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Northern tech ‘needs support from local industry’ to thrive

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Tech in the North of England may be booming but improved collaboration with local industries and public services is necessary if the region’s tech clusters are to thrive, according to a new report.

Produced by the RSA and Tech North, the report, titled The Digital Powerhouse, found that digital jobs in the region were increasing at ten times the rate of jobs in non-digital sectors.

Additionally, the report also highlighted that the productivity of digital workers was 53% higher than that of non-digital employees.

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Speaking about the report’s findings, James Bedford, head of investment Strategy at Tech North, said:  “Tech North was established by government to support the northern tech clusters and we commissioned this report to highlight the many assets and opportunities for collaboration and growth on our doorstep.

“We hope this report not only reveals opportunities but also inspires tech companies to forge new paths to unlock new marketplaces.  The Digital Powerhouse argues that by embedding the tech clusters within Northern supply chains they can increase productivity and growth across the wider economy,” he added.

The report highlighted Manchester’s “word-class” digital marketing cluster, Leed’s prominence in HealthTech and Liverpool’s reputation in the Internet of Things.

‘The market opportunity’

The report adds that the North’s Digital Powerhouse is still far from fulfilling its potential.

The government and tech advocates, the report says, have concentrated on improving talent, infrastructure, finance and culture but more needs to be done in terms of procuring market opportunities.

With tech startups in the North now established, the report notes that time must now be devoted to help them win paying customers and to help the expand.

Commenting on The Digital Powerhouse, one of the report’s authors, RSA Associate Director Benedict Dellot, said:“For many people, the tech industry conjures up images of billion dollar IPOs, celebrity founders and cult brand followings.

“Our report argues that the North’s tech clusters can pioneer a different way of doing tech. Rather than be isolated and inward-looking, tech businesses should be woven into the fabric of their local communities, supporting them as they seek to navigate their way through a new digital era that will bring tremendous challenges.

“Whether it is an EdTech company working with local schools to bring e-learning into the classroom, or a data analytics company helping manufacturers improve machine efficiency on the factory floor, the scope for win-win collaborations in the North is vast,” he noted.

Recommendations

Finally. the report issues a series of recommendations to help foster a more vibrant and collaborative tech ecosystem in the north of England:

  • Establishing a Digital Powerhouse Contract Portal – A portal could be created that collates private and public sector contracts in one place, establishing a Northern hub of commercial opportunities for tech companies.
  • Making the North a test bed for experimental tech – Northern tech clusters should encourage private and public sector organisations to trial pioneering innovations in the region, such as the use of robotics in social care or blockchain technology in welfare payments.
  • Encouraging the use of open source software – Partners in the North should champion the use of open source software to enable collaborative innovation, opening software markets up to more local competition.
  • Establishing digital immersion events – Public service teams should consider organising events with nearby tech communities in order to share procurement knowledge and better understand local needs and strengths.

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