Tech City - by Royal Appointment

 

Prince Andrew on the Royal Family's use of modern technology

Later today Britain's newest city gets a Royal visit. It is a place that is still known to many as Silicon Roundabout but two years ago the government dubbed the stretch of London inhabited by small technology firms around the Old Street roundabout Tech City.

Ask most people - even Londoners - what that means and I suspect you will get quizzical looks. But a Royal visit should help to put the tech cluster on the map, and perhaps make the government's ambitions to turn the area into Europe's rival to Silicon Valley look slightly less fanciful.

One Royal has already spent plenty of time visiting the area and getting involved in promoting it. Prince Andrew was supposed to accompany the Queen on today's visit, but now that her engagements have been cancelled for the rest of the week, he will be going alone.

So yesterday I went to Buckingham Palace to interview the Duke of York about the hi-tech cluster - and about his family's use of technology.

His staff had warned me that he was more "techie" than I might have expected, and that proved to be the case. Off camera, we chatted about the merits of various mobile operating systems, and what worked best in a BYOD - Bring Your Own Device - organisation which is apparently what the Palace is becoming.

Then in our interview Prince Andrew told me that the Royal family acted as "the early adoption gang", trying out new technology for the Buckingham Place IT department: "We are very fortunate, we hear about, we go and visit, we see new technology and we see new opportunities and we bring them back and go OK let's see how we can apply this. "

He said the family were enthusiastic users of Apple's iPads and all had mobile phones, though there was more caution about social networks. But he revealed that the family did use Yammer - the private social network for organisations which is among the firms he will visit today. "I've used that for seminars and forums I've held here so that people can carry on the conversation afterwards."

As for Tech City itself, the Prince stressed the importance of linking it back into the local community - something critics say is missing: "I've been working very closely with Tech City and Hackney. There is 35% unemployment in 18 to 35 year-olds in that part of London. What I want to do is to try to encourage apprentices to be taken on from the local area." There was, he said a tendency to bring in people with a university education from outside the area. "Not everybody needs a degree to work in this particular sector."

The Prince seems genuinely enthusiastic about helping to boost East London as a centre of hi-tech endeavour. He talked of businesses on the scale of Google or Amazon emerging from Tech City.

So far, however, there is more evidence of American giants like Google, Amazon and Microsoft - owners of Yammer - opening a few small offices in East London rather than home-grown businesses emerging to take them on. Tech City has the royal seal of approval and a healthy marketing budget - now it needs to show it can generate jobs and world-beating businesses.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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