Developing the Isle of Man as a digital destination of choice was not just a key theme of a November 2022 gathering on the island, but formed a crucial aspect of a deep dive into current strategies and growth prospects moving forward.
These comments came as CasinoBeats sat down with Lyle Wraxall, Chief Executive of Digital Isle of Man, at the recent ICE London, which followed a landmark highest ever number of licensees being reached during the last 12 months.
The executive agency within Isle of Man government’s Department for Enterprise aligns this momentum to a professionalised ecosystem that has fostered open communication with businesses to drive developments.
“That’s really created some great opportunities for us, and we’ve seen those results,” Wraxall began. “If we look back over the last four years, we have seen a steady increase through the number of businesses coming to the island, and that means licences, that means jobs and growth.
“It’s great to see, and we don’t see any sign of that slowing down. We got through the pandemic blip, and that did obviously plateau numbers a bit. But after things have opened up, it’s been going strong, and we didn’t really lose anything. We just lost a bit of momentum during that pandemic time.
“As we look forward to next year, we’re still seeing a large increase in opportunities and potential businesses coming to the island, so it’s fantastic to see.”
“I think digital is certainly a growth sector, not just on the Isle of Man but everywhere”
Regarding the appeal and perceived attractive proposition posed in reaching this milestone, Wraxall cited the need to be open and accessible, as well as not being afraid to expand into further sectors, such as esports, crypto and fintech.
“What we’re seeing is that they are all coming together and working together. It’s creating a really interesting ecosystem and tech culture on the island,” he continued.
“People are moving between businesses within the different digital sectors, and are able to create more interesting career paths. And I think all of that is really making a far more attractive proposition, and creating more growth.”
During November’s aforementioned assembly, Lawrie Hooper, the then-Minister for Enterprise, opened the conference by proclaiming that the digital industry “sits at the heart of our future economic success.”
Wraxall elaborated on this by touching upon a “a really strong history in financial services” on the island, which, it is noted, “is still a huge part of our economy”.
In addition to touching upon the “key” role of tech in driving future growth, the Digital Isle of Man lead also delved into a range of initiatives that are designed to bring new ideas and innovation.
One such example, a fintech innovation challenge, was designed to give the island’s businesses the ability to grow more, become more lean, innovate and outstrip the competition.
“I think digital is certainly a growth sector, not just on the Isle of Man but everywhere,” Wraxall continued.
“…we have to be really agile and keep forward looking”
Adding: “We’ve had a 10 year economic strategy that we’ve been working on for some time, and at the heart of that, the digital sector is recognised as the area where a lot of growth needs to come from.
“I keep saying the digital sector, but let’s be really honest about this, digital is not a sector, it’s a horizontal and it feeds everything.
“When we’re looking at digital technology, that’s the way we’re looking at it.
“What we do is build everything up, all of the businesses on the island. And that’s why it’s so important to our growth.”
When it comes to the specifics of not just supporting business growth but ensuring that these thrive and beat off competition, the importance of adopting an understanding role as a government and creating “the right environment” for such sectors to blossom is a point that is hammered home.
“That means, especially in the tech sector, that we have to be really agile and keep looking forward,” he explained.
“Understand what’s coming down the path and make sure that environment is right. So we’re looking at things like our financial regulatory system, what’s that going to look like in the next five years, we need to have that vision, we need to start moving on that now.
“We need to understand our position, which we did a few years ago, around blockchain technologies and crypto assets, and make sure that we are offering something, but at the same time to the high standards as we expect, and we have to have it on the Isle of Man.
“But it’s also about enabling businesses to have certainty in their business surviving and being able to grow on the Isle of Man.”
“We’re here to make sure, where possible, that we are doing the utmost to listen to our business’ needs”
Slightly changing tack to look at things from a people perspective, Wraxall pointed to close industry relationships in ensuring that momentum, which has seen gaming and fintech occupy 30 per cent of the total economy, continues.
“It’s a very collaborative relationship,” it is noted, one that “means we have really frank conversations”.
He continued: “And that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to make sure, where possible, that we are doing the utmost to listen to our business’ needs, and we’re adapting.
“Again, people really enjoy and like working in that environment where they feel that they’ve been listened to, and they’ve got a voice.”
In a bid to support skills growth, the island’s journey is to also deliver the opening of a Digital Academy, a concept that was born out of conversations with overseas colleagues.
Noting the importance of collaborating rather than competing to swell the industry opportunities available, such a move, said Wraxall, comes against the backdrop of a global shortage of tech skills.
However, with the Academy on a programme of work across the remainder of the year, the need to be “clear about what outcomes we want to get from that” is reiterated.
“Ultimately, it’s going to have to form part of a larger workforce skills strategy on the Isle of Man to make sure that we bring the right skills and the right workforce, to help our economy grow and hit our targets and our economic plan,” it was said.
With the conversation drawing to a close, all roads inevitably led back to Digital Isle and the question of: How do you develop the Isle of Man as a digital destination of choice?
“Let’s make sure we don’t break anything we’ve got, we’ve got a fantastic environment”
“I think it’s diversity options,” Wraxall explained. “I’ve talked about the diversity of career paths, you need to have a workforce that has different sectors to work in.
“It’s about creating an ecosystem that works in harmony with each other and can leverage each other. So you can’t just throw paint at the wall and expect everything to work.
“You do need to lay out your plans and understand what is going to drive businesses to each other. When we look at developing a new sector or a new idea or new initiative, we very much first and foremost look at how that is going to benefit the existing businesses we have on the island.
“How’s it going to help them grow? How are they going to be able to deliver more services here? How do we help them do that? And then we look at how we bring in new businesses into that sort of mix to help that growth.
“And that’s incredibly important to us. Let’s make sure we don’t break anything we’ve got. We’ve got a fantastic environment, and how do we just keep on building and building in a way that’s positive to everybody?”