Brexit - next exit sign

Will Brexit make it into the Oxford Dictionary this year? It’s certainly a popular word these days! Perhaps “Brexit” will someday refer to any resignation from a multi-national organization.

There’s certainly no shortage of crystal balls predicting the future of the UK and the world, now that the Brexiteers (those on the leave side) have succeeded. Most of the analysis has been about the potential economic impact, similar to this one from Huffington Post.

However, some articles focus more on the IT implications. Here’s a sample:

No doubt there are many other writers busy creating their own Brexit stories, and there will be updates at every step of the long road ahead.

What I want to know is whether Brexit follows the Gartner Hype Cycle, even though Brexit is not technology-based. According to Gartner, a hype cycle has five phases (which I am loosely interpreting below):

Technology trigger: Some new event kicks things off. Early stories and media interest trigger significant publicity.

Brexit formally began on February 20th when the UK Prime Minister announced the referendum, although the general view seems to be that the general EU discontent started much earlier.

Peak of inflated expectations: Early publicity produces a number of success stories — often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not. 

There was no lack of publicity and promotion in the months leading up to June 23rd. Brexiteers clearly reached a high level of expectations. Before the vote the bets were on remaining in the EU; now the question is whether or not buyer’s remorse will set in.

Trough of disillusionment: Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Architects of the change may back away or move on.

The slide towards a trough of disillusionment seems to be starting, and will likely be fueled by the lengthy separation process and the amount of uncertainty. There is already a petition with millions of signatures requesting a second referendum. Many Brexiteers may be disappointed that major change is not immediate and that their day-to-day life remains much the same. At some stage, many people will wonder if the decision was a good one.

Slope of enlightenment: More instances of how the change can benefit the country start to crystallize and become more widely understood.

The separation agreements will need to satisfy everyone – the Brexiteers, those who wanted to remain, and the various countries of the EU. The leaders will clearly need to show direct benefits and overcome many roadblocks, but the view seems to be that it will happen. There is always a danger that the consensus will leave no one satisfied and the goals will go unrealized.

Plateau of productivity: Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing viability are more clearly defined. The broad applicability and relevance of the changes are clearly paying off.

At some point the separation process will terminate, hopefully in a generally workable state. Some outcomes will be positive and will help to convince new supporters, while others may not. It’s too early to predict if there will be further complications (such as Scotland voting to remain with the EU instead of the UK).

I’m not sure if the hype cycle analogy is ideal, but it does show that the exit plan will be critical, and will either confirm the vote or lead to even wider dissatisfaction with the way things are.

From the narrower viewpoint of the IT industry, I think Brexit may be a test of just how global and borderless the IT ecosystem has become. The TechRepublic article referenced earlier identifies five high tech areas that may be impacted by Brexit:

Access to skills: UK companies may have more difficulty obtaining resources on-site, but over the next decade this may be offset by remote work and the evolving contingent workforce. Why does anyone need to be in the country to do IT work?

Funds for start-ups: While it may not be as easy for UK start-ups to access funding, I have no doubt money will always find winners regardless of where they are located. If your start-up is likely to create a unicorn, then funding will appear from somewhere.

Trade tariffs: While new tariffs may be a disincentive, the move towards software-defined, service-oriented, subscription-based IT is likely to have an equally large impact. IT competition is increasingly global and tariffs will need to reflect this across many borders.

Research grants: I cannot comment on this but feel this is similar to start-up funding – researchers doing valuable work with potentially large impact should attract funding whether the UK is in the EU or not. Today, research is a very international activity with lots of cooperation across borders.

Privacy and data handling: This is one area that will need careful consideration, but there has been much work to develop best practices that should provide guidance; the UK will continue to be part of the world community and everyone’s privacy concerns are similar.

There are some commentators who believe the separation process could actually take 4 to 6 years to complete. The volatility and uncertainty that this will create may actually be the biggest hurdle for the IT industry to overcome.

This is what I think; I have no doubt that there are a great many different viewpoints on this topic! Share yours with us.

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