How digital investment is shaping Belfast

By Seamus McCorry, Regional Director Northern Ireland, Virgin Media Business
 
Faced with the challenges of the pandemic, Northern Ireland’s business leaders have embraced technology like never before.
 
Public and private sector organisations saw years of digital progression in a matter of months. By investing in digital infrastructure, businesses overcame obstacles once seen as insurmountable.
 
And this digital transformation is showing no signs of slowing down. A recent British Business Bank report found that the tech sector received more than two thirds of total equity investment in Northern Ireland during 2020.
 
Further investment in this new digital infrastructure can transform Northern Ireland, and more specifically Belfast, into an international tech hub. Our study with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) revealed that continued digital investment will boost the UK economy by £232bn. This can help to boost Northern Irish communities as Belfast becomes a prime destination within the tech sector.
 
Investment in the right technology to create jobs
 
Smart tech investment in enterprising strategies has allowed Northern Irish-based companies to thrive and grow, despite the economic slowdown caused by Covid. This has created an opportunity to further unlock Norther Ireland’s potential.
 
And there is every reason to be optimistic. In June, Belfast was crowned UK’s most ‘gigafit’ city, thanks to the city’s gigabit coverage soaring from 42% to 95% in just two years. And there is a further £50 million worth of funding on the way. With new gigabit connections delivered by Virgin Media Business built to more than 200 locations in Belfast, this has put Belfast ahead of all other UK cities.
 
City-wide gigabit coverage will cater to the increasing demand for connectivity from the burgeoning start-up and business community. According to a report by growth platform Tech Nation and job search engine Adzuna, over £45million poured into the NI tech sector during 2020, a sharp jump from the £30.4million the previous year.  
 
A highly skilled, educated workforce and low cost of living, combined with this investment, has made cities like Belfast an attractive prospect for businesses, With global multi-national corporations such as Deloitte, IBM and PwC amplifying their presence in the city.
 
PwC, for example, have invested heavily in their Belfast-based Operate division. Operate’s advanced, mobile digital infrastructure has allowed employees to continue business operations - even as the business environment changed around them.
 
And PwC just announced a further £40 million investment in the division, creating almost 800 jobs in Belfast. As well as 38 research roles at Queen’s University Belfast.
 
Combined with the foreign investment flowing into Belfast as global investors realise the talent the country houses in cybersecurity, fintech and emerging tech, there is plenty of evidence that highlights how significant investment in digital infrastructure has been for Northern Ireland.
 
Effective, flexible working
 
That infrastructure has been brought to the fore due to the pandemic as working from home became a reality for many businesses across Northern Ireland. We have seen in-person interaction reduced drastically over the past 15 months as reliance on connectivity was made paramount.
 
Now as we transition from remote working to a more hybrid model, organisations must recognise the benefits of this by investing in advanced connectivity solutions.
 
Flexible working has been shown to increase staff productivity, reduce sick leave and create a more efficient labour market where candidates are not limited by location. An IoD survey of nearly 1,000 company directors revealed that 44% found that working from home is proving more effective than their pre-Covid work set up.
 
The increased productivity and efficiency, powered by connectivity, will play a major role for Belfast as it looks to become an established destination for global corporations.
 
Northern Ireland’s big opportunity
 
The opportunity for Northern Ireland is clear. A wave of digital transformation that has been fast-tracked to deal with the pandemic can now ensure these organisations emerge from this situation stronger than they were before.
 
But we cannot stop here. The forward-thinking innovation shown during this crisis has set us on a new path.
 
Investing in the right technologies will transform cities like Belfast for organisations, while empowering employees and the community at large.