices have hit at the same time as extraction costs have risen, forcing many firms to look again at their long term North Sea investment plans.

But, while there are many reasons to be worried, every crisis offers an opportunity to take stock of our strengths and weaknesses and make plans to create a more viable future. Scotland is developing a new global powerhouse reputation in technology.

Start-ups are popping up throughout the country, encouraged by the international success stories of businesses like Skyscanner and Fanduel. Sadly but maybe not surprisingly, much of that new industrial growth is across the central belt.

Glasgow’s creative back-bone is providing the support for innovative new business models where individual one-man operations collaborate to win sizable projects, while in Edinburgh, the city is now confidently competing with London, Toronto and San Francisco as a base for growth-hungry tech businesses.

The trendy new tech brands making it big today may seem a world away from the industrial nature of oil and gas, but, if there is to be a viable, long-future for Scotland’s largest sector, it needs to embrace change and invest in innovation.

Last year, Grant Thornton conducted extensive research in the oil and gas sector and discovered that more than 42% of the businesses we spoke to were putting their current strategies on hold because of the downturn. 12 months on and, with the price of a barrel of oil remaining stubbornly low, the fear is that the industry could completely stagnate, losing talent and investment, and making it difficult to grow when the situation eventually improves.

In tough times, it’s a difficult sell to promote the idea of investing, but – as Grant Thornton said last year – doing nothing is not an option. The much-maligned financial services sector faced its own near-death experience during the 2009 global economic crash. Consumer-confidence hit an all-time low with many observers speculating that the industry was at a crossroads moment. While there is still much to be done to ‘fix’ that sector-group, one area of focus since 2009 has been technology as a means of delivering better customer service. Working with the booming tech industry, financial services firms have delivered innovative new services and regained some ground lost only seven years ago. ‘Fintech’ is now an established industrial group in its own right, employing thousands of people, and Scotland is leading the way.

The full impact of the oil and gas downturn has yet to be felt, with many future investments remaining on hold and jobs on the line. The industry is facing a crucial moment in its lifespan. It’s time to embrace innovation and create a viable future for Scotland’s most crucial commodity.

Grant Thornton

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