The heat is on for North East digital

North East England’s tech firms formed a network group Dynamo. Here, it’s chair, Charlie Hoult, explains the mission: Grow the North East IT economy

In 2014, we asked BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones to open our inaugural conference with the question: How do we make North East England the next Silicon Valley?

His answer: Don’t even try!

It was a very good insight. Since then, digital tech has featured as a growth sector for every region, town or city.

It’s important for our region to define what makes us special so that we can compete in national or international markets.

We endeavour to articulate that here in Hotspot. We focus on several sectors hugely important to the North East: shared service centres, advanced manufacturing and automotive, government, cyber security, finance/tax/accounting and higher education.

With the UK’s only FTSE 100 software firm, Sage, headquartered in Newcastle, we also have some of the most experienced professional services teams and a cadre of management that has crossed over to grow other scale-ups.

The region hosts lead tech teams for government departments: HMRC, DWP, Student Loan Corporation, Environment Agency and NHS. These develop the systems backbone for some of the UK’s biggest IT projects: universal credit, prescription pricing authority and VAT. This has spawned a support network including Accenture’s 1,000+ UK delivery centre and over 8,000 staff for BT.

Another powerful force is Nissan. It operates the most efficient car plant in the world from Sunderland, accounting for 30,000+ jobs in the supply chain and turbo-charging the region for the only trade surplus outside London. With the addition of the Infiniti production line and to give resilience to their global operations, Nissan has mandated further investment from suppliers running to over £300m on the new International Advanced Manufacturing Park.

Engineering is a force in the region, with IT now at its core. Also, orbiting this automotive cluster, we have sub-sea, autonomous vehicles, satellite and firms like Osbit, Reece and Tharsus which are pioneering robotics and beyond.

Newcastle University’s Science Central campus is the UK’s largest city centre development site with already £350m+ committed investment. It is home to the National Innovation Centre for Data, National Innovation Centre for Ageing and leading international teams working on Smart Grid and Smart Cities.

Our five universities, each have strengths that support the skills ladder. Durham’s Cosmological Computing team, now housed in a building designed by ‘starchitect’ Daniel Liebeskind, is helping identify how we got here in the first place – with a computer model of the split second after Big Bang. Durham’s Centre for Process Industries leads the world in electronics manufacture techniques.

FE colleges – include the UK’s largest education group, Newcastle College – are pioneering apprenticeships so school leavers can gain access to the tech sector. Dynamo research has shown tech jobs grew from 35,000 in 2014 to 42,000 in 2017 and there are still 4,000 vacancies to fill.

Dynamo has created a hub to act as clearing house for graduate and apprentice candidates so they can find exciting roles in growing firms that as yet lack profile: Waterstons, ScottLogic, Tombola, JHC, Bede, Opencast, Zerolight, Visualsoft, Atom Bank.

We focus on several sectors hugely important to the North East: shared service centres, advanced manufacturing and automotive, government, cyber security, finance/tax/accounting and higher education. Charlie Hoult, Dynamo chair

Finally, it can be seemingly obscure niches that show the most promise to differentiate our region on the world stage.

Dynamo Build, our cluster group, now has more than 60 members who are already defining the standards that are driving digital transformation from construction through to how smart cities will operate in the future. This sector accounts for 12% of any economy and is ripe for export success if we can set the standards and lead the innovations.

Northumbria University’s BIM Academy (recent winner of Times Higher Education Industry-Academic Collaboration 2017) is a nexus for global discourse in this area – whether Brazil Government or China infrastructure projects, the platform for HS2 shared documents or renovations of Sydney Opera House.

Dynamo has led on a vision for a £40m International Centre for Connected Construction, with Northumbria University, to champion the UK’s place in BIM standards, to foster further research and to galvanise exports of construction know-how. It is one example of the power of clusters to forge powerful collaborations for future economic success – and to change the trajectory of our region.

Who needs to be Silicon Valley when there is so much promise in the valleys and plains of Tyne, Wear and Tees? Dynamo aims to help fulfil that promise, through its mission: to grow the North East IT economy – through collaboration, innovation, skills and reputation.