It may be a few years away, but London can celebrate – and start the hard work;  the city has been selected to host the prestigious IEEE Robotics and Automation Society’s (RAS) International Conference on Robotics and Automations (ICRA) in 2023.

An extensive and heavy-weight group of organisations supported the bid, led by Professor Kaspar Althoefer from Queen Mary University of London. They included The Mayor of London, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kings College London, Imperial College London, University College London, The Alan Turing Institute, Cognition X, and software companies DeepMind and Shadow Robot.

Encouragingly, as well as the usual business-related conference programme, workshops and networking, the conference organisers will be running a robot competition between schools in England for children aged 7 to 12, with the aim of raising interest in STEM subjects. The hope is that this will avoid a future skills crisis in AI, especially given that 13 universities in London offer AI, machine learning and related undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

In the B2B technology industry – and I’d argue more broadly in the overall technology space – AI and robotic process automation (RPA) is the most transformative innovation around. So much so that ethics are of top priority in the UK and US, the implications of which my colleague Tom Webb wrote about here recently.

All this attention and the wide-ranging impacts of AI and RPA on our personal and business lives means international technology providers are focused on two things: firstly, differentiating their proposition and secondly, expanding into new markets.

Firstly, the AI and RPA industry as a whole faces the challenge that cloud and digital transformation technologies did a few years ago – and that’s explaining what they can achieve in real terms, not the meaningless buzzwords and jargon which can negatively affect the B2B technology landscape. And, as AI and RPA businesses at home and abroad pile in, looking for their share of this ‘hot’ market, the big challenge for each will be why they are different from and better than the rest.

To turn to the second issue, London stands a good chance of acting as a central hub for US-based firms wanting to enter the European market. London is already the base for over 750 AI businesses, double the total of Paris and Berlin together and international investment increased by 50% in 2017 from the previous year. In the last few months a flurry of US-based companies have announced international intent, including insurance AI and machine learning (ML) operator, Lemonade and Innowatts, which specialises in AI-enabled analytics and SaaS for the energy industry. As Thomas Stone, partner at AI Seed recently said: “London has technology, finance, and government — it’s like SF/NYC/DC in one city. And within an hour by train, you have access to four world-leading research universities in addition to the Alan Turing Institute.”

The senior Marketing and PR decision-makers within software providers, which choose to spider outwards into the EU from London, will be faced with choices about their PR and communications options. Do they attempt to run everything from the US HQ, distributing news announcements down the wires and hiring local freelancers in the biggest markets? With the ability to turn on and off as commercial needs dictate, low cost and low risk, it’s easy to see the upsides – but the translation and account coordination involved can be vast.

Or do they hire a multi-country agency in the EU and brief them to execute media and PR requirements in every territory? With that comes high fees, perhaps unjustifiably high at this stage, more resource to manage the high-capability agency teams and their outputs, in turn increasing the need for bigger sales teams.

But, there is a middle option. It will provide a sustainable, effective choice for leading PR and Communications from the UK. Curious to read more? Our CEO James Kelliher wrote about in detail here.


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