How shortages overshadowed 2022's tech successes

An arid landscape with a blue sky

The past 12 months have been defined by the word “shortage”. It's exemplified by shortages in both talent and supply of goods, although some also believe the industry has experienced a lack of finance, ideas, and progress during 2022.

In the first full year without lockdowns since COVID-19 took hold, the industry has attempted to bounce back. Organisations, however, have gone on to face new problems such as rocketing energy prices, political upheaval, record levels of inflation, and a cost of living crisis.

It’s clearly the shortage of people, though, that’s become a major restrictor to growth. According to Udacity, nearly half (48%) of UK enterprises experienced project delays in due to not having enough talent and 45% needed to outsource jobs because they lacked staff with the right skills. This chimes with the findings of Natural HR’s State of HR report. It showed 45% of respondents cited recruitment in tech as the most challenging task of 2022, with 67% of HR managers concerned about employee recruitment and retention in tech.

Many facing such pressures might agree with Marc Lueck, CISO EMEA at Zscaler, who describes 2022 as “turbulent”. Prashanth Chandrasekar, CEO of Stack Overflow, a technology Q&A site, explains “there isn't a meaningful pool of untapped technical talent available”. Paramjit Uppal, CEO of AND Digital, meanwhile, estimates the UK workforce will require eight million people in the next three years with proficient digital skills. Uppal also warns it’s a risk for businesses to become dependent on third-party apps and digital tools for key business functions, adding: “Companies can take control and build the safe, secure, modern solutions that they need for growth, and skill their staff to use them.”

A boon for APIs and a fall for crypto

One of those modern solutions should be seen as a positive highlight for 2022, argues Iddo Gino, who is CEO of RapidAPI, a hub used by developers to find, test, and connect to thousands of APIs. Gino believes APIs have helped to tackle the UK’s digital skills gap, and the talent shortage, this year as well as speeding up digital transformation.

“APIs boost developer productivity by eliminating the need to write repetitive code,” he says. This empowers developers to be more productive while also promoting good governance and high performance, and quality standards across applications.

Where APIs were in plentiful supply, though, the crypto industry faced monumental challenges. The industry experienced a shortage of faith, with the value of assets falling and many platforms closing. Indeed, the past year was “somewhat quieter” for blockchain technology, admits Alan Vey, CEO of crypto firm Aventus Network, but amid the noise about crypto, more companies began exploring proofs-of-concept. For example, some organisations designed the means to bridge decentralised finance and traditional finance, with governments also exploring central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).

Vey adds the ongoing FTX fallout and Binance situation have made blockchain assets cheaper, which presents “a great opportunity” for traditional institutions to get into this market. “We will likely see a lot more of that happening, which will further legitimise the industry, but could simultaneously undermine blockchain’s core USP – its decentralised nature.”

Action, inaction, and a lack of innovation

Another major shortage hitting the headlines in 2022 came in the semiconductor industry. David Stone, chief executive at MRL Consulting Group – a recruiter with 25 years of experience – contrasting the UK’s lethargic approach to the "action" the US has taken.

The semiconductor shortage sent shockwaves through every country on the planet,” Stone says. “[The US] passed $280 billion worth of funding through Congress and into law. They incentivised companies to expand, invest in learning and development, break ground on new fabs, and hire like crazy.”

By contrast, Stone suggests the UK government sent out “a pretty bad” enquiry about the industry and what it does, while also allowing the acquisition of one of the country’s only fabrication sites; a purchase it’s now trying to prevent.

The UK’s inaction is all too familiar, he argues. “The heads of the few semiconductor companies in the UK continue to make their case for the fact that their industry needs more support, but it seems to be falling on deaf ears,” he warns.

Elsewhere, shortages in talent have been balanced out in some areas by more automation. Dr Kam Star, VP of product portfolio at robotics company SS&C Blue Prism, explains strong growth came from the adoption of intelligent automation in the banking, finance, and insurance sectors, as they streamlined operations. In healthcare and pharmaceutical, it has supported better patient experience, inpatient care, and drug discovery, he adds.

“The manufacturing sector, arguably one of the largest consumers of automation in general, is leveraging intelligent automation to accelerate the move toward Industry 4.0 – the increasingly interconnected world combined with smart automation,” he says. Transport and logistics are two further sectors that have optimised transportation routes and reduced costs by connecting operations across several systems.

Tim Annis, UK managing director of billing and payments start-up Bluechain, agrees it’s been “a year of innovation” within his own sector. “We’re entering a new era of payments where consumers understand the value of connectivity, demand better experiences, and tech needs to be jumping at the opportunity,” he explains.

Matt Littler, founder of VR company ARK Immersive, however, suggests there have been plenty of missed opportunities, with shortages of big ideas and big innovators. This is especially scathing in the context of Meta's venture into the metaverse. “I just feel like this year we have been held back,” he admits. “I think post-2020 and 2021 – and because of COVID-19 and global political insecurity – we’ve seen less ‘maverick’ development.”

Littler believes the world needs “a new Steve Jobs” given 2022 lacked “wow” moments. Instead, he describes how it saw a number of rich people “invent things to make themselves wealthier or to engage in pseudo politics”. Litterler warns: “Investors need to start thinking big; much bigger than they have done in 2022. My message for 2023 is this: stop iterating and start innovating.”

Jonathan Weinberg is a freelance journalist and writer who specialises in technology and business, with a particular interest in the social and economic impact on the future of work and wider society. His passion is for telling stories that show how technology and digital improves our lives for the better, while keeping one eye on the emerging security and privacy dangers. A former national newspaper technology, gadgets and gaming editor for a decade, Jonathan has been bylined in national, consumer and trade publications across print and online, in the UK and the US.