Northern Ireland Builds Tech Credibility
Northern Ireland is making a name for itself as an emerging UK tech hub.
Invest Northern Ireland (NI), the regional economic development agency, is billing the region as the place for technology and financial services and is working to increase already healthy investment, and technology firms based locally are praising the skills available.
According to the latest figures from UK skills agency, e-Skills, Northern Ireland has around 15,000 employees working in the tech sector. Software giant SAP has its only UK research facility in the region while BT, Cisco, Citigroup and Nortel are other big players with a presence.
Bill Montgomery, director of international investment for Invest NI said: "I think we're better placed than a lot of regions."
In February, Northern Ireland made Gartner's top 30 locations for offshore services majoring in education, infrastructure, language, globalisation maturity and security and privacy, and recent Financial Times research found there are more software development centres in Northern Ireland than England. The region is also top in the UK for inward investment in financial services software development, attracting 35 per cent of all projects in the past five years.
And reflecting growing interest from India, Invest NI opened an office in Bangalore in February, adding to its bases in Brussels, Dublin and London. Indian companies First Source, HCL, Polaris and Tech Mahindra have all opened offices in Northern Ireland.
Invest NI emphasises the strengths of value for money, strong skills and a flexible workforce that cannot be matched elsewhere in the UK as reasons why companies should invest there rather than other UK tech hubs such as Reading or Cambridge.
In terms of skills, Northern Ireland is one of the strongest region in terms of attainment at GCSE and A-level, while its two universities have strong reputations for technology. According to Invest NI, more than 900 tech graduates emerge from the University of Ulster and Queen's University in Belfast each year.
Chair of telecommunications engineering at the University of Ulster, professor Gerard Parr, told silicon.com: "We really have a huge responsibility in terms of local economic development. Courses are embedded in the needs of industry."
And Conor Quinn, business development executive at Queens University's Institute of Electronics, Communication and Information technology (ECIT), said: "We have a very strong economic remit. Our mission is really about world class research expertise."
ECIT hosts tech companies—such as TDK—and also provides services to boost the research capabilities of big tech names such as BT, Nortel, QinetiQ and SAP.
Speaking to Northern Irish tech companies—of which there are more than 600—it's clear they feel the Northern Irish workforce offers benefits to tech companies that other regions can't.
Michael Crossey, VP of marketing at mobile company, Aepona, said: "One of the strengths of Northern Ireland is it has a very highly educated workforce."
Both Crossey and MD of mobile software developer Openwave's Belfast development centre, Matt Halligan, said strong staff retention is an attraction while a strong team ethic is a feature of the local workforce.
Halligan, who has overseen the development of Openwave's last two shipped products in Belfast, added: "The economy, at least from an IT perspective, is booming."
Northern Ireland's small size has been seen by some as a limiting factor but to some this is seen as an advantage. As the University of Ulster's Parr points out: "Because Northern Ireland is a very small place, it's very easy to manage."