BLOG: The Northern Powerhouse- Eating the Elephant

By David Dunn, CEO Sunderland Software City

The recent Digital Powerhouse report commissioned by Tech North  into collaboration across the Northern Tech economy makes some good recommendations about how the Powerhouse can grow the North’s economy by £5.7bn– I perhaps would, or should say that given I was interviewed as part of the research.  However, there are a total of 14 recommendations in the report – that’s a lot in anyone’s book.

So, to advance the Digital Powerhouse we need to eat the elephant one step at a time.  The purpose of this musing is to suggest a sensible order of attack.  Let’s start with a strategic view.

The report places emphasis on the ‘the missing condition’, defined as the ability of tech companies to find market opportunities and win them.  I cannot underestimate the importance of this. Indeed the report moves further and suggests business support should move to support the stimulation of demand.

Stimulating demand and exposing demand opportunities to tech businesses is something we’ve done at Sunderland Software City and as part of theDigital Catapult for a long time.

The key to our success to date – which has seen tech companies we work with win business from a wider range of buyers from Nissan to Barclays through to Premier League football clubs and Local Authorities – is about educating the marketplace. Put simply, traditionally ‘non-tech’ companies cannot buy technology they do not know about it or understand its relevance

It seems odd to suggest an organisation called Sunderland Software City works with non-software companies, but we spend an increasingly large amount of time doing so.  The rationale is that informed, educated buyers will challenge the market to meet their need.  This creates huge opportunity for good suppliers (the tech businesses) and has the added benefit of driving innovation in the tech companies as they evolve to compete to deliver to ever-hungry customers.

All this means I believe the earliest of the Digital Powerhouse recommendations to adopt should be focused around stimulating the market, namely: ‘move towards problem-based commissioning’; ‘make the North a test-bed for experimental health’; ‘establish digital immersion events’ and ‘introduce tech taster vouchers’.

After this, what’s next?  Well, as promised I’m not going to rank all the recommendations in order of my suggested delivery but I will allow myself a bonus choice.  Of all the other recommendations I’d suggest the idea behind ‘pooling university outreach teams’ has merit.  There’s a side to me that believes this could never happen but another part of me that wishes it was trialed with a bunch of forward-thinking universities.