Technology know-how could supercharge NI Economy

Barclays Head of Technology Media and Telecoms, Sean Duffy, spoke to NI Chamber members. Here he has shared some of the highlights of his session.

Ahead of my virtual trip back to Northern Ireland with Barclays Sector Club, I was checking in on how the region is doing in the technology, media and telecoms (TMT) space.  It seems that the Northern Ireland resilience and energy I always experience there has not been defeated by the challenges of recent months.  I was impressed to see Belfast named in the Top 10 Tech Cities of the Future 2020-21, ranking next to London, with the city cited as a successful technology cluster, and the very recent creation of a new Digital Innovation Commissioner for Northern Ireland.

Our team in Belfast are continuing to see more start-ups, more scale ups and we’re working on some significant opportunities.  There have been some impressive finance rounds and expansion for companies in fintech like Fintru and Datactics and biotech like Diaceutics and B-Secur.  Innovative global FDIs are continuing to spot the skills and talent being generated by your universities, colleges and education system and they’re putting their money where their mouth is by investing in the region.

There are exciting and impressive things happening in Northern Ireland; the signs are good.  My team’s role in Barclays is to help forward-looking businesses to stay ahead.  With the right know-how and by tapping into some key innovations at the right time, the opportunities are there.

Top of the watchlist are the current evolutions in telecoms, which present huge economic opportunity: 5G could supercharge the UK economy by up to £15.7bn per year by 2025 – and Northern Ireland’s by £283m per year.  However, research carried out last year stated that less than a third of business decision makers in Northern Ireland know enough about the benefits of investing in the technology.

The extreme speed that 5G can bring to businesses will create extensive machine-to-machine communications, innovations in artificial intelligence, large scale Internet of Things (IOT) and data 20 times faster than 4G.  The possibilities could be endless if you are ready for the roll out.

Likewise with fibre: the UK is accelerating the rate at which fibre is deployed to improve the digital experience.  Telecoms service companies need to stay ahead in the race to serve their clients and ensure they are using all of the latest technology.

Innovation isn’t always about new inventions, and often it comes from doing something new using existing technology.  We have seen a lot of this in the field of medicine and healthcare, particularly over recent months.

Going into 2020, there were already a range of challenges facing UK healthcare and the additional strain of COVID-19 has magnified existing pressures on our health services.

However, the pandemic presents an opportunity for systemic transformation. Increased familiarity with – and usage of – technology will help support the shift from healthcare being something patients access only when they’re sick, to something that can support healthy lifestyles and mental and physical wellness.

Wearable technology, vital signs monitors and stress level trackers can aid independence and improve the care experience. Similarly, the connectivity resulting from a switch to digital allows for more responsive, data-driven care.

Technology will revolutionise health and social care in the UK and we are connecting our clients with what is possible to deliver real and genuinely life-changing innovation.

As a bank, with increased technology and digital innovation comes an ever-evolving threat from cyber fraudsters and it’s a huge responsibility to keep people and their money safe.  In our work in Northern Ireland, I am always impressed by the global leadership position and innovations in cybersecurity being driven through Queen’s University’s CSIT and its stakeholders.  Again, the opportunities here are enormous.

Every bank and financial institution faces a range of threats from sinister actors targeting customers’ data and money.  The technology and scamming techniques these criminals use is always advanced.  But while fraudsters are getting smarter and more sophisticated, so are we, and AI algorithms are key to protecting consumers.

Take online card fraud. Our machine learning algorithms can spot even the smallest irregularities in card activity or a customer’s normal spending patterns.  It takes a third of a second (330 milliseconds) for a fraud evaluation to be completed.   A powerful combination of human and artificial intelligence in our fraud prevention systems are keeping us a step ahead of these bad actors.

Technology is disrupting most industries in their current form and the essential element is data.  Where once, every company aspired to be a tech company, it’s fairly safe to say that all companies are now data companies.

Different parts of the tech landscape are pivoting and developing their business models to adjust to life with – and beyond – the Coronavirus.  I look forward to seeing the role Northern Ireland companies will play in shaping how we live, work and do business into the future – the opportunities are there and this region is in a great place to seize them.

Source: NI Chamber

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