UK leaders collaborate

Professional services can add a lot of value to tech firms, so Dynamo North East has set up a body to bring the two sectors closer together

Lawyer Antony Hall got the idea for a Dynamo North East initiative from the work he did for his firm that took him to London and other areas.

Hall, Head of Commercial at Newcastle law firm Mincoffs, was struck by the level of collaboration and knowledge sharing between some of the specialist technology law firms in the City. Equally, he sees potential for the region’s service firms to sell their services beyond the region. After all, our booming sector has some of the UK’s most advanced tech applications in both FTSE100 software and public services to support firms across the UK.

Hall explains: “The Dynamo Professional Services initiative started as a lot of my technology work takes me outside of the area, particularly to London. I was conscious that elsewhere there is a really visible network of legal, accountancy and other professional services firms that provide for the IT ecosystem. They are quite collaborative and lawyers often share ideas on best practice. In the North East, there was nothing like that, possibly because of a lack of an appropriate forum, and I didn’t think professional services were particularly well signposted to local tech businesses.”

Hall could see that the absence of such a network could spell danger for professional services in the region and for the digital sector. Technology businesses could perceive a lack of specialist, professional knowledge in the region. However, he could also see wider benefits – the region’s experts could work together to export skills to other regions.

He says: “We have genuine sector expertise in the North East but we need to make sure that technology firms in and outside the region appreciate that.”

Dynamo North East set up its Professional Services Workstream, which Hall leads. It is open to the region’s professional firms, whether lawyers, accountants, recruiters, surveyors or other consultants. Significant players in the region include NorthStar, Maven, IP Group, NVM, Barclays: accountants EY, Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, UNW, Ryecroft Glenton, Tait Walker, RMT: property agents Sanderson Weatherall, GVA, Naylors: lawyers Womble Bond Dickinson, Ward Hadaway, Muckle: recruiters Nigel Frank International, NRG, Nigel Wright, Harvey Nash.

“My vision was for professionals involved in IT in North East England to come together and play a role in helping the technology sector reach its full potential” he says. “To do that I really felt that we needed to create some sort of infrastructure for professional services to support the technology businesses in the region and I thought Dynamo would be the perfect umbrella for that.”

An early challenge for the workstream was to raise awareness among technology businesses of what professional services can do for them. A survey of Dynamo members revealed that even large SMEs were only using professional services for basic operations such as accounting or HR.

“Some of those businesses weren’t using services for things like intellectual property strategy, R&D tax credits or commercial contract advice, which in growing tech businesses you would expect” says Hall.

Hall also believes the workstream will help bridge the cultural gap between the professions and digital.

He says: “I don’t wear a suit day-to-day because that’s not what my clients wear. I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable or that I can’t relate to them. I think the traditional professional services firm is changing and I think they should be more relaxed because that is how business is done these days.”

Case study – Microsoft Azure

Three North East professional services firms have come together to promote the new Microsoft Azure Stack and explain how it can help businesses with imminent data protection rules. Gateshead-based strategic IT consultancy ITPS joined law firms Mincoffs and Watson Burton for a seminar, run by ITPS and Microsoft, to explain Azure Stack, which is being billed as the biggest step change in cloud services for a decade. ITPS is one of only a handful of UK companies to be selected to join the Microsoft Azure Stack Early Adopters programme. One of its key benefits will be to help clients secure and protect their business, modernise their infrastructure and meet existing and new data protection regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force in May 2018. Mincoffs’ head of commercial Antony Hall says: “Our part of the seminar was to talk to businesses on the legal aspects of GDPR compliance and the practical steps that they could undertake to start to comply. We partnered with Watson Burton in order to deliver the seminar, as ITPS wanted to offer their customers choice as to law firms they could work with on GDPR activities.’’