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North East tech sector will play a key role in COVID-19 recovery

The North East’s tech firms will play a huge role in the region’s COVID-19 recovery, according to a sector network which champions them.

Dynamo, which was established in 2013 to promote the region as a hub for the enterprise IT sector, has seen several of its 160 members become involved in the fight against the virus, while others have continued to grow in terms of clients and employees.

Dynamo chair, Charlie Hoult, said: “The region’s tech sector was in good shape going into the lockdown and has so far weathered the storm well. Now members are telling us they’re ready for whatever the post-COVID-19 world looks like. They just want to get on with it.

“I’m proud of the Dynamo members who have been contributing to the fight against COVID-19. For instance, the NHS Business Services Authority has been building and deploying a number of digital responses to the outbreak, including running the service that saw one million texts sent to those most vulnerable members of the public who required additional shielding.

“Elsewhere, Sage has been working closely with HMRC to develop an app to make it easier for their payroll customers make claims under the Job Retention Scheme, and Opencast Software has been helping key Government departments in improving and maintaining critical digital platforms.”

Giselle Stewart, a Dynamo vice chair and director of corporate affairs at games developer Ubisoft, explained her company was still recruiting: “Ubisoft is working hard to overcome the technical challenges of making games while working from home.

“Ubisoft’s EMEA Consumer Relationship Centre based in Newcastle is continuing to recruit, onboarding staff remotely, in order to meet increasing demand.”

At a recent Dynamo board meeting, many members reported that the coronavirus crisis has brought about changes in the way they work.

Andrew Besford, a Dynamo vice chair, explained: “Many public sector organisations are telling us they won’t go back to the way they operated pre-COVID-19 and our universities and colleges are saying something very similar.

“Prof Alison Shaw of Newcastle University, for example, said there have been significant, tech-based changes in learning and teaching across the education sector.

“She said this has had to take place at an accelerated pace, with a rapid move online transformation and little prospect of a full return to traditional ways of teaching once the crisis is over.

Dynamo chair Charlie Hoult is predicted that the crisis will see a reversal of the talent drain to bigger cities that has been a problem for the North East for many years.

He said: “Anecdotally, we’ve picked up a feeling that many tech people who’ve returned home to the North East for the lockdown don’t plan to go back to London or other big cities once the restrictions are lifted. It’s been a reminder of everything we have going for us in the north east.

“With the explosion in use of Zoom, Teams and other online platforms people will find it easier to work for companies based elsewhere but still live in the region. Working remotely will become the norm for thousands.”

As well as encouraging and helping members, Dynamo has been directly involved in the COVID-19 response, contributing to the five-point recovery plan drawn up by the North East LEP and the NE Growth Hub.

The group has also adapted the programme of its now virtual annual conference to include sessions on lessons learned from COVID-19, with members being invited to share their experiences.

Sarah Thackray, co-founder of BeaconHouse Events and a director at Dynamo, said: “This year’s event will still be on Thursday, June 25, and will have a crisis session which will feature NHSBSA and other organisations on the COVID-19 frontline.

“We’re also hoping to have a session from the Urban Observatory around using smart city tech to monitor social distancing.

“And we’re planning a north east business bounce back session with several of our member companies. The conference will be free to all Dynamo members.

“Our great tech sector can light our way out of the COVID-19 gloom and Dynamo is playing a key part in helping to enable and empower it to do so.”