A collaborative approach to shaping the North East digital agenda

Joined-up thinking and cross-sector collaboration is the key to digital transformation in the North East, reports Gary Coyle

The very first Digital Leaders North East salon kicks off in Newcastle tomorrow
The very first Digital Leaders North East salon kicks off in Newcastle tomorrow

The very first Digital Leaders North East (DLNE) salon, followed by networking drinks, kicks off in Newcastle tomorrow at 4pm. The first topic to be discussed is digital skills and the salon will focus on the issues and challenges of digital inclusion and digital skills development in the North East.

By bringing together decision-makers and influencers from the public sector, business and academia, DLNE will become an influential group that raises awareness of the potential of digital transformation for the region. It will also help shape future policy direction and decision-making.

DLNE was officially launched by Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, in December. She welcomed this new initiative, adding that it is crucial for the region to assemble great minds from different sectors to help tackle some of the region’s economic and social challenges.

Gary Coyle, the acting Chair of DLNE, was instrumental in bringing Digital Leaders Local to the North East. He has been surprised by the interest the programme has received across the various sectors in the region. Coyle said: “The North East clearly faces many challenges in bridging the digital divide and providing basic online skills to every business and citizen.

“There is, however, a real appetite across the sectors and across the region to tackle these issues collaboratively.”

Coyle is currently forming a local Digital Leaders steering group to help set the agenda for the DLNE salons and the topics for discussion. The steering-group members will be representative across the different sectors and from all over the North East. Coyle recognises the importance of enabling local influencers and decision-makers to deliver the programme and help raise awareness of digital transformation initiatives throughout the North East.

Marianne Whitfield, managing director of Cobweb Information Ltd, a publishing company based in Gateshead said: “When Gary first mentioned Digital Leaders, I knew it was a concept that would work well in the North East and that there was a need for it here. It’s been very encouraging to see how quickly people from across the region have engaged with Gary in such a positive and proactive way. I’m looking forward to seeing the Digital Leaders North East initiative grow from strength to strength, and for it to really start affecting change in the region.”

Gary Coyle and Chi Onwurah
Gary Coyle and Chi Onwurah

Coyle’s day job is heading up the UK operations for a global software solutions company, Escher Group Ltd. Escher’s technology provides solutions to organisations seeking to widen their service offering, expand customer reach, reduce costs and increase operational efficiencies.

Escher Group is working in the North East supporting Go ON UK’s Pathfinder programme, which is building a model for sustainable digital skills programmes.

Over 500,000 people in the North East lack basic online skills, making the North East the third worst region in the UK for digital inclusion.

Coyle has been developing collaborative partnerships to help co-design a new, open digital platform for small and micro-businesses. ‘My Digital Biz’ will enable business owners to trade, transact and communicate peer to peer and with local and central Government, suppliers, banks, utility companies using one single sign on, all within one digital framework.

Coyle believes that Government needs to encourage more small businesses to start trading and transacting online. One criticism from business owners in the North East is that it is difficult to access relevant information and to find the right support structure to help their business, in one place. Most of the business support currently offered in the region is through many different silos, making it difficult and time consuming for small businesses to source suitable help. The Government must also try and join up their thinking, rather than launching programmes, such as the Broadband Voucher scheme, without any proper and sustainable support.

If you are a small business owner just about to venture online, you can receive a voucher of up to £3,000 from the Government to fund your broadband connection. This may be very attractive but, once you have broadband, without the right digital skills, training and knowledge (and a certain amount of hand holding), how are you expected to really grow your business? This is a key area the My Digital Biz platform will be focusing on.

The success of both projects – Digital Leaders North East and My Digital Biz will be determined by local collaboration and the co-design of both programmes. The collaborative economy is a broad and rapidly-growing trend that impacts every sector of society, business and Government.

Adopting the collaborative economy value chain is of vital importance as business, public sector and academia risk becoming left on the side lines as customers, citizens and students connect with each other online.

An entire economy is emerging around the exchange of goods and services and information between online peer-to-peer networks. This is helping to redefine the traditional relationships between buyers and sellers of products and services.

Coyle is excited to be developing both projects in the North East. He said: “The people here have a real can-do attitude and there are some very smart people that already understand that collaboration is key in helping redesign public services and helping small businesses grow.

It is clear there are many challenges faced by the region but these can be solved by bringing together a dynamic mix of collaborative influencers who are willing to take risks to develop new models of engagement. I personally look forward to the challenge”.

The first DLNE salon on the 13th February is now at full capacity but you are invited to join DLNE for networking drinks, starting at 6.30pm on February 13, at the Pitcher and Piano on the Quayside in Newcastle.

If you are interested in collaborating with DLNE or My Digital Biz, please contact Gary Coyle gary.coyle@eschergroup.com

Please follow us on Twitter: @garycoyle @_mydigitalbiz @digileaders @escher_group


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