Business

Time to reflect on a tech sector to be proud of

Secured by a consortium led by Ulster University, the Studio Ulster project at Belfast Harbour Studios will be part of virtual production network supported by £75.6m of government funding and £63m of new industry investment
Secured by a consortium led by Ulster University, the Studio Ulster project at Belfast Harbour Studios will be part of virtual production network supported by £75.6m of government funding and £63m of new industry investment Secured by a consortium led by Ulster University, the Studio Ulster project at Belfast Harbour Studios will be part of virtual production network supported by £75.6m of government funding and £63m of new industry investment

GO back 30 or even 15 years and it’s safe to say Northern Ireland would not be considered a mecca for the global tech industry.

Traditional industries still (largely) dominated and we were only starting to see the green shoots of new sectors emerging as the economy slowly but surely diversified.

Fast forward to the present day and the picture is entirely different with technology sector among the leading lights in the Northern Ireland from its sheer size in terms of employee numbers, to the amount it generates through foreign direct investment (FDI) and export sales.

With in excess of 30,000 employees, the industry continues to grow with just under a quarter of jobs advertised being in the digital tech sector according to TechNation.

Northern Ireland is also the top target for international investment for US cyber security firms while Belfast is Europe’s leading FDI destination for new software development, according to a report for the Financial Times’ fDi Intelligence.

I read with interest, Brendan Mooney’s reflections as he announced his plans to step down as CEO of Kainos later this year.

To say the company is a success story for Northern Ireland is an understatement. In just over three decades, it has grown to be a globally recognised business with turnover of almost £375 million.

It’s not alone. Other indigenous tech firms making a name across the world include software company FD Technologies and RegTech company FinTrU.

The sector has also been a target from international investors with global operators such as Fujitsu and Microsoft among those to establish a base here.

Just last week, Japanese cyber security firm Nihon Cyber Defence announced plans to expand its Belfast operations.

And there is still growth in the sector ahead.

Earlier this year, Invest NI led a trade mission with local tech companies to the United States and Canada in a bid to further boost the next generation of businesses.

Meanwhile, plans were recently unveiled to build a new £75m movie lab in Belfast as part of Studio Ulster at Belfast Harbour Studios.

The lab, lead by a consortium from Ulster University, will collaborate with other facilities to form Europe’s largest virtual production research and development network. Exciting stuff!

If you hadn’t already guessed it, I am incredibly proud of what has been built here in Northern Ireland, from, let’s face it, very humbling beginnings.

The best part is, as we can see working with counterparts in the sector, the future is set to be even brighter as companies seek to embrace the ever-evolving opportunities of digital transformation, artificial intelligence, internet of things, and beyond.

Who’s to say what we’ll see in the next 15 to 30 years?

:: David Armstrong is chief executive of b4b Group