Driving a digital economy and happy coincidences

Titanic museum Belfast

Written by Robin Knowles, Founder & CEO, Digital Leaders

Known as the ‘golden age’, Northern Ireland thrived under its position as a global industrial giant in the 19th century. Now, two centuries later, the nation is carving a new digital identity in the fourth industrial revolution.

I had the pleasure of being in Belfast this week with colleagues from Digital Leaders NI for the launch of a new report commissioned by Civica and independently produced.

The research brought together senior leaders and industry experts from across Northern Ireland to discuss how the nation can thrive in this digital age, along with new research from more than 1,000 citizens.

As part of the research phase Digital Leaders NI held a round table day talking about all aspects of a digital Northern Ireland. I was pleased to see the feedback from that room of cross-sector experts had been reflected in the report’s findings.

Any of us in the Digital Transformation sector working in London will be aware of how many talented Northern Irish businesses and individuals we bump into on a daily basis and so the report wanted to understand what the state of play in NI is and what actions were needed.

Whilst it is clear that the landscape in Northern Ireland is changing, both politically and demographically, and although framed for the modern age, the same question remains:

How can leaders across all sectors step up and deliver a future-proofed digital model that not only meets the evolving needs of citizens, but also ensures Northern Ireland thrives and realises its digital destiny?

The resulting report – The Changing Landscape for Northern Ireland: Strengthening Northern Ireland’s digital identity – identifies opportunities for leaders to accelerate the next chapter in that digital evolution.

Two points in the report stand out for me. Firstly, Northern Ireland needs to find ways to retain its digital talent to keep it in the region. Northern Ireland seems to me to have a lot to offer in terms of lifestyle, but additional benefits from employers needs to be a big part of this as well as salaries that make London less attractive. To quote John Napier, Director of DfI Digital Services, Department of Infrastructure, “the region needs to have flexible and fluid employers.”

Secondly, to retain and cement its place as a technology driven region, public and private sector leaders in Northern Ireland must push hard and up the pace by continuing to invest in initiatives designed to meet its rapidly growing demands in all areas of life. As Mark Owens, Managing Director, Northern Ireland, Civica says “simply sitting back and letting digital delivery slip is not an option.”

For me personally, one of the lighter moments in the report was the research into consumers views on digital public services. People approved of them, found them helpful and easy to use, and wanted more of them, but rather than crediting the public sector for this, they also saw the exercise as being motivated by a desire for cost savings. The benefits they were enjoying as a result of these digital services were merely a “happy coincidence”.

I suspect many citizens across the UK might offer the same research results.

I recommend a read.


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